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Persistent Pollutants

Solvay withheld PFAS toxicity data, group claims

Environmentalists petition US EPA to impose $434 million penalty under toxic substances law

by Britt E. Erickson
January 28, 2021


Chemical structure of a generic chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylate.
An environmental advocacy group is urging the EPA to fine Solvay for allegedly withholding toxicity data on chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates, chemicals that have varying numbers of perfluoroethyl (red) and perfluoropropyl (black) groups.

Environmental advocates are urging the US Environmental Protection Agency to fine Solvay Specialty Polymers a total of $434 million for allegedly withholding information about the toxicity of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used by the company as processing aids to make fluoropolymers.

At issue are compounds called chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates that Solvay used as replacements for surfactants containing salts of perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA).

Solvay stopped using those two chemicals more than a decade ago because they are toxic and persist in the environment. Both are known drinking water contaminants.

In a Jan. 26 petition, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy organization, claims that Solvay violated reporting requirements under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) by waiting more than 5 years to notify the EPA about potential risks to human health and the environment posed by chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates. According to the EWG, Solvay identified risks in a 4-week oral toxicity study in rats in 2005, but the company didn’t send the information to the EPA until 2011. The EWG also claims that Solvay has known since at least 2011 that chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates accumulate in human blood, but the company didn’t send biomonitoring data of its workers to the EPA until late 2019.

“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,” Ken Cook, president of the EWG, says in a statement. The group is encouraging the EPA to fine Solvay the maximum penalty under TSCA.

In an emailed statement, Solvay calls the allegations from the EWG “misguided and without merit.” The company says that it is in compliance with TSCA requirements.

The toxicity data and identities of the compounds in question were made public 2 months ago when Solvay announced that it was phasing out the chemicals, the EWG says. The company previously claimed that the identities of the compounds was confidential business information.

A Solvay spokesperson confirmed in an email that the company has developed new nonfluorosurfactant technologies and is phasing out the use of fluorosurfactant processing aids.

The move comes after scientists from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the EPA reported last year finding several chloroperfluoropolyether carboxylates in soil near Solvay’s West Deptford plant in Gloucester County, NJ (Science 2020, DOI: 10.1126/science.aba7127). The New Jersey researchers claimed that the compounds are potentially just as toxic as PFOA and PFNA. In November, New Jersey sued Solvay and Arkema, which owned the facility in the 1980s and used several PFAS to make fluoropolymers, to pay for remediation of contaminated drinking water near the site.



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