Chemical company Solvay concealed toxic study results, EWG charges

Solvay Specialty Chemicals knew its PFAS chemical was just as toxic to humans and animals as a fluorinated compound it was meant to replace, but kept those test results secret for eight years, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group.

EWG is asking the Environmental Protection Agency to levy $434 million in civil and criminal penalties against Solvay for the chemical maker’s failure to report the results of human and animal tests showing a substantial risk.

“We suspect that Solvay deliberately kept these damning toxicity studies from the EPA – a serious violation of federal law that requires companies to immediately report any evidence they uncover that a chemical may pose a substantial health hazard, EWG President Ken Cook said.

According to EWG, in 2005, Solvay obtained test results showing that its new PFAS chemical was just as toxic as DuPont’s PFOA, used to make Teflon, which it was to replace. That year, DuPont was fined a then-record $10.25 million for failing to disclose PFOA toxicity studies. DuPont and other companies, including Solvay, agreed to phase it and similar compounds out by 2015 through the PFOA Stewardship Program.

In 2019, Solvay submitted a document to the EPA that showed it had been testing workers’ blood since at least 2011 and knew that the chemical compounds were building up in their bodies. The gaps between when the two rounds of tests were conducted and when they were reported – more than five years for the rat study and eight years for the worker study – appear to violate the Toxic Substances Control Act that requires immediate filing when a company becomes aware of a substantial risk.

PFAS are a class of manmade chemicals that includes PFOA and PFOS, two of the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. PFAS have been used in the manufacturing industry since the 1940s for their ability to resist heat, water, stains and grease.

They are found in firefighting foams and are widely used by the military to suppress flammable liquid fires. PFAS are also used in consumer products such as pizza boxes, fast food containers, nonstick cookware, cleaning products, water-resistant clothing, and stain-resistant coatings on carpets and other fabrics.

PFAS are called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment. Experts say that contaminated drinking water is a major source of exposure, along with tainted seafood, microwave popcorn, takeout foods served in grease-resistant containers and carpet.

Scientists think the chemicals may harm pregnant women and their developing babies by affecting their gene regulators and hormones that control two of the body’s most critical functions: metabolism and immunity. PFAS can also alter levels of both mothers’ and babies’ thyroid hormones, which oversee brain development, growth and metabolism, and also play a role in immunity, according to a New York Times report.

According to the article, women exposed to PFAS during pregnancy have higher risks of gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia. Their babies are more likely to undergo abnormal growth in utero, leading to low birth weight, and they later face an increased risk of childhood obesity and infections.

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