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Judge to stay on C8 case

By Callie Lyons, clyons@mariettatimes.com

Wood County Circuit Court Judge George W. Hill refused to step down as the judge presiding over the DuPont/C8 class action lawsuit saying most Parkersburg residents will be eliminated as plaintiffs in the lawsuit because the amount of the chemical known as C8 is negligible in the Parkersburg drinking water supply.

"A judge cannot recuse himself unless there is a substantive reason to do so," Hill said during Thursday morning's hearing on miscellaneous motions at the Wood County Judicial Building. "I'm going to proceed with the case."

Hill refused to hand the case over to another judge, insisting that the responsibility to hear the case is his own. A motion to disqualify him had been filed by DuPont attorneys. It asked him to step down because of a potential economic interest as a member of the class.

"I am interested in the welfare of this community," Hill said. "There is nothing in this for me. I am representing the people of this circuit. I don't have the right to just step out of it."

Residents living near the DuPont Washington, W.Va., plant filed the suit against DuPont after the discovering the manufacturing chemical in their drinking water supplies. C8 is released into the air and water by the plant, which is located on the Ohio River. C8 is a key ingredient in the manufacturing of the non-stick coating familiar to consumers as Teflon.

An amendment refining the definition of the class will mean that most Parkersburg residents would not be eligible for free testing to determine the level of C8 in their blood.

"We are operating in a nebulous area," said DuPont counsel, Diana Everett of Steptoe & Johnson of Parkersburg. "We have not been able to reach an agreement regarding the class."

The definition of what area residents can make up the "class" is necessary in order for court-ordered blood tests to be made available to those residents whose public water system has been shown by DuPont tests to have a detectable amount of C8.

Hill insisted that he is not a member of the class since as a Parkersburg resident he has not lived in areas of significant exposure according to DuPont's testimony.

Hill said DuPont attorneys "scared the people of Parkersburg" by "making a big deal" of his ruling in the media after court documents claimed the amount of C8 in the Parkersburg water system was negligible.

"You argue out of both sides of the mouth," Hill told DuPont Attorney Laurence Janssen of Los Angeles, Calif.

In other matters related to the case:

Everett said DuPont would file a motion requesting a hearing to hear evidence on who should be included in the class. Attorneys for both sides agreed to convene to try and resolve the issue, but asked the judge to reserve time in case a hearing would be necessary to make the determination and finally define the class.

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Billott, asked the judge to compel DuPont to turn over the medical records of employees who had been evaluated because of their exposure to C8. Billott's request was granted by Hill under condition of a protective order to safeguard the confidentiality of DuPont employees.

Hill scolded DuPont attorneys repeatedly throughout the hearing for making "outrageous" statements to the media.

"This is not a trial by the media," Hill said, expressing concern that the trial scheduled for Sept. 15 will be a difficult one for locating unbiased jurors. "I think the jury pool has already been tainted."

The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating C8, known to scientists as PFOA, for potential hazards to humans. The chemical causes developmental and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.

However, DuPont officials contend that in the corporation's 50 years of working with the substance employees have suffered no ill effects and C8 poses no threat to humans.

An EPA public hearing will be in Washington, D.C., next week to gather information on the chemical's toxicity.

Because of concerns about possible health hazards, the plaintiffs have asked DuPont to test the blood of anyone whose water has been contaminated by C8.

On May 1, Hill ordered the blood testing with terms he now believes are too vague because they would have included Parkersburg residents in the class definition. DuPont attorneys have contested the court-ordered blood tests and should know next week if the West Virginia Supreme Court will hear the appeal. The terms and procedures particular to executing the blood testing for community members will be determined after the Supreme Court's decision is known.

While it was agreed that most Parkersburg residents would not qualify as class members unless they had previously lived in a higher impact area, attorneys for both sides were unable to come to an agreement on the exact water system service areas that would come under the class definition. It was generally agreed that the consumers served by the Lubeck water system in West Virginia, and the Little Hocking water system in Ohio, should be considered part of the class and eligible for blood testing. Those two systems' wells have tested highest for the amount of C8 likely because of their close proximity to the plant.

 








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