Non-stick hazard

Published: Thursday 15 May 2003

-- (Credit: Ruhani Kaur/CSE)a common industrial chemical used by us -based DuPont to produce Teflon may be hazardous for the health of young girls and women of childbearing age, according to a us Environmental Protection Agency (epa) report obtained and released by an advocacy group.

The Washington dc -based Environmental Working Group (ewg) states that the chemical -- ammonium perfluorooctanoate -- accumulates in human blood and demonstrates toxic properties. The substance, also referred to as c 8, has been used by multinational company DuPont for more than 50 years.

The epa draft report is based on a study of rats. It states that laboratory rats exposed to c 8 died days after being born. The rats also had less weight and smaller body organs, including tiny 'master gland' or pituitary glands, which scientists say can be a precursor to developing cancer. Jane Houlihan, vice-president of research at ewg , says the problems found in rats indicate that humans exposed to c 8 could develop birth defects and, possibly, cancer. epa considers the margin of exposure to c 8 below 100 as unacceptable. The report estimates that women have an exposure ranging from 66 to 80. In the case of men, the figure is between 9,125 and 11,108.

ewg says concern over the hazards of c 8 is heightened by "the widespread exposure of the human population", with the levels of the chemical being similar to those that showed toxicity in laboratory animals. c 8 is present in the blood of more than 90 per cent of the us population, and levels in some women are as high as those found in c 8 factory workers.

Studies show the chemical accumulates in the body because it is extremely slow to break down. The epa risk assessment was prompted in September 2002 by the agency's growing concern about the entire family of perfluorinated chemicals, in particular perfluorooctane sulfonates (pfos) -- the active ingredient in Scotchguard. The us government removed Scotchguard, a fabric protector, from the market in 2000. pfos and c 8 share many similar chemical and toxic properties. "This brewing crisis represents a stunning breakdown of the regulatory system for toxic chemicals across the world," assert officials of ewg .

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