DuPont said yesterday it has developed new technologies that will allow the company to eliminate
perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from packaging by 2015, a move made due to consumers' health concerns about the chemical.
PFOA is used in the making of fluorochemicals, which are used in non-stick and oil and grease resistant food packaging linings. Pizza boxes and confectionary wrapping are examples.
However the chemcials are known to rub off and migrate into foods. Once ingested, the chemicals can break down into PFOA, a related chemical used in the making of Teflon-coated cookware.
While scientific studies indicate that PFOA poses little risk to human health, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been under pressure from community groups to ban
the use of the chemical.
The situation came to a head in late 2005 when DuPont was hit by allegations that it hid studies allegedly showing the high health risks posed by the chemical. DuPont denied the charges. A subsequent statement by the Food and Drug Administration also backed up DuPont.
After the allegations the EPA called on DuPont and six other
corporations to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products
by 2015. The companies wee asked to meet the commitments in the US as well as at their operations
In January last year DuPont announced it would reduce its use of the chemical, but warned that
eliminating it altogether might be impossible. In a press release, the company said it has already
reduced PFOA emissions by 96 per cent from US plant sites.
Now the company says it has made "significant progress"
in developing new high-performance products with reduced PFOA, adding that it would be able to phase
out the chemical completely by the voluntary deadline.
For its fluorotelomer products, DuPont said it has successfully commercialized a new, patented manufacturing process that removes
more than 97 per cent of trace levels of PFOA, its homologues and direct precursors.
PFOA is not used in the manufacture of fluorotelomers. However it
is created as an unintended by-product. The breakthrough meets the voluntary EPA program three years ahead of
schedule, the company said.
The company will be branding the new products as "LX Platform".
The PFOA-free products will be available to customers beginning in the first quarter. The "LX Platform" will be used for surface protection
for paper packaging, fluorosurfactants and coatings, leather, stone and tile, DuPont stated.
For fluoropolymer products, DuPont said it has reduced PFOA content in aqueous dispersion products using new
its patented Echelon technology. The technology reduces PFOA content in converted products by at least 97
per cent, the company claimed. The technology will be used for durable coatings for the electronics, industrial, architectural and consumer
DuPont also said that ongoing manufacturing modifications have resulted in its ability to continue to aggressively reduce PFOA emissions to the
environment. The company claimed to have achieved a 94 percent reduction in global manufacturing emissions as of year-end
2006 and projects that it will achieve reductions of 97 per cent by the end of this year.
Company chairman and chief executive Charles Holliday, Jr. said the
company is currently developing potential alternative technologies, that allows it to commit to eliminate PFOA by
"By applying our science and technology, we believe we can improve our products while we eliminate the need to make, buy or use PFOA, thus ensuring the continued availability of fluorotelomers and fluoropolymers for essential products used in telecommunications, aerospace, semiconductors, fire fighting and consumer
applications," he said.
Holliday added that based on the scientific evidence to date
DuPont believes that PFOA exposure does not pose a health risk to the general public.
The company has previously criticised a finding by the Science Advisory Board (SAB), which stated
in a draft report that PFOA should be classified as a "likely" carcinogen.
DuPont said the SAB report was based on laboratory studies in rats, and did not adequately
reflect human health data that show no health effects. The SAB panel members did not agree
among themselves that PFOA should be put on a classified list.
The company supports the position of those panel members who agreed with EPA's current draft risk
assessment that states PFOA should be classified as a "suggestive" carcinogen.
"PFOA induces benign tumors in male rats, but only at high doses and by a mechanism that
is not likely relevant to humans," DuPont said in quoting Samuel Cohen, chairperson of the
department of pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. "Thus,
we can be confident that PFOA does not pose a cancer risk to humans at the low levels found in the
Other companies who were asked to voluntarily reduce PFOA emissions are 3M/Dyneon, Arkema, Inc.,
AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Daikin and Solvay Solexis.
In 2005 DuPont agreed to pay a record $10.25 million fine for failing to tell the EPA about its
studies that found the chemical had contaminated
human blood and should be considered "extremely toxic". The company also agreed to pay
another $6.25 million for research to evaluate the way PFOA degrades in the environment.
The EPA had accused DuPont of failing to submit a 1981 study revealing that PFOA was passed from
pregnant employees to their fetuses.
The fine followed allegations over DuPont's marquee paper packaging coating chemical, Zonyl RP,
which is cleared for use in the US and the EU.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and a former chemical engineer with DuPont claimed that the company suppressed studies showing Zonyl RP could contaminate food at over three times the US federal safety standard.
However subsequent letters from the FDA dated 20 December 2005 said the claims were based on false assumptions about test figures. The FDA said the test results quoted by the EWG did not apply and were made under extreme conditions.
Zonyl RP generates millions in revenues a year for DuPont. Since the FDA originally
approved the use of the chemical for food packing in 1967, scientists have found the body breaks
down fluorotelomers such as Zonyl into PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. PFOA accumulates in the
DuPont denied the claims when they were made.