A federal judge has set up a battery of class-action trials against DuPont, scheduling 40 a year starting in 2017.
It’s part of a court fight over a chemical called PFOA or C8, which 3,500 plaintiffs in the Ohio River Valley say gave them diseases like cancer.
They’re among 70,000 people who live near DuPont’s huge Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. It manufactured PFOA for use in non-stick Teflon products, and is now run by Chemours.
“All of these people have been drinking it, many for decades, and they were now dying from it, or having a number of horrible health conditions,” says reporter Nathaniel Rich, who wrote about the case for the New York Times Magazine.
But PFOA’s impacts don’t end at the Ohio River Valley.
Lawyer Rob Billot “found out it had entered the drinking water in the community, he found that it had entered the bloodstream of the factory workers, and he even discovered that it was detected in blood banks in America — that it had entered the blood of the general population,” says Rich.
He says EPA data shows 320,000 people in two New Castle County water districts alone could be drinking PFOA-laced water.
That’s although DuPont stopped making PFOA in 2013. It’s never admitted knowledge of any link to serious health effects, such as cancer.
And now, Chemours oversees the chemicals that have replaced it. Rich says lawyers in the class-action case worry that as the trials wear on, the spinoff could simply go bankrupt, leaving DuPont mostly untouched.
Only one trial has transpired so far — a jury sided with cancer patient Carla Bartlett last fall. DuPont is appealing the ruling. Just four more new trials are set for 2016.
And last week, a district court judge in Ohio met with legal teams in the case to schedule the rest of the plaintiffs’ court dates. At the rate of 40 more a year starting in 2017, plus likely appeals, DuPont could be set to grapple with the PFOA case for a century or more.
That’s as it seeks to merge with Dow Chemical this year and lays off thousands of workers in Wilmington and worldwide.
Tune in for this week’s edition of The Green Friday at 3 p.m. to hear more from Nathaniel Rich. And read his story, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” in the New York Times Magazine.