By Evan Bevins, News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG – A watchdog group launched a website Wednesday it says is aimed at making sure DuPont honors its obligations over exposure to the chemical known as C8.
The website KeepYourPromisesDuPont.com contains information about C8, an invitation for people to share how the chemical has affected them and their family and material on signing up for medical monitoring, which organizers say a very low number of eligible people have actually done.
“Basically what we want to do is make sure they keep those promises and don’t sweep them under the rug,” said Washington Bottom resident Joe Kiger, a member of the advisory board for Keep Your Promises and one of the lead plaintiffs in the original 2001 class-action lawsuit against DuPont over the presence of C8 in local water supplies near its Washington Works plant.
Also known as perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, C8 is a man-made chemical used in manufacturing products including nonstick cookware, protective finishes on carpets and water-resistant clothing. A science panel funded by DuPont as part of the settlement of the lawsuit issued findings of probable links between C8 exposure and kidney cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and high blood pressure among pregnant women.
In an emailed statement Wednesday, Robin Ollis-Stemple, DuPont’s regional public affairs manager, said DuPont has consistently met its obligations from the 2005 settlement and will continue to do so.
“Several years ago, DuPont, working together with the local community, funded a comprehensive study to evaluate whether any probable links exist between a material no longer used in operation of our Washington Works facility and any disease,” she said. “We also committed to provide water filtration systems for six area water districts and fund a medical monitoring program for local residents.”
The affected water districts were in Lubeck and Mason County, W.Va., and Belpre, Little Hocking, Pomeroy and Tuppers Plains in Ohio.
Asked if he believed DuPont was attempting to break any of the promises it had made in the settlement, Kiger said he was “not saying they’re backing out on their promises.
“I would say we’re going to make sure they keep them,” he said.
The website opens with the statement “DuPont promised to do right by the people harmed by C8. Now, they are trying to back out on that promise.”
Asked about that wording, Kiger directed questions to Jeffrey Dugas, with Action Network, a nonprofit organization that helped area residents develop Keep Your Promises. Dugas issued a statement from Kiger saying “DuPont has taken baby steps in order to address the community’s concerns, but they can do much more to keep the promises they’ve made.
“DuPont has not compensated any community members who have filed claims. The medical monitoring program has been poorly publicized, and only a small fraction of community members who are eligible have signed up,” the statement says.
Data provided to The News and Sentinel by Harry Deitzler, who is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in the original lawsuit and not affiliated with Keep Your Promises, showed that out of the 98,956 potential participants sent notices by the medical monitoring group, 6,111 had registered with the program. Nearly 4,800 were classified as eligible.
So far, 620 physician appointments have been made by eligible class members and $23,840.43 worth of services have been approved for payment.
Recently, Deitzler and other plaintiffs’ attorneys filed documents saying more needed to be done by the director of the medical monitoring program to provide outreach to potential participants.
On Wednesday, Deitzler said that local company Brookmar was able to test and educate about 70,000 class members for the initial C8 Health Project. Brookmar is no longer involved with the medical monitoring program.
“I don’t know if it’s not being publicized enough,” Deitzler said. “The paperwork is so onerous that that might be the bigger problem.”
Michael K. Rozen, medical director for the monitoring program, did not respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
Another member of the Keep Your Promises advisory committee is Dr. Paul Brooks, who co-owned Brookmar and was extensively involved in the original testing. Brooks said he doesn’t understand the low participation rates either.
“If I’d qualified, I’d certainly want to take advantage of the monitoring,” he said. “I don’t know what it is, but something seems to keep the numbers low.”
Asked whether it was DuPont’s responsibility to publicize the monitoring program since it’s being handled by a third party, Dugas said the company is funding the program and “ultimately, DuPont is responsible for ensuring the program is effectively administered and publicized.”
As far as claims by community members not being paid, Deitzler said people have been filing individual lawsuits seeking claims. The settlement allowed class members to retain the rights to do so for conditions linked to C8.
DuPont cannot dispute general causation, but can argue C8 did not cause it in a particular instance, Deitzler said.
None of the individual cases have gone to trial or been settled at this point. The first trial is scheduled to begin in September in U.S. District Court in Columbus.