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Charleston Gazette (West Virginia)
March 1, 2005
Judge approves DuPont settlement
Company agrees to pay at least $107.6 million over use of chemical C8
By: Ken Ward Jr.
PARKERSBURG — A Wood County judge on Monday gave final approval to a more than $100 million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged DuPont Co. poisoned tens of thousands of people’s drinking water with the chemical C8.
The settlement paves the way for a landmark study of C8’s effects on human health and an equally groundbreaking review of Parkersburg-area residents’ exposure to the chemical.
Wood Circuit Judge George W. Hill Jr. called the deal, initially announced in September, “a very shrewdly and competently organized proposal.”
Hill noted that Congress and President Bush moved recently to limit the use of class-action lawsuits, but said the case against DuPont has served the public interest.
“It certainly has served a good purpose to this community,” Hill said at the end of four-hour hearing Monday.
Under the settlement, DuPont will pay at least $107.6 million and could eventually be on the hook for another $235 million, depending on the outcome of a new C8 study.
Of the initial money, DuPont will put $5 million toward an independent study to determine whether C8 harms humans.
The company will spend at least $10 million to give six local water districts new equipment to remove C8 from their supplies.
Those water districts, downstream from the DuPont plant south of Parkersburg, are Lubeck and Mason County in West Virginia and Little Hocking, Tuppers Plain, Pomeroy and Belpre in Ohio.
Another $22.6 million will go toward legal fees and costs for the citizens who sued DuPont.
On Monday, Hill approved the plaintiffs’ lawyers request to use the bulk of the initial payment — $70 million — for a community health study focused on C8 exposure.
Dr. Paul Brooks, a Parkersburg physician and former hospital administrator, took the stand during Monday’s hearing to explain the proposal.
Brooks said that he and another longtime local hospital administrator, Arthur Mayer, would coordinate the effort.
Residents and former residents who drank contaminated water for more than a year would be asked to fill our detailed health questionnaires and submit blood samples for an extensive battery of tests.
To encourage participation among the estimated 80,000 people who are eligible, residents would receive $150 payments for filling out the questionnaires and another $250 for submitting blood samples.
At the same time, a team of three epidemiologists picked jointly by lawyers for DuPont and the residents will begin a detailed study of C8’s potential human health effects.
Laurence Janssen, a DuPont lawyer, announced that the study would be conducted by Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene, David Savitz of the University of North Carolina School of Public Health and Kyle Steenland of Emory University in Atlanta.
The panel will evaluate available scientific evidence, including the health survey, to determine if there is a link between C8 exposure and any human disease, including birth defects.
If a link is found, DuPont must pay up to $235 million to establish a long-term medical monitoring program to help residents detect disease and seek early treatment.
Residents initially filed suit in August 2001, after DuPont had already settled one lawsuit over C8 pollution from the Washington Works plant.
DuPont has used C8 for more than 50 years in the production of Teflon. The popular product is best known for its use on nonstick cookware, but is used in everything from waterproof clothing to stain-repellent carpet and ball-bearing lubricants.
The investigation by plaintiffs’ lawyers prompted the federal Environmental Protection Agency to launch its own probe of C8. Last year, EPA sought more than $300 million in fines against DuPont for allegedly covering up C8’s dangers.
Monday’s hearing drew a packed courtroom. Lawyers overflowed into the jury box and residents lined up in the hall outside.
But the hearing was fairly uneventful. Minor changes to the settlement had already been made, in response to an objection by five class members. When Hill asked the crowd if anyone wanted to comment on the deal, no one stepped forward.
Hill said that the settlement “seems to be a very unprecedented action by a huge corporate defendant, taken in the spirit of community good neighbor-ship.”
He added, “All this is being taken prior to there actually being any evidence submitted to the court of there being any disease or causation.”
While Hill never formally took evidence on such issues — a scheduled trial was cancelled when the settlement was reached — hundreds of pages of documents were submitted to the court detailing C8’s harmful effects.
The judge himself outlined many of those details in an April 2002 ruling granting class-action status to the case, and in an April 2003 ruling that ordered DuPont to provide blood testing for residents.
“[C8] is toxic and hazardous to humans and is biopersistent, meaning that it is absorbed into and persists in the blood of humans exposed to C8,” Hill wrote in the 2003 ruling. “DuPont has tortiously contaminated the drinking water of the class members with C8 without the permission of the class members by virtue of DuPont’s past and continuing releases of C8.”
Parkersburg-area residents can get started on the survey by visiting http://www.c8healthstudy.com/ or calling 1-800-605-6850.