DOVER, Del. (AP) - One year after accepting a government challenge to work toward eliminating the use of a potentially dangerous chemical used to make Teflon and other products, DuPont said Monday it plans to stop using the chemical by 2015.
The Environmental Protection Agency asked the Wilmington-based chemical giant and seven other companies last year to commit to a 95 percent reduction in environmental emissions and product content levels of perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, and associated chemicals by 2010.
The companies also were asked to work toward the elimination of PFOA and associated chemicals from emissions and products by 2015.
On Monday, DuPont said technological advances have allowed it to remove more than 97 percent of trace levels of PFOA and associated chemicals from surface protection fluorotelomers used in products such as oil-resistant paper packaging and stain- and water-repellent textiles.
DuPont also has been able to reduce PFOA content by at least 97 percent in fluoropolymer coatings used in Teflon cookware, architectural coatings and electronics applications.
''We have been working for a long time, but particularly over the last year, on alternative technologies to PFOA,'' said David Boothe, business manager for DuPont fluoroproducts. ''We believe that work is going to allow us to eliminate the need to make, buy, or use PFOA by 2015... That's firmer language than 'work toward.'''
Boothe said DuPont also has reduced manufacturing emissions of PFOA by 94 percent worldwide since 2000, and expects to achieve reductions of 97 percent by the end of this year.
''We are encouraged and pleased that our progress to date has been so promising,'' said DuPont chairman and chief executive officer Charles Holliday Jr. ''As a result, we will intensify our efforts by doubling our R&D investment.''
PFOA is a processing aid used in making fluoropolymers, which have a wide variety of product applications, including nonstick cookware. The chemical also can be an unintended byproduct in the manufacturing of fluorotelomers used in surface protection products.
An EPA science advisory board last year concluded that PFOA should be classified as a likely carcinogen.
DuPont is one of the largest users of PFOA and the only company that manufactures it in the United States. In 2005, the company agreed to pay more than $107 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by Ohio and West Virginia residents living near a DuPont plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., who claimed that DuPont intentionally withheld and misrepresented information about the human health threat posed by PFOA.
DuPont also agreed that year to pay $10.25 million in fines and $6.25 million for environmental projects to settle allegations by the EPA that the company hid information about the health risks of PFOA. As part of the settlement, DuPont agreed to pay $5 million for a study examining the potential of nine DuPont fluorotelomer-based products to breakdown to form PFOA, which can be found in the blood of most Americans.
In reducing the presence of PFOA as a byproduct in fluorotelomer manufacturing, DuPont has spent $20 million on a facility in Pascagoula, Miss., where fluorotelomer raw materials undergo thermal treatment.
''We're able in that treatment process to destroy the PFOA,'' said Boothe, adding that the process actually improves fluorotelomer quality by rendering it whiter and brighter, and thus more neutral in surface-protection applications.
Boothe said DuPont has received permits for its thermal treatment process, which he said results in about two pounds of PFOA wastewater emissions annually, and less than one-tenth of a pound of air emissions.
The ''LX Platform'' products made with the new process are commercially available now and should not cost any more than previous versions, DuPont officials said.
Meanwhile, DuPont is using its trademark Echelon ion-exchange technology to reduce PFOA content in water-based dispersion products used in coatings such as Teflon. The process, which Boothe said was akin to treating hard water, captures PFOA in a resin that is then burned at high heat.
DuPont officials currently are working on a process to extract the PFOA from the resin and recycle it, thus allowing the company to manufacture less PFOA at a Fayetteville, N.C., production facility as it moves toward eliminating the chemical altogether.
The ion-exchange technology is being used at polymerization plants in West Virginia, the Netherlands, and Japan, and DuPont has made it available to other PFOA manufacturers as well.
''We are working with other companies on this to help move everybody along,'' Boothe said.