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A Dirty Dupont Secret—Again?


A widely used form of DuPont’s Teflon, suspected of being a carcinogen and creating organ damage in animals, is being studied by the Food and Drug Administration, according to abcnews.com, but the potential danger to human beings was known to a DuPont engineer who helped create the product but was let go by the company when he raised internal questions about possible public health dangers.

This is not the first time DuPont did its best to suppress public information about company problems. Nearly 30 years ago, DuPont used its advertising power over Big Media to smother a book in its cradle because it disclosed unpleasant data about company behavior.

This time, the problem is a chemical called PFOA (acronym for perflurooactane acid). If it is, indeed, hazardous to health, it is widely used in common products throughout the human food chain.

What is significant while this is getting a more careful medical study is, first, that it is so widely used in so many ordinary products, and second, because a DuPont engineer, Glen Evers, working on its development saw a public health problem about which DuPont had failed to tell the Food and Drug Administration. Internal studies alarmed him when tests showed the chemical produced by PFOA, Zonyl, being released in three times the concentration the company expected. When he raised the issue his was let go by DuPont, though he had been is employee for 22 years..

The chemical rubs off on its most common uses in fast-food packages, microwave bags, and candy wrappers. While the FDA approved its use in 1967, the agency is now monitoring data on its possible long-term dangers,. thanks to Evers and the Environmental Working Group that is pursuing the issue. It also reached the media when Evers filed a civil suit against DuPont

Evers said he decided to go public with his knowledge when his priest told him , “You can’t dance with the devil.”

This is not the first time that a single individual discovered unpleasant information about Dupont and had his work suppressed.

In 1974, Gerard Colby Zilg, a former congressional aide with access to large quantities of corporate information, wrote a book about the DuPonts and the imperial way they ran their corporation. The book was called DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Published by Prentice-Hall, it rapidly sold out its first 10,000 printing. It created public interest. The New York Times Book Review said it was “something of a miracle” that the 25-year-old author had written a book with such authority that was masterful. Publishers Weekly said the book would be “useful for future historians.”

In ways not clear, DuPont got a copy of the manuscript before it was published. (This writer had a similar experience. When my first book, the first edition of The Media Monopoly, was still in manuscript, Simon and Schuster got a copy of the manuscript and the publisher’s General Counsel wrote to my publisher, Beacon Press, threatening to take action if Simon and Schuster did not see the manuscript before publication and remove anything that might be seen as defaming the publisher. The New York Times got word of this pre-publication threat and wrote a news story. It did wonders for book sales. But how S&S saw the manuscript beforehand remains a mystery.)

In the 1974 DuPont case, the book was saleable enough that it was slated to become the selection of the Fortune Book Club, a subsidiary of Time,Inc. . DuPont lawyers got on the case, threatened the Fortune Book Club and Prentice-Hall, and more powerfully threatened to cancel all DuPont ads from Time. Inc. publications. Time, Inc. and Fortune-Books cancelled its plans and Prentice-Hall stopped promoting the book.

Zilg, the author, sued Prentice-Hall and DuPont for conspiracy under the First Amendment and anti-trust collusion in restraint of trade. He never won against DuPont but he did win against Prentice-Hall —- after four years of litigation.

That was in 1974. Now in 2005, when Glen Evers who had worked for DuPont for 22 years as an engineer, he discovered a DuPont product with possible public health problems, he, too, like Zilg years before, discovered that major corporations do not fail to use their power to silence its critics.

In 1974, Gerard Colby Zilg, a former congressional aide with access to large quantities of corporate information, wrote a book about the DuPonts and the imperial way they ran their corporation. The book was called DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Published by Prentice-Hall, it rapidly sold out its first 10,000 printing. It created public interest. The New York Times Book Review said it was “something of a miracle” that the 25-year-old author had written a book with such authority that was masterful. Publishers Weekly said the book would be “useful for future historians.”

In ways not clear, DuPont got a copy of the manuscript before it was published. (This writer had a similar experience. When my first book, the first edition of The Media Monopoly, was still in manuscript, Simon and Schuster got a copy of the manuscript and the publisher’s General Counsel wrote to my publisher, Beacon Press, threatening to take action if Simon and Schuster did not see the manuscript before publication and remove anything that might be seen as defaming the publisher.

The New York Times got word of this pre-publication threat and wrote a news story. It did wonders for book sales. But how S&S saw the manuscript beforehand remains a mystery.)

In the 1974 DuPont case, the book was saleable enough that it was slated to become the selection of the Fortune Book Club, a subsidiary of Time,Inc. DuPont lawyers got on the case, threatened the Fortune Book Club and Prentice-Hall, and more powerfully threatened to cancel all DuPont ads from Time. Inc. publications. Time, Inc. and Fortune-Books cancelled its plans and Prentice-Hall stopped promoting the book.

Zilg, the author, sued Prentice-Hall and DuPont for conspiracy under the First Amendment and anti-trust collusion in restraint of trade. He never won against DuPont but he did win against Prentice-Hall —- after four years of litigation.

That was in 1974. Now to 2005.

Glen Evers has worked for DuPont for 22 years as an engineer. He found that Teflon was used not just in cooking utensils, but in a wide range of candy wrappers, microwave products, and fast-food packages since FDA’s approval almost 40 years ago.

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