PARKERSBURG - An independent panel of scientists has linked exposure to PFOA -- a chemical used in making non-stick coatings -- to both kidney and testicular cancer in humans.
On Monday, the DuPont-approved panel released its report nixing the company's objections that PFOA, also known as the chemical C8 or ammonium perfluorooctanoate, is harmless.
The C8 Science Panel was selected in 2005 to determine whether such a link exists between the chemical 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.
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 C8 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, said Harry Deitzler of Charleston law firm Hill, Peterson, Carper, Bee and Deitzler PLLC. The firm is one of three designated as lead class counsel representing the people in the six districts who consumed contaminated water.
Also as a result of the settlement, DuPont is paying almost $20 million to fund the panel's continued health study.
If the panel determines that there is a "probable link" between the chemical and health problems, the company must make up to $235 million available for the medical monitoring of class members.
Additionally, all personal injury claims of affected people in the class are preserved if the determination is made by the panel that there is a probable link between PFOA exposure and various diseases.
THIS WEEK'S FINDINGS
The panel is made up of three epidemiologists jointly selected by DuPont and residents of several communities in West Virginia and Ohio.
According to the company's website, the chemical has been used by industry for many years as a processing aid in the manufacture 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.
Monday's findings are the panel's second series of probable link reports.
"We thank the panel for all of its hard work over the last several years, which has led to this final resolution of the issue of whether PFOA exposure is linked to any serious human disease," said Robert Bilott, of the Cincinnati law firm of Taft Stettinius and Hollister. Bilott is one of the attorneys representing the residents.
"We are pleased that the community now has some definitive answers to their concerns about whether they have been put at risk for serious adverse health effects because of their exposure to PFOA in their drinking water.
"We look forward to receiving the panel's remaining probable link reports on the other health endpoints that are still under consideration."
The panel said it plans to release the remainder of its reports -- on heart disease, thyroid disease, neurological problems in children, lipid disorders, etc. -- by the end of July.
It released its first set of reports, focusing on reproductive outcomes only, in December.
The panel found that there is a "probable link" between exposure of PFOA and elevated blood pressure in pregnancy, or 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," Deitzler 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."
However, 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.
Among its other findings, the panel said in December a probable link did not exist between PFOA exposure and the risk of pregnancy loss, either miscarriage or stillbirth. It also did not find a link between exposure to the chemical and preterm or low birth weight infants, or birth defects.
"Today's scientific findings, coupled with the scientific panel's related findings in December, finally put to rest the long debate over whether PFOA is linked to any serious adverse health effects in humans," Deitzler said in a statement Monday.
"It is has now been confirmed that human exposure to PFOA is linked to one of the most serious of human diseases -- cancer."
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.
Last week, the parties announced that they had 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 C8 Science Panel's probable link findings on disease.