When the Tennant family lost an entire herd of cattle to a mysterious wasting disease on their Washington, W.Va., farm they hired an attorney and went looking for answers.
In the process of testing their land for clues as to the source of the problem that ruined their herd, studies revealed the presence of C8 in a cistern. The discovery would eventually lead to the testing of many public water systems along the Ohio River and the revelation that several were contaminated with the manufacturing chemical used by the nearby DuPont Washington, W.Va., Works plant in the making of Teflon.
Although DuPont and other corporations had been aware of the existence of C8 for 50 years because it is a key ingredient in the making of the non-stick substance, the people who live near the DuPont Washington Works plant along the Ohio River were not made aware it was being released into their air and water until the Tennants started looking for answers. The concerns of the Tennant family would eventually prompt multiple investigations, involving half a dozen government regulatory agencies, into the manufacturing chemical scientists recognize as PFOA.
A mysterious wasting disease killed 280 cattle on the Tennants’ farm near the Dry Run Landfill in the 1980s. The cause of the cattle deaths were never conclusively associated with chemical contamination from DuPont, but the company settled with the Tennant family for an undisclosed amount in light of the allegations. Jim and Della Tennant claim that family members who worked with the herd and lived near the property also began to fall sick with sinus and respiratory problems and skin and other cancers. And, when the Tennants asked their attorneys to look into the cause of the illnesses and pursue action against DuPont, C8 is what they found.
The Tennants were among hundreds of industry representatives, scientists, and other interested parties who attended an EPA hearing on C8 in June in anticipation of enforceable consent agreements that will provide for further scientific testing of the controversial substance.
But while the C8 is a relatively new concern to many, it’s been an issue for the Tennants for almost 20 years.
In 1968, when the Tennants purchased 68 acres of land along West Virginia Route 68, the nearest neighbor was half a mile away.
“We were three-quarters of a mile off the hard road,” Jim Tennant said. “It was paradise.”
In 1984 they sold an adjoining portion of their land to DuPont and it became the Dry Run Landfill. They moved from the location within seven months, but maintain rental property at the site.
Jim Tennant claims a difference in the land was noticeable within a year of the landfill acquisition.
“Shortly after, there were no minnows in the stream. There were deer carcasses lying around, and things were dying,” Jim Tennant said. “There were problems.”
But, those weren’t the only problems the family would observe. After their herd of cattle began to die off, they claim the family members who worked with the cattle and lived near the farm were also becoming seriously ill.
The Tennants’ losses have never been conclusively scientifically linked to pollution from the landfill, but they believe they are related.
Dr. Kris Thayer, a scientist who has studied the case and interviewed the Tennants as part of her research into PFOA for the Environmental Working Group, a watchdog agency in Washington, D.C., said the mysterious syndrome that struck the cattle was consistent with what has been observed in laboratory animals exposed to C8.
“When you look at metabolic problems, that’s what animals do in laboratory studies,” Thayer said. “Animals waste away and lose weight.”
Although it has been proven that large doses of the chemical in laboratory animals causes developmental problems, DuPont contends that C8 poses no threat to humans. Local plant officials say that in 50 years of working with the substance there is no evidence that PFOA presents a risk to humans. The corporation is cooperating with the EPA’s ongoing investigation of the substance.
DuPont company officials, who are involved in the Wood County Circuit Court class action lawsuit, cannot answer questions about the landfill or any portion of the Tennants’ suit. However, for their response they offered the Tennant Farm Health Herd Investigation, a 120-page document prepared by a panel of six veterinarians. The study was performed as a joint project between DuPont and the EPA with each entity selecting three participants.
Despite an exhaustive review of historical and contemporary herd data, the study concluded there was no evidence of toxicity associated with chemical contamination of the environment. However, the study was completed in December 1999, before the extent of the C8 contamination was discovered.
“They did not know at all that the chemical was implicated or present,” Thayer said. “They didn’t try to see if it fit with PFOA toxicity.”
Laboratory studies have indicated that PFOA causes developmental toxicity and other effects in laboratory animals.
Based upon a U.S. EPA draft report entitled Dry Run Creek, 1997, which is cited in the cattle study, carnivorous, piscivorous, omnivorous, insectivorous, and herbivorous mammals in the Dry Run Creek study area are at increased health risk due to exposure to metals, fluoride, and trichlorofluoromethane.
But, the conclusion of the veterinary team was that the Tennants’ herd was suffering from four major disease entities: endophyte toxicity, pinkeye, malnutrition, and copper deficiency. The herd health investigation revealed deficiencies in herd management, including poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care, and lack of fly control, which the report said is to blame for the cattle deaths.
The Tennants refute the report’s claim that the herd wasted as a result of poor management. The Tennants don’t blame C8 alone, but they believe it is a chemical pollution problem. After 40 years of successful cattle ranching, they believe it was chemical contamination that devastated the herd within a span of 10 years.
The terms of the Tennants’ settlement remain secret, and as a result of that action, they are not eligible as class members in the pending C8 suit.