The Environmental Protection Agency says it may levy a fine surpassing $300 million against the Wilmington, Del.–based chemical giant DuPont. The government accuses the company of concealing for 2 decades that it was contaminating the environment with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and putting at risk the health of workers. DuPont uses the synthetic chemical in the manufacture of many stain-resistant and nonstick substances, including some Teflon coatings.
PFOA, which research has shown can produce cancer and birth defects in animals, is present in nearly everyone’s blood, but only in small amounts. EPA isn’t seeking to ban the chemical, but the agency considers the health of people who work with it to be at risk.
In 1981, DuPont scientists discovered PFOA in the blood of some company workers in concentrations that should have prompted notification of federal officials, EPA says. Soon afterward, DuPont detected the chemical in public water supplies near its plants.
However, the company didn’t inform EPA of either finding, even after the agency requested data on the chemical in 1997. A lawyer suing DuPont on behalf of communities near one of the company’s plants provided the agency with the data in 2001.
DuPont maintains that it followed the law.