One of the many stories I’ve been keeping up with this year has been the merging drama surrounding DuPont’s toxic chemical Teflon that may have poisoned tap water in West Virginia and could be a much greater cancer risk than the so-called experts ever imagined.

An interesting New York Times article appearing on the Environmental Working Group Web site (see free link below) poses new questions that likely worry chemical companies and have your blood boiling: If DuPont loses the raft of Teflon lawsuits already against them, how does that shape the debate over the use of other chemicals that may harm you and how can they be better regulated?

With the Teflon news fresh in the minds of many, the European Union and Canada has tightened controls on chemical use and labeling. Conversely, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done next to nothing, partly because the chemical industry offered to start a voluntary testing program in the late 90s for chemicals produced in volumes exceeding 1 million pounds a year.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticized the EPA’s ability to ensure tens of thousands of chemicals in commercial use — and new ones introduced at the rate of about 700 a year — did not pose a health risk, earlier this month. Moreover, the EPA has used its authority to request health data on less than 200 chemicals since 1979, and should have more power to do so, according to the GAO.

In fact, Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has recruited up six co-sponsors for legislation that would expand the EPA’s powers and require manufacturers to test their chemicals for health risks.

An interesting sidenote about Teflon: Should the EPA take action against perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), it would be the first time the agency had regulated a chemical in more than 15 years. Of the more than 80,000 chemicals that have been used commercially since World War II, just five are regulated:

  • PCBs
  • Halogenated chlorofluoroalkanes
  • Dioxin
  • Asbestos
  • Hexavalent chromium

Environmental Working Group July 27, 2005