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Judge blasts C8 Science Panel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- A Wood County judge on Wednesday strongly criticized a panel of scientists he said are taking too long to decide if there is a "probable link" between any human illnesses and the DuPont Co. chemical C8.

"I'm just so frustrated," Circuit Judge J.D. Beane told members of the C8 Science Panel during an unusual court hearing called to quiz the panel members about their work.

At one point during the nearly three-hour hearing, Beane told lawyers for Mid-Ohio Valley residents and DuPont that he might consider forcing them to appoint a new panel of experts.

"You're getting paid well to do this, and I just don't see anything being done," the judge told the scientists.

Beane summoned lawyers for both sides and members of the C8 Science Panel to his courtroom for an update on the panel's work implementing a key provision of a $107.6 million class-action settlement between DuPont and about 70,000 residents whose drinking water was polluted by C8 from the company's Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg.

C8 Science Panel members Kyle Steenland, David Savitz and Tony Fletcher were appointed to study C8 and determine if there is a "probable link" between exposure and illness. If they conclude there is, DuPont could be on the hook for up to $235 million for future medical monitoring for area residents.

The panel has published peer-reviewed papers and separate reports to the court that found C8 exposure associated with a variety of adverse health effects, ranging from high cholesterol and hypertension to birth defects and learning disorders in children. But so far, the panelists have not filed a report in which they actually either find or rule out a "probable" link between such problems and C8 exposure.

Steenland, Savitz and Fletcher are collecting some of their own data, but are also relying in large part on health information gathered as part of a separate part of the DuPont settlement. That separate effort, called the C8 Health Project, put together a huge database of health information and blood test data for 70,000 residents exposed to C8.

The scientists told Beane that they needed more time to collect data about when residents contracted various illnesses and when they were exposed to various levels of C8. Without such data, the scientists said, they can't conclusively determine if exposures pre-dated illnesses and thus could have caused those illnesses.

A final "probable link" report will be completed by July 2012, the scientists said.

C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate acid, or PFOA. In West Virginia, DuPont has used C8 since the 1950s as a processing agent to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.

DuPont and other companies have reduced their emissions and agree on a voluntary phase-out of the chemical. But researchers remain concerned about a growing list of possible health effects and about the chemical's presence in consumer products, as well as continued pollution from waste disposal practices.

At the end of Wednesday's hearing, Beane backed off the idea of appointing a new science panel.

But he did tell panel members they must begin providing the court with detailed disclosures to show how they are spending the settlement money. Beane also said he would schedule periodic hearings of updates, and told the scientists to schedule a public forum to explain their work and answer questions from residents.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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