The $10.25 million DuPont paid to resolve recent federal environmental complaints is fueling at least one resident's suspicions that the chemical company's discharge of a Teflon-related by-product into Pascagoula's wastewater treatment system is not as benign as it maintains.
The Mississippi Chapter of the Sierra Club is fighting the state's decision to allow the Pascagoula plant's discharge.
Nearby resident Virginia Terreson, 72, of Moss Point said she is angry the company is dumping a "toxic" chemical in her community, where she says there is already a high incidence of cancer and immune disorders.
"It doesn't go away," Terreson said of a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA. "It biocumulates in the environment, and DuPont, I think, is notorious about not leveling with the public about how toxic their products are."
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont acquired First Chemical Corp. in Pascagoula in 2002 as a wholly owned subsidiary.
The state Environmental Quality Permit Board decided June 6 that First Chemical's activity did not require any modification to its permit, which allows it to discharge pretreated wastewater into Pascagoula's treatment facility.
The state did not intervene because there are no water-quality standards for PFOA, said Jerry Cain, the director of the Office of Pollution Control for the Department of Environmental Quality. The EPA has not established levels that facilities must meet when discharging PFOA, in part, because the science is not clear on whether PFOA has any adverse effects, he said.
The EPA says PFOA is "persistent" in the environment and was being found at very low levels in the environment and in the blood of the general population. It "caused developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals," the agency's site said.
"We did our due diligence and, based on the information available, didn't see the need for a permit modification," Cain said.
The processing plant plans to refine an alcohol used in the manufacturing of surface-protection products - including Teflon, the nonstick, stain-resistant product used for cookware that is a registered trademark of DuPont's.
PFOA is released as an unintended byproduct during the making of telomer alcohol.
The plant plans to "chemically destroy all but a very tiny amount" of the PFOA, said Brad Martin, safety health and environmental manager for First Chemical, amounting to one to two pounds being discharged a year.
That's down from the 1,000 pounds a year released with the current product manufacturing.
That destruction happens over a two-part process. First, the product will be chemically reacted to destroy PFOA.
It then will go through the plant's own wastewater treatment technology, before it heads into the Pascagoula treatment system.
"We do not plan now or in the future to manufacture PFOA here at the site. PFOA is a very small impurity in the telomer product that we are going to be refining further here at the site," Martin said. "There are no known human health effects caused by PFOA. These are based on studies by DuPont and other researchers."
Becky Gillette, co-chairwoman of the Sierra Club chapter, says that is only what the company says it plans to do, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fine lodged against DuPont has hurt the company's credibility.
Last year, the EPA announced the settlement with DuPont to resolve complaints that the company failed to report information about PFOA risks.
DuPont admitted no liability but agreed to pay civil fines of $10.25 million and to fund environmental monitoring projects.
"Now, we're supposed to turn around and trust them?" Gillette asked.
Gillette said she fears PFOA will spread to other areas of the country and run "in the blood of Americans, in the blood of polar bears, in blood worldwide."
The permit comes up for re-issuance in about two years, and in the interim, the company will be monitoring the environment to see if there is any measurable increase of the chemical.
"In two years, there may be more regulatory requirements, there may not be additional regulatory requirements," Cain said.
The Sierra Club is waiting for an evidentiary hearing to be scheduled for the appeal.
Martin hopes to start up the process in the next few months.
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