Same chemical found in West Morgan-East Lawrence drinking water, is focus of multi-million dollar jury award in Ohio

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- One of the chemicals found in above-recommended levels in the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority’s drinking water last summer has been the focus of multi-million jury awards in federal court in Ohio.

A Columbus, Ohio jury awarded a man a total of $12.5 million last week, in support of his claims that chemicals dumped by DuPont into a drinking water supply in West Virginia for many years led to his getting testicular cancer.

Bill Walker, managing editor of the Environmental Working Group, has co-authored a number of studies concerning the group of chemicals known as PFCs.

“So I think you’re seeing the reaction from the juries in the Ohio and West Virginia cases is exactly what was handed down yesterday, punitive damages against DuPont for knowingly polluting the area’s drinking water with a chemical they knew was hazardous and had in fact taken steps to protect their own workers from,” he said.

DuPont had argued against the chemical causing the plaintiff’s testicular cancer, but there were limits to what it could argue, Walker said.

“DuPont had to agree that in court they basically would not challenge that their chemical was capable of causing this disease,” he said. “They can still argue that it didn’t cause this individual’s disease, but they cannot dispute the scientific findings that the chemical is capable of causing cancer and other serious health problems.”

The chemicals PFOA and PFOS were used to make a number of household products by DuPont and 3M – at its Decatur plant – and have been linked to health problems. The chemicals don’t break down in water and take considerable time to leave the human body, once consumed.

Walker said the chemicals have been linked to a range of problems.

“Teenage obesity to hyper-eclampsia, which is hypertension during pregnancy, high blood pressure, as well as more serious concerns, such as testicular and kidney cancer, and reproductive effects,” Walker said.

The EPA issued a health advisory on the chemicals last year, lowering the recommended exposure levels.

Studies found the West Morgan-East Lawrence drinking water had concentrations above the recommended levels. That led to a number of steps, including an advisory by the water authority’s leadership not to drink its water, an agreement with Decatur Utilities to add its water to the mix, essentially diluting the chemicals presence and installation of new filtration equipment.

A federal study released late last year found the chemicals’ presence had fallen below the health advisory levels, but the water was still considered a health concern for babies and children up to a year old.

3M stopped making the chemicals in the early 2000s, but is still involved in a state-monitored cleanup effort around its plant.

DuPont has acknowledged dumping the chemical PFOA around one of its plants in West Virginia. A class action lawsuit on behalf of residents in the area led to a settlement that included installation of water treatment technology and a health and education program. The settlement also led to the funding of a multi-million dollar study.

DuPont is now facing about 3,500 claims from residents who say they were affected by consumption of the PFOA infected drinking water.