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Red Flag For CBS Teflon Story
February 07, 2006
Trevor Butterworth
New study important, but CBS coverage wrong on facts and scientifically irresponsible

CBS News coverage of a new John Hopkins study on Perflurooctanoic Acid is a prime example why the public would, on balance, be much healthier if broadcast news stopped covering health news altogether. It's not that the new study from Johns Hopkins on the discovery of PFOA in the bloodstream of infants isn't interesting, it is; and it may even be important. But in an effort to make a complex piece of news "interesting" for the huddled masses in front of their TV screens, CBS tied the study to a woman who worked at DuPont who worked with PFOA and had a baby with sever facial defects. As CBS reports:

"No one knows exactly how the chemical gets into the bloodstream, but Sue Bailey believes PFOA is why her son has severe facial defects. He was born in the 1980s, when she worked around PFOA chemicals at Dupont and she remembers a Dupont doctor calling her shortly after the birth.

'He was asking all these questions, wanting to know what the deformity was,' Bailey told Attkisson. 'I asked him why he needed to know that and he told me that any time there was a birth defect or a deformity they had to know all about it because it had to be reported. But they did not report it.'

The Environmental Protection Agency says Dupont sat on that information and other substantial risks to humans for 20 years, according to Attkisson. The company recently agreed to the largest EPA fine in history, $16.5 million."

First of all, this kind of scaremongering is tabloid journalism at its worst. One case of deformity from one person (among thousands) who worked with PFOA is an association that is scientifically meaningless, especially when there isn't a single health study that has ever shown any such association.

Second, as a recent article in the New York Law Journal makes clear, the EPA fine had nothing to do with covering up this deformity or substantial health risks from PFOA.

The EPA fine was a result of:

* DuPont's failure to report a sample of umbilical cord which showed trace concentrations of PFOA. The mother was a DuPont employee.

* The failure to report data showing drinking water wells had PFOA levels that exceeded DuPont's internal community exposure guideline of one part per billion (ppb).

* The failure to report a test showing that 12 people tested in the vicinity of a DuPont plant had elevated levels of PFOA in their blood.

As the authors of the article point out, the trace amounts found in each case were well below the EPA's benchmarks for exposure to PFOA - and the EPA's fine represented a "significant change in the agency's position as to the scope of the statutory duty to disclose 'substantial risk' information," according to the authors of the article, Philip E. Karmel and Peter R. Paden, who are partners at Bryan Cave LLP.

Now go back and read the graph on the EPA fine. CBS relied on Attkisson to tell them what the EPA fine was supposedly about - which means they didn't bother to check out if she was correct. But because the graph starts with "The Environmental Agency says..." the viewer (and even reader) is pushed to think that this is what the EPA actually said.

CBS also neglected to provide viewers with the most salient piece of information to viewers in light of the Hopkins research: you can't ingest PFOA from Teflon-coated cookware.

Please note, STATS does not receive any funding from DuPont.