On Wednesday, a federal jury ordered DuPont to pay more than $5 million to an Ohio man who alleged he contracted testicular cancer from drinking water contaminated with a toxic chemical formerly used to make Teflon. Jurors found that DuPont acted with malice in dumping an industrial chemical into the Ohio River, clearing the path for DuPont to be assessed additional punitive damages.
After a five-week trial, jurors in Columbus, Ohio deliberated for less than a day before awarding $5.1 million to David Freeman, a college professor who was among tens of thousands of people who drank water tainted with perfluorooctanic acid, or PFOA. The chemical was dumped from DuPont’s Teflon factory in Parkersburg, W.Va. Freeman’s attorneys argued that DuPont knew for decades the chemical was hazardous but kept scientific studies secret from local, state and federal regulators.
The Freeman case is the second judgment so far against DuPont, which is the defendant in more than 3,400 lawsuits – many of which are still pending – brought by residents of the mid-Ohio River Valley. Last October, a jury awarded $1.6 million to a woman who alleged that she contracted kidney cancer from drinking PFOA-laced water.
Through their widespread use in Teflon and many other nonstick products, PFOA and related chemicals have polluted the blood of almost all Americans and have been passed from mothers to babies through the umbilical cord and breast milk. They contaminate the drinking water of about 7 million Americans in 27 states. Recent research shows that the chemicals are hazardous at very small doses, but 15 years after the Environmental Protection Agency was alerted to the problem, regulators have failed to set an enforceable legal limit for exposure.
“Today’s verdict puts a spotlight on DuPont’s negligence and conscious disregard for the people of the mid-Ohio Valley,” said Harold Bock of Keep Your Promises, a Parkersburg-based grassroots group campaigning to hold DuPont accountable for PFOA pollution. The group said the judgment is a signal of verdicts to come because Freeman’s was a test case.
Although jurors found DuPont liable, if the award stands after appeal it will be paid by Chemours, a spinoff company that Keep Your Promises charges was formed to shelter DuPont from liability for PFOA pollution in the mid-Ohio Valley and nationwide. Chemours stock plunged by more than 20 percent following the verdict. EWG will continue to follow this story as it develops.