DuPont's Teflon Cover-up

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By Roberta C. Barbalace

[Mar. 22, 2006]

Back: The History of Teflon

The Teflon cover-up begins from the beginning

By the early 1950s DuPont workers had started to develop polymer fume fever that DuPont scientists determined could lead to a potentially fatal condition called pulmonary edema (1, 2). This information was never made public, but remained in unreleased research documents at DuPont. The information, however, was disclosed in court papers (Leach vs. E. I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company and Lubeck Public Service District Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia in 2002). DuPont did respond to the plight of the employees by conducting research on the toxicity of C-8, and by 1961 DuPont had confirmed that C8 was toxic to animals. An internal document noted that scientists had warned DuPont executives that C8 should be handled with extreme care. Still EPA was not notified of the findings.(3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

In the 1950s DuPont scientists were beginning to identify the toxic components from heated Teflon that resulted in the death of research birds and rats. In 1975 Waritz reported that Teflon coated pans release fumes of particulate matter between 554°F and 1067°F that have been related to bird deaths occurring when an empty pan is heated on a burner. The Teflon molecules are broken into smaller Teflon particles (Remember that Teflon is a polymer molecule that can be broken into smaller fragments without changing its chemical properties). However, the breaking of these carbon-to-carbon double bonds result in the release of free radicals that can form alkenes or instead react with oxygen to form carboxylic acids that then form particulates composed of perfluorinated alkanes, perfluorinated alkenes, and perfluorinated acids.(8) Medical studies conducted by both DuPont and 3M indicated that C8 can cause cancer and liver disease, still nobody outside of the research and community and high ranking administrators was informed.

Internal documents and a memorandum issued in the 1970s and disclosed during litigation in 2002 revealed that Dupont and 3M had expressed concern that there appeared to be a build up of C8 in the blood of its workers. DuPont scientists issued internal warnings concerning C8 in 1961, stating that DuPont is "disturbed" that C8 might be causing "toxic effects" among employees at the Washington Works plant.(3, 9) DuPont scientists warned internal officials about safety issues related to the chemical in 1961. According to documents filed with the court of West Virginia in 2002, the company was aware that studies conducted at both 3M and DuPont in the seventies and eighties had revealed that C8 will accumulate in the blood.(3)

On August 31, 1984, 3M's medical officer D.E. Roach, MD reported that C8 in the blood of employees had been increasing over a period of 12-18 months, following a period of apparent decline. 3M put the entire perfluorinated industry on alert that C8 could build up to high levels through repeated exposure. "It is certainly possible that... exposure opportunities are providing a potential uptake of fluorochemicals that exceeds excretion capabilities of the body."(10) However, employees were not informed. In the early 80s Kenny Taggart, a DuPont employee who had spent most of his adult life mixing chemicals used in the manufacture of Teflon stopped in at the plants medical office to give blood, as was his custom. This time, however, the nurse shook her head and turned him away. His name was on the list of employees whose blood was contaminated with C8, but Kenny had never been told.(11)

Nearly twenty years ago secret company tests found contaminated tap water in two communities near the Washington Works plant in West Virginia. Court records show that DuPont knew about the contamination in Little Hocking since as early as 1984. According to a document dated August 29, 1984, C8 was detected in the drinking water on both sides of the Little Hocking River. But the information was placed in a Dupont memo stamped "Personal and Confidential." Robert Griffin, general manager of the Little Hocking Water System was never informed.

In 2004 12 residents from the Washington Works facility underwent blood serum analysis for the presence of PFOA. All twelve reported that they had been drinking well water until 3 years prior to the analysis. Each individual had been exposed to PFOA through drinking water from the Lubeck Public Service District. DuPont reported that the level of PFOA in the water from Lubeck Public Service District had averaged approximately 0.5 parts per billion for the past 12 years. The PFOA in their blood ranged from 15.7 ppb to 128 ppb, with a mean of 67 ppb, while the average for all US residents is about 5ppb.

