VIENNA - An independent panel of scientists has now linked exposure to PFOA -- a chemical used in making non-stick coatings -- to thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis in humans.
On Monday, the DuPont-approved panel released its third set of reports nixing the company's objections that PFOA, also known as the chemical C8 or ammonium perfluorooctanoate, is harmless.
According to DuPont's website, the chemical has been used by industry for many years as a processing aid in the manufacturing of some fluoropolymers.
These fluoropolymers often possess "unique properties," including heat and chemical resistance, and are used to make Teflon and other non-stick products, such as fast-food packaging and microwave popcorn bags.
The C8 Science Panel was selected in 2005 to determine whether a link exists between PFOA and any human disease as part of a class action settlement of a lawsuit involving releases of the chemical from DuPont's Washington Works in Wood County.
The panel is made up of three epidemiologists jointly selected by the company and residents of several communities in West Virginia and Ohio.
In its most recent set of reports, the panel added thyroid disease and ulcerative colitis to the growing list of diseases that are linked to the chemical, which the company released into Parkersburg area drinking water sources.
Thyroid disease affects the butterfly-shaped gland in a person's neck, located just above the collarbone.
The thyroid is an endocrine gland and makes hormones. It helps set a person's metabolism -- how the body gets energy from the foods a person eats.
A person who has a thyroid disease -- there are different types -- uses energy more slowly, or quickly, than he or she should.
Meanwhile, ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes ulcers in the lining of the rectum and colon.
It is one of a group of diseases called inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcers form where inflammation has killed the cells that usually line the colon.
The panel previously linked exposure to PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer in its second set of probable link reports released in April.
In December, it released its first set of reports, focusing on reproductive outcomes only.
At that time, the panel found a probable link between PFOA exposure and pregnancy-induced hypertension, including preeclampsia.
"The findings announced by the panel are not surprising based on the current state of scientific literature and studies of health effects associated with exposure to PFOA," Harry Deitzler of Charleston law firm Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee and Deitzler PLLC said in December.
"We are pleased that our class members and the community now have some initial answers to their concerns about whether they are at risk for adverse reproductive health effects as a result of their exposure to PFOA."
The company, which plans to stop making and using the chemical by 2015, said in a statement at the time it doesn't believe the chemical causes pregnancy-induced hypertension.
In its third set of reports Monday, the panel also eliminated several diseases from the list of possible PFOA-linked diseases.
The dismissed diseases include: stroke, influenza, asthma, chronic obstructive airway disease, lupus, type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis and neurodevelopmental disorders in children, including attention deficit disorders and learning disabilities.
The panel is expected to submit its final report on the other health endpoints still under investigation, including but not limited to lipids and heart disease, in October.
"As attorneys for the affected residents, we commend the science panel for their continuing hard work to resolve these very important and difficult scientific questions for the community," said Robert Bilott of Cincinnati law firm Taft Stettinius and Hollister LLP.
"We are confident that the panel is working diligently to alert the community by the end of October regarding any additional serious health risks that they may face because of their exposure to PFOA-contaminated drinking water."
ABOUT THE SETTLEMENT
A settlement was reached with DuPont in the original class action lawsuit, Leach v. E. I. DuPont, in February 2005.
That settlement provided for payment of $70 million for the health project. With interest, the actual budget exceeded $71 million.
The settlement also mandated that DuPont pay for the installation of state-of-the-art water treatment technology for the six identified water districts to clean PFOA in the water supply to the lowest practicable levels.
Water in all six affected districts is now filtered to a level where the chemical is nearly non-detectable.
Also as a result of the settlement, DuPont is paying almost $20 million to fund the panel's continued health study.
Now that PFOA has been linked to serious human diseases, DuPont must pay the $235 million to fund a medical monitoring program.
The program will help detect the onset of PFOA-linked diseases among the 70,000 to 80,000 residents who are class members as defined in the settlement agreement.
The parties announced in April that they jointly selected a C8 Medical Panel.
The members are Dr. Dean Baker, Dr. Melissa McDiarmid and Dr. Harold Sox.
The medical panel is now charged with determining what type of medical monitoring program would be appropriate for the class members given the science panel's probable link findings on disease.
Beyond medical monitoring, class members who suffer from the linked diseases are now permitted to move forward with personal injury or related wrongful death claims against DuPont.
The company's settlement agreement provides that it will not dispute that the chemical can cause the specific diseases that the science panel has linked to PFOA exposure.
The court-approved class attorneys are presently reviewing potential individual personal injury claims on behalf of affected residents who qualify as members of the class action litigation.
They include Hill Peterson Carper Bee and Deitzler, Taft Stettinius and Hollister, and the Charleston firm of Winter and Johnson PLLC.
To view all of the panel's findings so far, click here.