By Tom Hrach, email@example.com
Citizens who live near the DuPont Washington Works plant
are caught in the middle of a scientific dispute about how
much of a chemical used at the plant is dangerous to their
health. On one side is a law firm involved in a class
action lawsuit against the company that says recent
information shows that people who live near the plant are at a
significantly greater health risk from the chemical than
people who work at the plant.
The law firm issued a letter in early February to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA outlining its
On the other side is DuPont officials who say the concerns
are misleading and not factual. The company was so concerned
about the allegation that it issued a statement from the plant
manager saying the information is based on a theoretical model
and has not been tested.
It leaves citizens wondering what is the truth.
"It's a chemical. It doesn't belong in there, but I would
not imagine that anyone from the company would lie to us about
it," said Eugene Harlow, 79, of Cutler, a customer of the
Little Hocking Water Association, who said he now buys bottled
water. "But we don't know what to believe."
The chemical, with a trade name of C8, has been an issue
for citizens of Little Hocking, Belpre, Parkersburg and other
area water systems since the summer of 2001 when the lawsuit
was first filed.
Investigations show the chemical is present in the water
systems, but because it is an unregulated chemical, not much
is known about the health risks of consuming water with C8.
The latest information comes from Robert Bilott, a lawyer
with a Cincinnati law firm representing citizens in the class
action lawsuit. As part of the firm's research into the case,
it claims DuPont scientists came up with a model that shows
that people who drink water with C8 are more than twice as
likely to have the chemical in their blood than even people
who work at the plant.
Employees at the plant who work with the chemical are also
monitored. Those employees showed levels of the chemical
greater than a certain amount were to take precautions such as
drinking bottled water, medical monitoring and wearing
protective equipment. But no such preventive measures were
ever issued for citizens who drink water with the chemical in
it, said the Feb. 3 letter from Bilott.
The letter asks the U.S. and Ohio EPAs to take action on
these concerns because West Virginia environmental officials
have taken no steps to find out how much of the chemical in a
human's bloodstream is harmful.
The DuPont response says the information is based on a
model, and that it has not been scientifically tested. The
company says employees exposed to the chemical for many years
have not shown ill health effects, and that the model
overestimates the amount of the chemical that is in citizens'
"The idea that DuPont would ever knowingly put the people
in the communities in which we operate in harm's way is
preposterous and contrary to the culture of DuPont, which puts
safety first always," said Paul Bossert, plant manager, in the
March 6 statement. "We have every confidence that our
operation at Washington Works is safe for our employees and
our neighbors in the community."
Dawn Jackson, spokeswoman for the company, said she is
encouraging citizens to find out as much as they can about the
situation before assuming there is a concern. The company has
taken steps to inform the public about the chemical with a Web
site, and she said the company is concerned that
misinformation is concerning the public.
"I know there is a lot for people to sift through. But we
are encouraging people to do that," Jackson said. "That
information was only a model. It was a draft report. At this
time, there is no scientific data to back it up."
Also caught in the middle are water company officials, who
are concerned about the chemical but don't know what is in the
best interest of customers.
"We are following this particular issue. We are not
involved directly, but we, of course, are very interested in
all this information," said Robert Griffin, general manager of
Little Hocking Water.