The US Environmental Protection Agency has asked DuPont Co and seven other chemical companies to work to eliminate use of a chemical that is a key ingredient in the production of Teflon but may pose potential health risks to humans.
While accepting the EPA's challenge on Wednesday, DuPont acknowledged that it has no immediate replacement for the chemical, a key compound in products that accounted for about US$1 billion of its sales in 2004.
EPA administrator Stephen Johnson sent letters to DuPont and the other companies on Wednesday asking them to commit to the voluntary program by March 1.
The initiative calls for a 95 percent cut in environmental emissions and product content levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and associated chemicals by 2010.
The companies also are being asked to work toward the elimination of PFOA and associated chemicals from emissions and products by 2015, but the agency conceded that may not be possible because of costs and technological hurdles.
DuPont, one of the largest users of PFOA, has agreed to participate in the program, which EPA officials announced in a teleconference with reporters.
Other companies asked to participate are 3M/Dyneon Arkema Inc, AGC Chemicals/Asahi Glass, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Clariant Corp., Daikin and Solvay Solexis.
While DuPont has eliminated environmental emissions of PFOA by more than 90 percent in recent years, it does not believe it can eliminate usage of PFOA to make products any time soon.
PFOA is a processing aid used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, which have a wide variety of product applications, including nonstick cookware. It also can be a byproduct in the production of fluorotelomers used in surface protection products such as stain-resistant textiles and grease-resistant food wrapping.
The EPA is awaiting a final decision from a science advisory board reviewing a draft risk assessment of PFOA. A majority of board members concluded in a draft report that the chemical is "likely" to be carcinogenic to humans.