Four Athens County residents filed lawsuits last week in Athens County Common Pleas Court against E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., over the company’s contamination of drinking-water supplies with C8, a chemical used in the manufacturing of Teflon at a DuPont plant in West Virginia.
The four largely identical complaints, filed by West Virginia attorney Kathy Brown through an attorney licensed in Ohio, have as their named plaintiffs Jack Offenberger, John Wright, Kit McPeek-Stalnaker and Betty Bragg.
The way was cleared for the suits – Brown has already filed similar complaints in West Virginia – by the final report in October of a science panel set up to study the health risks of C8 from DuPont’s Washington Works Plant in Wood County, West Virginia. Parkersburg is Wood County’s county seat.
The panel, which was formed as part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit against the company, found probable links between exposure to C8 and a variety of medical problems including thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancers, ulcerative colitis, and elevated cholesterol.
The class-action suit included as plaintiffs anyone living in six named water districts affected by C8 from the Washington Works plant, including the Little Hocking Water Association, which serves part of Washington County as well as Troy and Rome townships in Athens County.
The others are the Lubeck Public Service District in West Virginia; the city of Belpre in Washington County; the Mason County Public Service District in West Virginia; Tuppers Plains in eastern Meigs County, Ohio; and the village of Pomeroy in Meigs County.
The lawsuits filed in Athens County last week are reportedly among 21 Brown has filed in Ohio. She has also filed suits in West Virginia. In January 2002, it was announced that C8 had been found in its water supply. A class-action lawsuit on behalf of as many as 60,000 people was filed in Wood County Circuit Court in August 2001; in September 2004 DuPont agreed to a settlement worth around $343 million.
The lawsuits filed in Athens County allege that DuPont “negligently, recklessly, knowingly, carelessly, wrongfully and/or intentionally allowed, caused, and/or otherwise permitted and is continuing to allow, cause, and otherwise permit releases of materials from the Washington Works Plant into those waters that are and have been used for human drinking water purposes.”
DuPont has said it plans to stop making and using C8 by 2015. At the time the settlement was announced, the company said that despite the outcome in that case, it would continue to fight allegations made by the U.S. EPA that the chemical is harmful to human health, and that the company tried to cover this up.
Though the company has established a “community exposure guideline” for C8 of 1 part per billion (ppb) in drinking water, the suits claim, the chemical poses a human health risk at lower concentrations than that.
The suit also alleges that DuPont knew as early as 2000 that one of its plants in Minnesota had decided to stop manufacturing and selling C8 “based upon concerns associated with (its) bio-persistence and relative toxicity.” The company also knew for several years that C8 was getting into public and private drinking water supplies, the suits allege, but failed to take steps that could have reduced the releases, and took steps to conceal the contamination from the public.
As part of the settlement in the class-action suit, any class member who was diagnosed with an illness for which the science panel determined a probable link to C8 could pursue an individual lawsuit. The Athens County suits claim the chemical caused thyroid disease and ulceritive colitis.
The lawsuits include claims of breach of duty, negligence, concealment, fraud, defective product, failure to warn, conspiracy, unfair and deceptive practices, and past and continuing trespass and battery. They ask for both compensatory and punitive damages, but don’t give dollar figures.