DALTON, Ga. — Georgia plans to begin statewide sampling this year at drinking water intakes for perfluorooctanoic acid, according to a program manager of the Environmental Protection Division.
The acid is labeled a “likely carcinogen” by a federal panel and is found in the Conasauga River.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” said Jane Hendricks, program manager for the permitting compliance and enforcement program of the division’s watershed protection branch.
Ms. Hendricks said the acid, called PFOA or C8, lacks “a lot of standards out there telling us how much is safe yet.”
“If we collect data and know what’s out there, (then) when the risk assessments are complete, we’ll have data to compare to the standards,” she said.
The substance is used by some companies in the Dalton carpet industry, which produces 80 percent of the nation’s carpets, to make stain-repellent floor coverings, according to EPA and industry reports. The chemical also is used to manufacture nonstick cookware and outdoor clothing.
In 2006, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advisory board labeled the chemical a “likely carcinogen.” EPA reports also state the substance has been linked to problems such as low-weight babies.
EPA officials note that products made with PFOA are safe.
A research study by University of Georgia graduate students found high levels of the legal chemical in the Conasauga River. The river borders Dalton’s federal- and state-approved Loopers Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant, where the city’s waste is sprayed on 9,200 acres of forest land to decompose.
Ms. Hendricks said state regulators will receive federal money for the sampling. She said attention being paid to PFOA concerns in Dalton has prompted the state potentially to explore reported problems at the river near the wastewater treatment plant.
Dalton Utilities President Don Cope said trying to understand how to manage a potential environmental and health hazard will not be easy, especially since many carpet companies use the substance.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know (how to deal with it),” he said.
Mr. Cope said state environmental protection officials essentially have told him he can expect eventually to have to help regulate PFOA.
“They were advising me there was going to be a (regulatory) requirement,” he said.
Charlie Bethel, a Dalton City Council member and human resources director for J&J Industries, a carpet maker, said he and other council members are aware of the problem.
“We don’t know where we stand,” he said. “When the federal government gets involved, we don’t know what that direction will be yet.”
Denise Wood, also a Dalton City Council member and director of environmental compliance for Mohawk Industries, said she has friends who fish in the Conasauga and would not hesitate to eat fish caught in the river.
“If (PFOA testing) is something that really is necessary, then they would mandate it would be done,” she said.
The Telomer Research Group — the manufacturers of PFOA — met with EPA officials in April 2004 and reported that monitoring in Dalton proved “infeasible,” EPA records show.
The Carpet and Rug Institute consulted with “various municipal authorities” about monitoring for PFOA, according to the records, and a position statement from the institute stated opposition to the proposed sampling because of a lack of EPA health risk standards.
A May 2004 presentation by PFOA makers titled “User Site Monitoring Update” states that Dalton’s PFOA monitoring plan “wasn’t viable” because “key authority controlling community monitoring site has unequivocally declined to participate.”
EPA records do not name that “key authority,” but Mr. Cope, also citing the lack of measures, said he “imagined” that the authority mentioned in EPA records is Dalton Utilities.
City administrator Butch Sanders said he was not aware of discussions about a proposal for PFOA monitoring in Dalton.
“Dalton government has never been notified of this possibility,” said Mr. Sanders, who held the same city position in 2004. “Obviously, we’re interested to know if there is a potential public health hazard.”
Dalton Utilities, a city-owned public utility, likely would be approached directly about environmental monitoring, he said.
In 2006, when media reports began circulating nationwide about PFOA in Teflon, officials at the utility crafted a statement on the issue, according to Mr. Cope and Dalton Utilities spokeswoman Lori McDaniel.
The statement notes the utility would “take no action until the regulatory agencies who permit our operations provide us with guidance indicating that any action is necessary.”
The statement was not released because neither residents nor local news outlets inquired, Mr. Cope and Ms. McDaniel said.
Werner Braun of the Carpet and Rug Institute said the industry has tried to “shrink their environmental footprint” and that he stands by the institute’s decision not to participate in an 2004 EPA-proposed study in Dalton.
“I have not seen any data (about PFOA) that causes me to be alarmed,” he said.
Mr. Braun said the industry is reducing its use of supplies manufactured with PFOA.
In 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency required changes in the use of PFOAs in the United States and required eight PFOA makers to “produce missing information.”
Some carpet makers first learned of a problem with the substance when they suddenly could not obtain the same standby ingredient they had been using for 15 years, industry officials said.
All eight PFOA makers agreed to reduce emissions and product content of PFOA and related chemicals by 95 percent by 2010 and to work toward eliminating emissions and product content by 2015, records show. At least one of the chemical’s makers, DuPont, provided new formulations.
Just last week the EPA announced that PFOA’s makers in October provided the first reports of progress on the goals.
“To date, companies have submitted more than 50 chemical alternatives to EPA for review,” according to an EPA statement released Feb. 4.
Those companies are Arkema, Asahi, Ciba, Clariant, Daikin, DuPont, 3M/Dyneon and Solvay Solexis.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...