OHIO VALLEY — Many questions remain about the C8 contamination that has spread through the valley as a result of industrial activity at DuPont Washington Works near Parkersburg, West Virginia. For instance, the controversy began with the deaths of an entire herd of cattle, yet the company is so far refusing to provide EPA-requested testing of local cattle, locally grown produce, and many other sets of environmental monitoring data promised more than a decade ago.
C8, also known as PFOA or perfluorooctanoic acid, was detected in local drinking water supplies in 2001 and 2002. The discovery led to a class action lawsuit against DuPont brought by local water consumers who feared health effects from exposure to the manmade surfactant.
As a result of the class action lawsuit settlement, an independent panel of epidemiologists known as the C8 Science Panel determined after several years of study that C8 exposure is linked to pre-eclampsia, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, and kidney and testicular cancer. Dozens of area residents who have fallen ill are in the process of filing personal injury claims against the company, which will be handled as multi-district litigation in federal court.
This week, Cincinnati attorney Robert Bilott, who was the lead attorney for the class in the groundbreaking C8 suit, is urging the US EPA to force DuPont to provide the promised monitoring in order to “address ongoing threats to human health and the environment”.
Prior to the class action lawsuit, Bilott represented the Tennant family — a Washington, West Virginia family of farmers who lost their entire herd of 280 cattle to a mysterious wasting disease. His investigation into the cattle deaths led to the discovery of C8, or PFOA, in local water supplies including Belpre, Tuppers Plains, Little Hocking and Pomeroy, Ohio — and Lubeck and Mason County, West Virginia.
Yet, more than a decade after the deadly controversy came to light, in many ways the extent of the contamination remains unknown. The impact on local cattle, hens, milk, eggs and produce remains largely unmeasured.
Bilott’s correspondence to EPA says that DuPont’s monitoring information is full of holes.
An extensive paper trail reveals that DuPont promised to fill in data gaps identified by the EPA as early as 2003, then repeatedly failed to deliver the requested information.
By means of a voluntary regulatory process, EPA hoped to gain insight into some of C8’s more elusive properties — such as the chemical’s capacity to travel in the environment, as well as the extent to which local game and produce had become contaminated. Yet, many of these questions remain unanswered.
Specifically, Bilott says there are problems with DuPont’s inadequate evaluation of air emissions from landfills, failure to take air and other samples more than two miles from the plant, failure to consider air emissions from the LIttle Hocking Service Center, failure to sample surface water other than the Ohio River, failure to sample farm ponds, failure to sample the Ohio River at least 90 miles downstream of the Washington Works plant, failure to sample domestically produced milk and eggs, failure to sample farm produce or home-grown produce, failure to sample locally produced meat and failure to sample fish and game animals.
Bilott describes the lack of monitoring of locally raised cattle “a particularly vivid example of DuPont’s continued recalcitrance.”
“Thus, after having been on notice of the need to evaluate PFOA exposures in West Virginia cattle impacted from the Washington Works plant for more than ten years, DuPont ultimately refused to collect a single sample from even a single cow anywhere in the entire state of West Virginia,” Bilott said.
The one cattle sample submitted by DuPont for analysis was from an Ohio cow located five miles from the plant and was muscle tissue — not the type of blood, liver or kidney sample expressly requested by the US EPA and US Department of Agriculture in order to properly assess beef exposures.
Yet, according to a final monitoring report submitted to EPA in November 2012, DuPont considers the data provided to be “sufficient” to fully address the questions raised and to proceed with the risk assessment.
In light of the circumstances, Bilott says the EPA should force DuPont to comply with formal enforcement or legal action.
In the meanwhile, with the very passage of time, important pieces of the C8 puzzle are being lost to degradation. DuPont reports a significant reduction of C8 emissions from the Washington Works plant, which presumably would translate into reduced concentrations of exposure in the environment, flora and fauna.
“DuPont’s empty promises in this regard allowed it to very effectively delay and thwart the collection and analysis of important PFOA monitoring data for more than a decade — long enough that much of the data no longer exists and the ability to detect the true levels of exposure have diminished,” Bilott said.
He said the agency should not tolerate such manipulation of the regulatory system.
“After stringing US EPA and the interested parties along for more than a decade on empty promises of ‘voluntary’ data productions that would satisfy outstanding PFOA monitoring data needs. it has become clear that DuPont will not provide such data unless and until forced to do so through appropriate legal action,” Bilott said.