Teflon – A Decades Long Corporate Cover-Up

14th September 2018 / United States
Teflon - A Decades Long Corporate Cover-Up

By TruePublica: This article was originally posted in August 2015. Since then, the world has become more aware of the dangers of the chemical C8, found in Teflon and countless household products—from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. The chemical has now been linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers.

The chemical C8 has been used so widely, it’s now in the bloodstream of 99 per cent of Americans, even newborn babies. And the chemical is bio-resistant, meaning it does not break down.

For years, evidence continued to mount that perfluorochemical (PFC) emissions from synthetic compounds in non-stick cookware and cleaning products produced by DuPont may cause cancer and other health problems but the evidence was quite simply – covered up.

What this story highlights is that some companies, in the pursuit of profit, will do anything. From the tobacco industry cover-up to the Thalidomide birth defects scandals, some organisations view shareholder dividends far more important than human life. It also demonstrates the lengths these companies will go in terms of issuing misinformation and propaganda to deceive the public even when the effects of its deadly products are known to them for years, sometimes decades.

Get Briefed, Get Weekly Intelligence Reports - Essential Weekend Reading - Safe Subscribe

The full story has still yet to come out as there are ongoing court cases but this now presents itself as a potential existential threat to one of the biggest companies in the world. 

The struggle to discover the truth about C8 and hold DuPont accountable is the subject of a stunning new documentary that premiered Sundance Film Festival, called The Devil We Know (YouTube link HERE)

The story below is told by Sharon Lerner at The Intercept. We have taken excerpts from her lengthy article, which you can red in full HERE. 

 

The Teflon Toxin – DuPont and The Chemistry of Deception

One of tens of thousands of unregulated industrial chemicals, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA — also called C8 because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone — had gone unnoticed for most of its eight or so decades on earth, even as it helped cement the success of one of the world’s largest corporations.

In 2011 and 2012, after seven years of research, the science panel found that C8 as used in Teflon coated pans was “more likely than not” linked to ulcerative colitis, as well as to high cholesterol; pregnancy-induced hypertension; thyroid disease; testicular cancer; and kidney cancer. The scientists’ findings, published in more than three dozen peer-reviewed articles, were striking, because the chemical’s effects were so widespread throughout the body and because even very low exposure levels were associated with health effects.

We know, too, from internal DuPont documents that emerged through the lawsuit, that fears of being lied to are well-founded. DuPont scientists had closely studied the chemical for decades and through their own research knew about some of the dangers it posed. Yet rather than inform workers, people living near the plant, the general public, or government agencies responsible for regulating chemicals, DuPont repeatedly kept its knowledge secret.

This deadly chemical that DuPont continued to use well after it knew it was linked to health problems is now practically everywhere.

A man-made compound that didn’t exist a century ago, C8 is in the blood of 99.7 percent of Americans, according to a 2007 analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as in newborn human babies, breast milk, and umbilical cord blood. A growing group of scientists have been tracking the chemical’s spread through the environment, documenting its presence in a wide range of wildlife, including Loggerhead sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, harbor seals, polar bears, caribou, walruses, bald eagles, lions, tigers, and arctic birds. Although DuPont no longer uses C8, fully removing the chemical from all the bodies of water and bloodstreams it pollutes is now impossible. And, because it is so chemically stable — in fact, as far as scientists can determine, it never breaks down — C8 is expected to remain on the planet well after humans are gone from it.

In some ways, C8 already is the tobacco of the chemical industry — a substance whose health effects were the subject of a decades-long corporate cover-up. As with tobacco, public health organizations have taken up the cause — and numerous reporters have dived into the mammoth story. Like the tobacco litigation, the lawsuits around C8 also involve huge amounts of money. And, like tobacco, C8 is a symbol of how difficult it is to hold companies responsible, even when mounting scientific evidence links their products to cancer and other diseases.

There is at least one sense in which the tobacco analogy fails. Exposure to tobacco usually contains an element of volition, and most people who smoked it in the past half century knew about some of the risks involved. But the vast majority of Americans — along with most people on the planet — now have C8 in their bodies. And we’ve had no choice in the matter.

From the beginning, DuPont scientists approached the chemical’s potential dangers with rigor. In 1954, the very year a French engineer first applied the slick coating to a frying pan, a DuPont employee named R. A. Dickison noted that he had received an inquiry regarding C8’s “possible toxicity.” In 1961, just seven years later, in-house researchers already had the short answer to Dickison’s question.

