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Business is War

August 10, 2005
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As June was coming to a close, a large number of professionals in various industries, including carpet cleaners, were the recipients of an interesting fax.

Sporting the headline, "An Important Notice to Distributors and Retailers Regarding Teflon Advanced Carpet Treatment," the fax asked, "Are you informing customers of potential exposure to PFOA from Teflon Advanced? If not...your company may be risking liability."

On first glance the fax seems to be just another in a long line of environmental campaigns. It states how PFOA, also known as C8, "may" form as an unintended by-product during the manufacture of telomer-based products, and how Teflon Advanced carpet treatments "may" be a large source of PFOA in the household environment. It cites "the potential" for this and how researchers "speculated" on that. Pretty much what is to be expected by any chemical manufacturer operating today, especially one of DuPont's standing.

It's not out of the question to assume that the authoring body of such a message would have words like "Green," "Environment," "Planet," "Conservation," and so forth in its name. That's why the last sentence on the page caused an eyebrow to raise: "This public safety message is brought to you by United Steelworkers International Union."

Not your usual source for such a message, at least in my experience. But DuPont seemed to have a pretty good idea as to what was behind it, and on June 29 the company sent out a response (www.telomerinform.dupont.com). And up went the other eyebrow.

"Dear Member of the Carpet Care Industry. It has come to our attention that you may have received a document questioning the safety of DuPont Teflon Advanced Carpet Care products from the United Steelworkers International Union (USW).

"As you may be aware, in May, the USW merged with another union, the Paper, Allied, Industrial, Chemical and Energy (PACE) union. In 2003, the PACE union announced and began a "Corporate Campaign" against DuPont. They have pursued this campaign on many fronts in hopes of bargaining at the corporate level, rather than locally at the sites they represent ... In their recent document, USW singles out Teflon Advanced Carpet Care (without mentioning any other companies and their fluorotelomer products). We believe that this is just another example of their announced Corporate Campaign against DuPont disguised as a safety issue."

The letter goes on for another eight paragraphs, addressing points made in the USW fax and restating DuPont's position on Teflon and PFOA. It is signed by Henry E. Bryndza, DuPont's technology director.

It is obvious that issues concerning carpet protectors will not be going away quietly. But when the principals take to their bully pulpits, it's not enough to just listen to what they're saying; often it's why they're saying it that really matters.

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