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Senators Ask DuPont to Stop Making Ozone-Destroying Chemicals

Guy Darst

4 March 1988

The Associated Press


(AP) _ Three senators have asked the DuPont Co. to redeem a 13-year-old promise to stop making chemicals that destroy the ozone layer if health damage were shown, but the company said Friday it has declined.

"It is our judgment that there is no longer an credible dispute that Freons do, and will continue to, damage human health and inflict injury to the enviroment," wrote Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont.; Dave Durenberger, R-Minn., and Robert T. Stafford, R-Vt., to DuPont's chairman on Feb. 22.

Baucus is chairman and Durenberger and Stafford are members of the hazardous waste and toxic substances subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Freon is DuPont's trade name for chlorofluorocarbon compunds, CFCs for short, that can destroy ozone shielding the earth from the sun's ultra-violet rays.

DuPont Chairman Richard E. Heckert said the company stood by its promise, but what the senators was asking was "unwarranted and counterproductive" in light of international agreement to reduce CFC use.

The three wrote Heckert that then-chairman Irving Shapiro had signed newspaper ads, when a ban on use of CFCs in aerosol propellants was being discussed from 1974 to 1978, saying that "should reputable evidence show that some fluorocarbons cause a health hazard through depletion of the ozone layer, we are prepared to stop production of the offending compounds."

No date was apparent on a copy of the ad supplied by an aide to one of the senators who made the letter available on condition that his name not be used.

A slightly stronger promise appeared in congressional testimony Dec. 11, 1974, by Raymond L. McCarthy, technical director of the company's Freon Products Division, who said that if "credible scientific data" showed that the compounds could not be used without a threat to health, "DuPont will stop production of these compounds."

"The government as well as the public relied on the assurances of the DuPont corporation of its good faith. Proposals to further regulate these chemicals were abandoned in the face of these assurances," the senators wrote.

Aerosol use was banned in the United States in 1978, but use grew for refrigeration fluids, cleaning solvents in electronics and foam blowing agents, uses where the non-toxic, non-flammable, non-reactive properties of CFCs are important. Last year 24 major producing nations agreed to slash CFC production in half by mid-1998. The Senate had been expected to consider the treaty on Thursday, but other matters intervened.

The senators said what they called confirmed losses in the earth's ozone layer now mean "these losses will increase the amount of ultraviolet radiation entering the atmosphere which will, in turn, lead to increased (skin) cancers in humans."

Though scientists agree that CFCs destroy the ozone layer, there is not yet full agreement that measurable declines have occurred outside Antarctica. Ozone concentrations fluctuate naturally. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that a 1 percent ozone decline means a 5 percent to 6 percent increase in skin cancer.

The senators asked that DuPont "commit itself to cease the production and sale of all Freons that result in ozone depletion. We hope that this commitment will be immediate and, if necessary, unilateral" and complete within a year for most of the compounds in question.

They said "DuPont has a unique and special obligation" as author of public assurances of safety of the compounds and as the developer, along with General Motors Corp., of CFCs in the first place.

In his reply, Heckert said the senators' proposal "calls for more drastic action than the scientific evidence justifies" and "would reduce U.S. CFC supplies by almost 50 percent at a time when safe alternatives in many areas do not exist." He noted that a recent study showed small declines in ultra-violet rays reaching the United States from 1974 to 1985.

"We believe DuPont clearly has assumed leadership in hastening the development of substitutes," the result of development work begun "in advance of scientific proof," Heckert said.
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