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DuPont agrees to pay $107 million Wood county plant

Published: Friday, September 10, 2004
Page: P1A
Byline: Ken Ward Jr.

General terms of DuPont's C8 settlement s DuPont will make an immediate cash payment of $70 million, of which $20 million will be used for health and education projects s DuPont will pay another $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses for the plaintiffs s DuPont will offer to provide new water treatment equipment to clean C8 from the supplies of six area water companies. This is estimated to cost $10 million s DuPont will pay $5 million for creation of an independent panel to evaluate the potential health effects of C8 s If that panel concludes that a link exists between C8 exposure and any diseases, DuPont will spend up to $235 million on a medical monitoring program for area residents s Residents retain their right to file personal injury suits if C8 is linked to illness or birth defects.

DuPont C8 chronology Here is a timeline of significant events in the case against DuPont over C8 pollution: s March 6, 2001 - Cincinnati lawyer Robert A. Bilott writes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to complain that C8 from DuPont's Wood County plant "may pose an imminent and substantial threat to health or the environment." s Aug. 9, 2001 - DuPont confidentially settles a case filed by the Tennant family of Wood County, who alleged the company's C8 pollution made them sick and killed hundreds of their cattle s Aug. 20, 2001 - Neighbors of DuPont's Washington Works plant near Parkersburg sue the company, alleging C8 has poisoned their water and air s Nov. 15, 2001 - DuPont and the state Department of Environmental Protection agree to form a team of company and state officials to investigate C8 pollution. The team later sets water and air pollution guidelines for C8 that are weaker than internal company limits or those suggested by agency consultants s March 12, 2002 - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announces that DuPont has agreed to replace the water supply of any resident whose water contains more than 14 parts per billion of C8, a level much greater than what DuPont's own studies showed could cause adverse effects s June 12, 2002 - Wood Circuit Judge George W. Hill Jr. orders then-DEP science adviser Dee Ann Staats to stop destroying documents about the agency's investigation of C8. Hill terms Staats' destruction of public records "a crime." s September 2002 - EPA begins a "priority review" of C8's dangers, citing new data that connects the chemical to liver cancer and developmental defects s October 2002 - Lawyers for Wood County residents complain that DEP's handling of C8 issues is tainted because the three of the agency's top officials are former lawyers from the firm that represents DuPont s April 18, 2003 - Hill orders DuPont to pay for blood testing for thousands of Washington Works neighbors to determine their exposure to C8. A DuPont model had suggested residents' blood contained 1,000 times the C8 that EPA considered safe s Dec. 5, 2003 - State Supreme Court overturns Hill's blood-testing order. The court later refuses DuPont's demand that Hill step down from the case s May 6, 2004 - Supreme Court unseals a series of damaging DuPont documents that reveal the company's own lawyers were vulnerable in the pollution lawsuit s July 8, 2004 - EPA files a landmark case alleging that DuPont for more than 20 years hid from regulators and the public evidence that C8 is harmful to humans and that C8 contamination from the Washington Works plant is widespread. DuPont is fighting the allegations s July 27, 2004 - DuPont informs its stockholders the company has set aside $45 million to cover potential costs of the Wood County case s Aug. 9, 2004 - Hill agrees to postpone the trial date from Sept. 20 until late October. Lawyers in the case said they needed the delay to have time to complete depositions.

Compiled by staff writer Ken Ward Jr In a landmark deal, chemical giant DuPont has agreed to pay at least $107.6 million to settle a lawsuit over pollution of Parkersburg-area water supplies with a highly toxic chemical it uses to make Teflon.

Under the tentative agreement announced Thursday, DuPont will offer to provide six local drinking water companies with new treatment equipment to reduce C8 in their supplies.

The company will also fund a $5 million independent study to determine if C8 makes people sick, and pay $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses for residents who sued.

DuPont could also be forced to pay another $235 million on a program to monitor the health of residents who were exposed to the chemical C8.

Robert A. Bilott, a lawyer for the residents, said, "In addition to the clear benefit of removing C8 from their drinking water, addressing medical monitoring and funding a scientific study on the effects of PFOA exposure, this agreement preserves people's rights to pursue any personal injury claims they may have if exposure to C8 is found to be linked to any disease or birth defects." "I'm tickled to death," said Joe Kiger, a Parkersburg teacher and spokesman for the residents. "At least we're getting our water cleaned up and we have medical monitoring coming." On Thursday, DuPont general counsel Stacy J. Mobley said the company wants "to make it very clear that settling this lawsuit in no way implies any admission of liability on DuPont's part." "Nevertheless, a settlement at this time provides benefit to both parties by taking reasonable steps based on science and, at the same time, contributing to the community," Mobley said.

