DOVER, Del. -- The chemicals giant DuPont reported a nearly 12 percent decline in second-quarter earnings this week partly because of lower pricing for titanium dioxide, a widely used whitening pigment, and said it is exploring a possible sale or spinoff of its performance chemicals unit.
DuPont Co. is a global leader in production of titanium dioxide, or TiO2, but has wrestled for more than a year with sluggish demand for the whitener, which is used in broad range of products from automotive and house paints to toothpaste.
Titanium dioxide is a key part of DuPont's performance chemicals business, but CEO Ellen Kullman noted Tuesday the markets for performance chemicals are cyclical and volatile, and that they have low growth profiles compared to other DuPont products.
"These are strong, healthy businesses <t40>...<t$> but DuPont has always embraced change," she told analysts. "We are always looking around the next corner."
Kullman said no decisions have been made and no timetable set for determining the future of the performance chemicals unit, which generated total sales of $7.2 billion in 2012.
DuPont has plants at Belle in Kanawha County and Washington in Wood County. Dan Turner, spokesman for DuPont's North American operations, said the company employs 2,000 people in West Virginia but would not disclose information regarding the number of those employees who may be affected in performance chemical units.
"It's too early to speculate in regard to any impact on these sites," he said.
Kevin DiGregorio, executive director of the West Virginia Chemical Alliance Zone, said information on DuPont is still preliminary, but companies are always going through the process of deciding what to keep and what to let go.