By Callie Lyons, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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."
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.