Dupont: A Different Shade of Green

If you search the Internet for EI DuPont de Nemours & Co. (DD – $44.77), or simply DuPont, you’ll come across a stand-alone web page called Preserving Open Land: 1983. The page portrays DuPont as a paradigm for the chemical industry and details a supposed history of environmental stewardship which is in direct contraposition to DuPont’s actual operations, which have polluted every region in which the company operates. In fact, if DuPont is any shade of green, it is olive – that peculiar color people turn when they’ve been poisoned.

Take Benlate, a fungicide DuPont made between 1970 and 2001. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) eventually classified it as a possible carcinogen, but not before animal studies showed it produced anophthalmia (missing or deformed eyes). Benlate only fell under intense scrutiny when farmers began reporting crop losses. Dupont took it off the market in 2001, citing the high cost of defending itself in court, but not before settling for $510 million. In fact, according to one source, DuPont knew Benlate was dangerous, having conducted crop tests in Costa Rica in 1992. The records were destroyed when claims began to pile up, and DuPont insisted its U.S. studies showed no hazard. DuPont said nothing about birth defects, even though 500 U.S. and 25 Scottish mothers sued the company on behalf of their children, who were born with anophthalmia.

Consider the Christina River, a Mid-Atlantic Superfund Site in Delaware, and one of the many locations where DuPont buried waste (i.e., paint pigments, heavy metals, chlorinated solvents, and radioactive materials) from 1902 to 1975. In 2002, the EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed off on the project, saying continued monitoring was not required because DuPont had gone the extra yard by removing several additional tons of contaminated sediment and capping the landfill. Since the real problem is leachate into water supplies, residents remain concerned.

In January of 2001, DuPont released 3.3 tons of para-xylene (a benzene hydrocarbon) from its Nashville, Tennessee plant. An electrical bypass installation was blamed, and the Davidson County Board of Health duly noted the discharge in its minutes. Nashville was not an isolated incident; DuPont’s 2001 Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) showed it releasing nearly half of all dioxins reported in the U.S, with a 14-fold increase in toxic dumping. In 2002, Scorecard, an emission’s release reporting website, cited the DuPont Dow Pontchartrain site (Montz, LA) as one of the dirtiest plants in the country.

In April of 2003, the EPA started to question DuPont’s assertions that C-8, a perfluoroctanoate used to make Teflon, was safe. DuPont began using C-8 in 1951 and releasing it into the Ohio River near Parkersburg, W. Virginia, or dumping it in area landfills. Internal DuPont studies at the time dismissed any danger, and DuPont summarily ignored 3M’s findings, which demonstrated C-8 caused cancer and liver damage in rats. As C-8 began finding its way into regional water supplies, affecting upwards of 30,000 households, DuPont also ignored other early warning signs, namely birth defects among the children of its employees. DuPont even challenged an early EPA assessment, calling it "inappropriate". In 1999 alone, DuPont dumped 10,000 pounds of the chemical into the Ohio River. Levels reached 8 parts per billion in the nearby Little Hocking water facility. Little Hocking general manager Bob Griffin was not informed of the danger until it was too late, nor were the 12,000 residents who drank Little Hocking water.

In September of 2004, DuPont agreed to settle its C-8 class-action suits. The original amount, $340 million, was reduced to slightly over $112 million ($85 million to the plaintiffs, $22 million to the lawyers, and $5 million to fund a study on the effects of C-8 in humans). If the study established a definite link, DuPont would be liable for the balance of the settlement, or $235 million, which would be spent on medical testing of the plaintiffs. In a separate settlement in 2005, a court in Mississippi awarded Glen Strong $14 million for his C-8-related cancer.

In August of 2005, the North Carolina C8 Working Group, a coalition of public interest and environmental organizations, found that C-8 contamination levels in the Cape Fear River, from DuPont’s Fayetteville plant, were not only higher than previously reported, but had spread further. DuPont had sampled the water in 2004, but not for C-8. Given DuPont’s self-reporting status, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) did not provide oversight. In 2006, N. Carolina citizens petitioned the EPA to expand its C-8 investigation.

In 2005, data emerging from the first government-sponsored epidemiological study of C-8 showed that C-8 levels in the blood of 326 people around southeastern Ohio – across the river from DuPont’s Washington, W. Virginia, facility – were 60 times higher than average. The study, lead by Edward A. Emmett, a physician and toxicologist at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine, spiked regional concern. Emmett further discovered that C-8 tended to concentrate in human blood at rates 100 times higher than in water supplies, indicating an exponential toxicity. Animal studies have shown a link between C-8 and cancers of the liver, pancreas, testicles and other organs.

In November of 2005, the Associated Press reported that DuPont had concealed studies showing that C-8 (used in candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and other food containers to prevent sticking) was more pervasive than reported. A 1987 DuPont memo cited laboratory tests showing that C-8 leached into food (from packaging) at three times the limit set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This and other documents, made public by Environmental Working Group, prove that DuPont knew the risks. A former DuPont employee, Glenn Evers, supported this allegation by stating that DuPont had known of the risks for 23 years. DuPont responded by claiming that Evers was a disgruntled former employee who had never been involved with C-8 issues.

Residents of affected states are not the only skeptics. In November of 2007, the United Steelworker’s Union (USW) came out against DuPont, charging it with lobbying to prevent or delay environmental initiatives, and engaging in voluntary reporting as a tactic to draw attention away from the real impact of its operations. In its report, the USW delineates the true ecological impact of DuPont products – an impact which the USW says DuPont has so far refused to consider.


  • A 1994 EPA lawsuit charges DuPont with failing to provider worker-safety labels on 40 major brands of pesticide.

  • An August, 2005, report from the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control notes that a former DuPont plant in Antioch, California shows disconcerting levels of arsenic, lead, and tetrachloroethene (PCE).

  • A suit by the European Union (EU) in 2007 which fined DuPont and other chemical companies for fixing the price of rubber in a market-share collusion scandal during 1993-2002, and exacted damages of $358 million.

  • A February, 2007, letter from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control (DNREC) program director raising concerns about the Hay Road Sludge Drying Site on Cherry Island, where materials like hexachlorobenzine are not properly characterized and are buried under other, unidentified waste.

  • Releases from the DuPont Red Lion acid plant in Delaware, which DuPont characterized as a miscalculation, even though the releases spanned a decade. When cited, DuPont proposed trading pollution credits from its now defunct Holly Run site against the Red Lion facility to correct the miscalculation. The DNREC agreed.

  • A 2002 article from the California Contra Costa Times, which said DuPont’s road coating, Sierra Crete, was the source of the dioxins bubbling to the surface on local roads. DuPont insisted the seepage posed no health threat, even though dioxins are recognized carcinogens.

Disclosure: I don’t own DuPont stock.

Site Disclaimer.

Toxic Chemicals
Photo:SeraphimC, Creative Commons, Flickr