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Water system sues DuPont

By Kevin Pierson, Special to The Times

Officials with DuPont Washington, W.Va., Works were left feeling frustrated and disappointed after the Little Hocking Water Association filed a lawsuit against the company in Washington County Common Pleas Court Monday.

At the heart of the dispute is the ongoing issue of the chemical C8 in Little Hocking’s water system. Little Hocking water has the highest concentrations of C8 of affected local water systems.

The chemical C8, also known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate or PFOA, has been used by DuPont since 1951 at its Washington Works plant in the production of Teflon, which is used in a variety of consumer goods, including non-stick cookware.

It was recently reported by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that the chemical is a “likely” carcinogen to humans.

Monday marked the end of an agreement between DuPont and the western Washington County water association which prompted the lawsuit.

Little Hocking Water had offered to extend the deadline on the agreement with DuPont until July 2007 to avoid having to file a lawsuit.

But DuPont officials said they felt they had adhered to the agreement and no lawsuit was necessary, so they declined the offer.

Despite the lawsuit, DuPont officials said the company will continue to provide bottled water to water association customers and will continue working with the group to install a filtration system to permanently remove C8 from area water.

In the meantime, plant officials said the company will also defend itself against the water association’s lawsuit “forcefully.”

“As long as we feel they’re cooperating with us to get the (C8 filtration) plant constructed we will provide the funding,” said Bill Hopkins, plant manager for DuPont Washington Works. “The desire of DuPont is to provide the citizens with their water treatment facility so they have the PFOA-free water. We’d like to get on with that.

“We’re disappointed that it’s reached this point. We feel like we’ve been trying to work closely with Little Hocking to get a filtration system in place. We hope to quickly resolve this to the benefit of the citizens there in Little Hocking.”

Officials with the water association were not available for comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit says the water association is pursuing legal action — and damages greater than $25,000 but at a level to be determined later — because DuPont has polluted Little Hocking’s 45 acres of wellfields with perfluorinated compounds, including C8, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said may be cancer causing.

“For many years DuPont hid the truth about its polluting activities, the health effects of pollutants like C8 and even the fact of the contamination of the wellfields,” the lawsuit reads.

DuPont has maintained that C8 does not pose any adverse human health effects.

The lawsuit also says that chemicals other than C8 were found in the association’s water system, which surprised officials with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Jim Leach, spokesman for the Ohio EPA, said the organization has not had time to evaluate the lawsuit thoroughly but added that the inclusion of chemicals in the range of C4 to C9 were a shock.

“The only thing I’ve ever heard in association with this is the C8,” Leach said. “I’ve never heard of any of the others.”

The chemical C8, also known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate or PFOA, is a key ingredient of DuPont’s Teflon products, which are made at its Washington Works plant.

The water association’s decision to file the suit after submitting plans to the Ohio EPA for a carbon treatment plant was particularly frustrating for the company, Hopkins said.

“Our belief is that we’ve been working with them for more than a couple years now. We believe that the design and criteria have been met,” Hopkins said.

Though Little Hocking Water submitted the design plans for the plant to the Ohio EPA they have not accepted the design, which has delayed construction work on the treatment plant.

DuPont currently has two treatment facilities in place in Belpre and Pomeroy and a third started in Tuppers Plains-Chester, said Robin Ollis, external affairs officer for DuPont Washington Works, in a prepared statement.

“We would have liked to have had the construction (on the Little Hocking treatment plant) under way by now. We did not see a need to draw it out any longer (with a lawsuit),” Hopkins said.

The lawsuit seeks to issue an order forcing DuPont to provide water free of chemicals and to award the water association any money it’s incurred relating to C8 and finding clean water. Other requests include requiring the company to finance, construct and install the water filtration system, continue to provide bottled water, award the water association reasonable litigation costs, fund the water association’s oversight to insure the company complies and award any other costs the water association has incurred that are appropriate.

Justin McIntosh contributed.


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