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DuPont told to pay for C8 blood tests

By Callie Lyons, clyons@mariettatimes.com

PARKERSBURG - Anyone whose drinking water is, or has been, contaminated with the chemical C8 may get the opportunity to have their blood tested at the expense of DuPont.

Wood County Circuit Court Judge George W. Hill on Friday ordered the company to do the testing, assuming the decision stands up through an expedited appeals process.

Jennifer Whipkey, of 619 Tenth St., Marietta, is one of many citizens who would volunteer to have her blood tested if it were available to her.

"I think it is a good idea, and I think DuPont should pay for it," Whipkey said.

Like many area residents, Whipkey has been concerned about the chemical discharged by the Du Pont Washington, W.Va., Works plant ever since she learned about it last year. The plant is located in Wood County across the Ohio River from western Washington County.

More than 3,000 similarly concerned people filed a class action lawsuit in 2001 against DuPont's Washington Works for discharging the potentially hazardous substance.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency intensified and accelerated its search for answers to the potential hazards of the chemical known by scientists as PFOA. It has been found to cause reproductive and developmental problems in lab animals. DuPont maintains that no risk exists for humans.

Attorney Robert Bilott, representing the Lubeck, W.Va., residents in the class action suit against DuPont, made a motion for a summary judgment to allow the residents medical monitoring at the expense of the manufacturing company.

Hill said he did not have enough scientific knowledge to make a summary judgment, which would have implied wrongdoing on the part of DuPont or health risks associated with C8. Instead, he ordered a relief injunction that orders the company to pay for blood testing not only for the 12 named plaintiffs, but also for anyone who meets the class definition.

"DuPont is reviewing Judge Hill's order," said attorney Laurence F. Janssen, representing DuPont from Steptoe and Johnson in Los Angeles. "Judge Hill did order that DuPont provide for testing for the presence of C8 in the blood of those class members requesting it. This is not the same thing as medical monitoring."

It is unknown how much it would cost to test everyone who wanted it, and the testing would start only after DuPont has a chance to appeal the decision.

Residents in communities like Little Hocking, Belpre, Lubeck, and Parkersburg, will be notified of the voluntary opportunity to have their blood tested.

Hill said he would defer the implementation of the testing until DuPont can seek an expedited appeal on the ruling.

At the Friday hearing, Hill asked the attorneys representing DuPont if an alternative for C8 exists, or if there was a way to use it in the manufacturing process without discharging it into the air or water.

Stephen Finell, another attorney representing DuPont from Steptoe and Johnson said it is not possible for the plant to eliminate its discharge of C8. And, after 30 years of searching for an alternate to C8, involving the testing of 43 different products, a substitute has not been found.

"DuPont has used it for 50 years," Finell said. "You can't point to meaningful evidence where anybody has identified a human health effect. The plant is doing everything possible to minimize the discharge."

One problem that became apparent in Friday's hearing is that no independent testing will be available to confirm or review the findings. There are no independent laboratories in the United States that can test for C8. Every lab that has the capability to test for C8 already has a contract with DuPont. A new lab would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Bilott said.

Hill also sanctioned DuPont at the request of Bilott for failing to produce research documents related to the case. Specifically, the company will be fined due to the actions of a DuPont scientist who had access to C8 toxicology studies that are no longer in existence. Hill ordered DuPont to pay the costs incurred by Bilott and his staff in researching the case over the past year.

Dr. Kris Thayer of the Environmental Working Group is just one of many scientists who are watching the DuPont case develop with great interest.

The Washington, DC-based scientific research coalition released its own report on the dangers of PFOA and has called for it to be phased out of use at the insistence of the EPA.

"It is absolutely a positive step in the right direction," Thayer said. "Locally and nationally we are seeing action. Ultimately we would like to see these chemicals banned."

 








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