A DuPont memo dated May 21, 1984 stated that C8 was:(11)

  • Not carcinogenic
  • Not teratogenic
  • Not an embryotoxin
  • Moderately toxic, and
  • Has a half-life of 2 years in the blood

Yet in 1975 they had been informed that C8 could cause cancer and liver damage. In addition, an internal document noted that on 3/20/81 3M had notified DuPont that C8 had caused birth defects in unborn when female rats were fed C8 via a stomach tube.(11) According to a confidential internal DuPont report in 1981, two of seven babies born to a group of female Teflon plant workers, whose pregnancies were monitored by Dupont, had serious defects. In addition, there was a Teflon-related chemical in the umbilical cord of one of the seven infants, and in the blood of another. All female employees with potential for C8 exposure were immediately moved to another part of the plant.(11, 12, 13, 14) Female rats exposed to C8 also had offspring with birth defects. The level of PFOA in the blood of the individuals who had been exposed to PFOA through drinking water from the Lubeck Public Service District indicated that either the half-life of PFOA is greater than 2 years, or that their blood level at the time they stopped consuming the contaminated water must have been extremely high.

DuPont corporate executives discussed a plan to eliminate air and water releases of a toxic, highly persistent chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon (presumably PFOA). At that time DuPont was releasing 37,000 pounds per year. For some unspecified reason they must have decided to abandon the plan. By the year 1999 the Washington Works had more than doubled its annual effluent to 86,806 pounds.(15, 16)

By 1984 DuPont was aware of five major problems with the production of Teflon:

  • Chemicals associated with the production of Teflon had been linked to medical problems with workers, including polymer fume fever, leukemia, liver damage. They had been linked to medical problems with test animals, including leukemia, cancer and reproductive dysfunction.
  • Chemicals associated with the production of Teflon had been linked to birth defects in humans and test animals.
  • Chemicals associated with the production of Teflon had been shown to accumulate in the blood of exposed individuals.
  • Teflon had been shown to offgas free radicals that can form toxic fumes at temperatures much lower than reported by DuPont.
  • Teflon related chemicals were found in drinking water in towns near the DuPont plant in West Virginia.

CONTINUED: The EPA Steps In...


Footnotes are below


  1. Clayton, JW. 1967. Fluorocarbon toxicity and biological activity. Fluorine Chemistry Reviews 1(2): 197-252.
  2. Leach vs. E. I. Du Pont De Nemours and Company and Lubeck Public Service District Circuit Court of Wood County, West Virginia; 04/10/2002 pesticides/effect.pfos.class.apr.10.02.pdf
  3. Hawthorne, Michael; Internal Warnings The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio); February 16, 2003 pesticides/
  4. Cook, Kenneth A.: Letter to The Honorable Christine Todd Whitman Administrator, EPA; April 11, 2003
  5. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice; West Virginia, Ohio Attorneys Win 2005 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award for Settlement Holding DuPont Accountable for C8 Pollution;
  6. DiJoseph, Steven; EPA Scientific Advisory Board Unanimously Approves Recommendation Labeling PFOA a 'Likely Carcinogen'; February 17th, 2006;
  7. Roach, D.E., M.D.; Internal Correspondence, Medical Services 3M
  8. Canaries in the Kitchen; Environmental Working Group
  9. Morris, Jim; Did 3M and DuPont ignore evidence of health risks?; Mother Jones; Sept. - Oct. 2001.
  10. DuPont Hid Teflon Pollution For Decades Update; EWG; Dec 13, 2002
  11. Internal DuPont Notes: Current Active Program Items pdf/dupont_elim_PFOA_1984.pdf
  12. Ross, Brian, Rhonda Schwartz, Maddy Sauer; Can Non-Stick Make You Sick?; ABC News; Novemver 14, 2003 Teflon/Non-Stick-Sick14nov03.htm
  13. Dupont Internal Document "Personal and Confidential C-8 Blood," 1980-81 Sampling Results pdf/PFOA_013.pdf
  14. DuPont Has Withheld Company Study From EPA for 22 Years; EWG PFCs; April 11, 2003
  15. Schmid, J.A , Dupont C8 Meeting Summary 5/22/84 Http:// pdf/dupont_C8meeting_1984.pdf
  16. Michael Hawthorne; Internal warnings - Industry memos show DuPont knew that a chemical used to make Teflon is polluting workers and neighbors The Columbus Dispatch; Sunday, February 16, 2003

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