CHICAGO – Less than a week before the Bush administration leaves office, federal environmental regulators are issuing a controversial health advisory on drinking water contaminated with a toxic chemical used to make Teflon and other non-stick coatings.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is advising people to reduce consumption of water containing more than 0.4 parts per billion of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA – a level critics say is too weak. Studies have shown the chemical, which is linked to cancer, liver damage and birth defects, has built up in human blood throughout the world.
It is unclear how many cities might exceed the new limit because the EPA doesn’t require water treatment plants to test for PFOA.
Critics called the EPA’s advisory a last-minute gift from the Bush administration to DuPont and a handful of other companies that make PFOA. Some scientists have proposed limits as low as 0.02 parts per billion.
President-elect Barack Obama’s pick to lead the EPA in his administration, New Jersey environmental commissioner Lisa Jackson, set an advisory level of 0.04 parts per billion in her state – 10 times stricter than the new federal limit.
“This is essentially legalizing unsafe exposure levels,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that has pushed the EPA to regulate PFOA. “Nobody should have to drink a cancer-causing Teflon chemical in their water.”
The EPA’s sudden decision to issue national guidelines comes amid rising concerns about PFOA, which has been dumped into water and air with virtually no oversight for more than a half-century.
The company 3M stopped making PFOA in 2000 under pressure from the EPA. DuPont still uses PFOA to make Teflon and related coatings, but agreed to stop manufacturing the chemical by 2015 after the EPA declared two years ago that it likely causes cancer.
The agency’s advisory, dated Jan. 8 but released publicly this week, appears to be linked to the recent discovery of contaminated beef from cattle that grazed in an Alabama pasture fertilized with PFOA-laden sewage sludge.