DuPont to eliminate PFOA packaging chemical by 2015

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

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 overseas. 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 products segments. 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 2015. "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 general population."​ 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 human body. DuPont denied the claims when they were made.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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