In 1965, 14 employees, including a director, John Zapp, received a memo describing preliminary studies that showed that even low doses of a related surfactant could increase the size of rats’ livers, a classic response to exposure to a poison.

The company even conducted a human C8 experiment, a deposition revealed. In 1962, DuPont scientists asked volunteers to smoke cigarettes laced with the chemical and observed that “Nine out of ten people in the highest-dosed group were noticeably ill for an average of nine hours with flu-like symptoms that included chills, backache, fever, and coughing.”

An internal DuPont document from 1975 about “Teflon Waste Disposal” detailed how the company began packing the waste in drums, shipping the drums on barges out to sea, and dumping them into the ocean, adding stones to make the drums sink. At some point before 1965, ocean dumping ceased, and DuPont began disposing of its Teflon waste in landfills instead.

If the health effects on humans could still be debated in 1979, C8’s effects on animals continued to be apparent. A report prepared for plaintiffs stated that by then, DuPont was aware of studies showing that exposed beagles had abnormal enzyme levels “indicative of cellular damage.” Given enough of the stuff, the dogs died.

DuPont employees knew in 1979 about a recent 3M study showing that some rhesus monkeys also died when exposed to C8, according to documents submitted by plaintiffs. Scientists divided the primates into five groups and exposed them to different amounts of C8 over 90 days. Those given the highest dose all died within five weeks. More notable was that three of the monkeys who received less than half that amount also died, their faces and gums growing pale and their eyes swelling before they wasted away. Some of the monkeys given the lower dose began losing weight in the first week it was administered. C8 also appeared to affect some monkeys’ kidneys.

Two years after DuPont learned of the monkey study, in 1981, 3M shared the results of another study it had done, this one on pregnant rats, whose unborn pups were more likely to have eye defects after they were exposed to C8. As it turned out, at least one of eight babies born to women who worked in the Teflon division did have serious birth defects.

By testing the blood of female Teflon workers who had given birth, DuPont researchers, who then reported their findings, documented for the first time that C8 had moved across the human placenta.

In 2005, when the EPA fined the company for withholding this information, attorneys for DuPont argued that because the agency already had evidence of the connection between C8 and birth defects in rats, the evidence it had withheld was “merely confirmatory” and not of great significance.

Faced with the evidence that C8 had now spread far beyond the factory, internal documents show, DuPont was at a crossroads. Could the company find a way to reduce emissions? Should it switch to a new surfactant? Or stop using the chemical altogether?

“None of the options developed are … economically attractive and would essentially put the long term viability of this business segment on the line,” someone named J. A. Schmid summarized in notes from the meeting, which are marked “personal and confidential.”

In fact, from that point on, DuPont increased its use and emissions of the chemical, according to a 2007 study, which was based on the company’s purchasing records, interviews with employees, and historical emissions from the factory. According to the study, the factory put an estimated 19,000 pounds of C8 into the air in 1984.

Essentially, DuPont decided to double-down on C8, betting that somewhere down the line the company would somehow be able to “eliminate all C8 emissions in a way yet to be developed that would not economically penalize the business.

In 1989, DuPont employees found an elevated number of leukemia deaths at the West Virginia plant. Several months later, they measured an unexpectedly high number of kidney cancers among male workers. Both elevations were plant-wide and not specific to workers who handled C8. But, the following year, the scientists clarified how C8 might cause at least one form of cancer in humans. In 1991, it became clear not just that C8-exposed rats had elevated chances of developing testicular tumors — something 3M had also recently observed — but, worse still, that the mechanism by which they developed the tumors could apply to humans.

A 1991 draft press release (in case the story broke) said that “DuPont and 3M studies show that C-8 has no known toxic or ill health effects in humans at the concentrations detected” and included this reassuring note: “As for most chemicals, exposure limits for C-8 have been established with sufficient safety factors to ensure there is no health concern.”

In 1999, when a farmer suspected that DuPont had poisoned his cows (after they drank from the very C8-polluted stream DuPont employees had worried over in their draft press release eight years earlier) and filed a lawsuit seeking damages, the truth finally began to seep out.

An in-house DuPont attorney named Bernard Reilly helped open an internal workshop on C8 by giving “a short summary of the right things to document and not to document”. Later he went on to say that if C8 was proven to be harmful, Reilly predicted in 2000, “we are really in the soup because essentially everyone is exposed one way or another.”

 

 

 



The European Financial Review

The European Financial Review is the leading financial intelligence magazine read widely by financial experts and the wider business community.