DuPont has said that the class of residents suing the company could "be as large as 50,000 persons" in West Virginia and Ohio.

Trial in the case had been scheduled for mid-October in Wood Circuit Court.

But with a recent enforcement action by federal regulators, pressure was building on DuPont to settle.

In July, DuPont set aside $45 million to cover potential costs of the litigation.

Then, in early August, Wood Circuit Judge George W. Hill Jr. agreed to delay the trial for a month from the previously scheduled start date of Sept. 20. At the time, lawyers in the case said that the delay was needed so they could complete depositions of various expert witnesses.

Also in August, DuPont filed motions aimed at trying to limit its legal exposure, by blocking any punitive damages in the case.

"DuPont wouldn't have settled for up to $342 million with the people of Parkersburg, Marietta and surrounding areas if company officials didn't think they were guilty of polluting local tap water and the people themselves," said Ken Cook, president of the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which has issued various reports critical of DuPont and C8.

C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate, and is also known as perflurooctanoic acid, or PFOA. At its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg, DuPont has used C8 for more than 50 years in the production of Teflon. The popular product is best known for its use on non-stick cookware, but it is also used in everything from waterproof clothing to strain-repellent carpet and ball-bearing lubricants.

In court documents, one DuPont executive testified that the company earns about $200 million a year from products made with C8.

For years, C8 - and DuPont's emissions of it into the air and water - have been basically unregulated. But in the past few years, C8 has come under increasing scrutiny.

In September 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched an unusual "priority review" of the chemicals, in response to studies that linked it to development and reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer. The EPA has repeatedly delayed the release of results of that review.

As part of the class-action lawsuit, thousands of pages of internal DuPont records have been made public. Those records support the plaintiffs' claims that DuPont knew decades ago about the dangers of C8, but kept that information from its workers, regulators and the public.

In May, a series of documents unsealed by the state Supreme Court showed that even DuPont's own lawyers were upset with the company's actions.

"Our story is not a good one," in-house DuPont lawyer John R. Bowman wrote in one of the documents.

Fueled by national and international press reports, disclosures about C8 garnered global attention. In China, for example, concerns about the safety of non-stick cookware triggered what a DuPont spokeswoman called a "mass panic" among consumers.

In July, EPA filed a major complaint that agreed with the plaintiffs' allegations that DuPont covered up information about C8's dangers.

That complaint - which DuPont is challenging - could cost the company more than $300 million in fines.

Last year, DuPont reported $973 million in profits on $27 billion in sales, according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

DuPont's stock closed Thursday evening at $42.90, up about 14 cents.

In a joint press release Thursday, the parties said DuPont would make an immediate cash payment of $70 million, $20 million of which would be used "for health and education projects." Lawyers declined Thursday to say how those projects would be selected, or to describe how the other $50 million would be distributed among class members.

Under West Virginia law, lawyers must publish public notices of the terms of the settlement. Potential class members will have a chance to object. The deal will not take effect until it is approved by Judge Hill.

Under the proposed deal, DuPont would be required to fund medical monitoring for residents if the independent panel - to be appointed by the parties - determines that "a probable link exists between exposure to PFOA and any diseases," the joint press release said.

The release said DuPont will also "offer to provide" six water companies with "a state-of-the-art water treatment system designed to reduce the level of C8 in the water supply to the lowest practicable levels as specified by the water districts." The water companies include the Lubeck and Mason County public service districts in West Virginia and the Little Hocking, Tuppers Plains, Pomeroy and Belpre systems in Ohio.

In all, the six systems provide water to 45,000 customers, according to EPA data.

DuPont said it would offer "the same technology or its equivalent" to those districts whose sole source of water is a private well.

In July, DuPont said it "continues to search for the science to support practical removal of C8 from drinking water." "Evaluation of one promising treatment technology has led to a pilot study for which we hope to have results by the end of the year," DuPont spokeswoman Robin Ollis said.

Robert Griffin, director of the Little Hocking water district, said he understands that the DuPont technology is a carbon filter system.

In early August, DuPont provided the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency with a report on the results of its carbon filter pilot project.

The report shows the system reduced the level of C8 in water to 0.1 parts per billion. That compares to DuPont's internal drinking water limit for C8 of 1 part per billion.

"Long-term performance demonstrated removal to low levels," the DuPont report said.

"We think our water should not have C8 in it," Griffin said. "If it meets that goal, we'd be happy." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.

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