Early results of a landmark community health study have added to the evidence that the chemical C8 makes people sick, a federal judge heard Wednesday.
Preliminary data from the nearly 70,000-person C8 Health Project support previous findings that the DuPont Co. chemical damages the liver and raises cholesterol levels, Chief U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin was told.
Dr. Barry Levy, an expert witness for Parkersburg residents, told Goodwin that the project is of immense help in understanding C8's health effects.
"It's one of the largest studies of its kind ever undertaken in this country," Levy said. "It has tremendous statistical and epidemiological power."
Levy testified Wednesday as Goodwin continued hearings in a lawsuit filed against DuPont over pollution of the city of Parkersburg's drinking water supply with C8 from the company's nearby plant.
Goodwin is weighing a crucial decision: whether he will allow the case to move forward as a class action, rather than thousands of individual lawsuits.
Lawyers for the residents want DuPont to clean up the water and pay for medical testing to help catch any C8-related illnesses earlier enough to treat them.
The case is a follow-up lawsuit to earlier litigation against DuPont. In September 2004, the company agreed to clean up water supplies of communities surrounding Parkersburg. Additional money from the $107.6 million deal was funneled to the C8 Health Project and a related study by three independent scientists of C8's effects. If adverse effects are confirmed, DuPont will then be on the hook for up to $235 million for future medical monitoring.
C8 is another name for ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA. DuPont has used the chemical since the 1950s at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg. C8 is a processing agent used to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.
During Wednesday's hearing, Goodwin told lawyers he was struggling to see how their case fits into a West Virginia court ruling that allows medical monitoring lawsuits.
That 1999 case allows medical monitoring suits when someone has been "significantly exposed" to a "proven hazardous substance" and that exposure has created "an increased risk of contracting a serious latent disease."
Goodwin asked if a medical monitoring case would be allowed for everyone who ever had a gas station attendant spill fuel near the vehicle, or for anyone exposed to secondhand smoke if a bar owner does not enforce no smoking laws.
"What's a significant level of C8?" Goodwin asked. "What science is there to indicate that a particular level of C8 causes cancer? These are the things that are bothering me right now."
Levy told the judge that studies have not yet found "a bright line" for the amount of C8 that is dangerous. Levy also noted that the named plaintiffs in the proposed class action have levels of C8 in their blood much higher than the general U.S. population.
"No amount of PFOA in water is good for you or for me or anyone drinking it," Levy told the judge.
Goodwin also pressed Levy to point to specific findings in specific studies that back up his conclusions that, among other things, C8 causes prostate cancer, diabetes, and liver damage. The judge wondered why Levy relied in some findings that were not considered statistically significant.
"What opinion is it you drew from what studies?" Goodwin asked. "Tell me which ones. I'm trying to pin this down. I want to know that you're relying on science."
Levy said that many of the studies did find statistically significant associations between C8 and adverse health effects. He noted one that found twice as many diabetes deaths among plant workers as would have been expected.
But Levy also tried to explain to Goodwin that scientists use non-statistically significant associations in their work. Even if an association between chemical exposure and adverse effects could have occurred by chance, the finding helps scientists when they examine the full picture of a substance's effects, Levy said.
"I looked at all of the literature," Levy said. "I believe there is a consistent pattern of findings among the studies."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 348-1702.
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