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C8 panel says it has found cancer death rise at DuPont

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Workers at DuPont Co.'s Wood County plant who were exposed to the chemical C8 were more likely to die from kidney cancer and other kidney diseases, according to the latest findings from a three-scientist panel studying C8's potential health effects.

The C8 Science Panel found "significantly increased rates of death among the more highly exposed workers compared to low-exposed workers" for kidney cancer and nonmalignant, chronic kidney disease.

In a summary report made public Tuesday, the scientists said the increased deaths "could possibly be due to" C8 exposure because the kidney is one part of the body where the chemical is found.

Science Panel members issued two other reports Tuesday: One found that increased C8 levels in the blood of Mid-Ohio Valley residents were associated with increases in a liver enzyme that can be an indicator of liver disease. The other discovered a potential link between C8 exposure and pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure among pregnant women.

The findings were released two months after Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane blasted the C8 Science Panel, saying the scientists had taken too long to come up with overall results from their work and to issue a formal conclusion about whether there is a "probable link" between C8 exposure and any illness.

Science Panel members are working to implement 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.

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. So far, though, 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.

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.

The new report is the first study to identify any association between C8 exposure and pre-eclampsia. Science Panel members said the association they found "is small, but clearly present based on a variety of ways of examining exposure."

That same report, though, also said the panel's work had not found the same association between C8 exposure and low birth weight identified in studies by other scientists who looked at other populations of newborns.

In its new liver-enzyme study, the Science Panel said the association with C8 exposure "is unlikely to be due to chance, as it is highly statistically significant."

The Science Panel said the findings regarding kidney disease deaths among C8-exposed Washington Works employees were statistically significant, but cautioned that they were based on small numbers and that "there was no overall excess risk of these diseases for all workers combined."

Previously, court records indicated that DuPont had, in 2006, tried to stop the Science Panel from continuing its study of plant workers. That same year, DuPont reported that its own studies found a "slight, but not statistically significant" increase in kidney-cancer death rates among plant workers.

An independent team of experts that advises DuPont on science issues criticized the wording of company news statements about that study, saying DuPont was wrongly downplaying the issue.

In a statement issued Tuesday, DuPont spokeswoman Janet Smith said additional work by the Science Panel is under way "and must be completed before any conclusions could be drawn regarding cause and effect."

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


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