The funds from a $70 million class-action settlement between DuPont and Mid-Ohio Valley residents exposed to the toxic chemical C8 have set the stage for even more litigation against the Delaware chemical giant.
All thanks to “Harry’s Project.”
Harry Deitzler, the local attorney in the case, realized the settlement money would only provide class members with a few hundred bucks each, and there needed to be lasting impact for a community that suffered so much.
His idea was to create a health project to test as many people in the region as possible and try to substantiate links between C8 and the illnesses afflicting residents.
More than 69,000 people had their blood tested as part of the $70 million C8 Health Project. Participation in the 2005 testing was boosted by paying each volunteer $400, a notion area residents referred to as “DuPont blood money.”
DuPont had tested a few hundred of its workers over the years, but Deitzler said the small size of the samples failed to produce meaningful test results.
“You need a real population,” he said. “If we do that, it will have benefited everyone who was affected – whether they participated in the class or not.”
The Health Project passed along test results to the C8 Science Panel, also created with the settlement funds. It was the Science Panel that searched for a links between C8 and health risks.
Nearly 50 scientific papers came out of the Science Panel, including works describing links between C8 exposure and testicular and kidney cancers, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy induced hypertension and high cholesterol.
More than 3,500 lawsuits have been filed against the company since 2005 by residents in the region. Those plaintiffs allege DuPont’s disposal of C8 — used at its nearby Washington Works plant — caused illnesses as varied as testicular cancer to high cholesterol.
Some of plaintiffs in the upcoming lawsuits learned of their medical issues after being tested by the C8 Health Panel.
At first, DuPont’s corporate counsel agreed not challenges claims that C8 can cause the diseases linked to it by the Science Panel. But the company soon backtracked. Its attorneys argued the panel “estimated doses” and only focused on those with the greatest C8 exposure, which skewed the results.
Both sides battled back and forth through the fall of 2014. That’s when Judge Edmund Sargus, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, ruled DuPont was bound to the original agreement which did not require plaintiffs to identify their individual dosage or if levels were sufficient to cause the illness.
Paul Brooks, the doctor who oversaw the testing said the work of both efforts is holding DuPont accountable today for what happened in West Virginia.
“The only thing that stopped the DuPont train from running out of the station was the science panel,” Brooks said.