This week crucial for those suing over C8

The Columbus Dispatch
By Kathy Lynn Gray

Thousands of Ohio and West Virginia residents who are suing DuPont over life-threatening health problems will be keeping a close eye on federal court in Columbus beginning this week.

That’s when a barrage of court filings is expected to be filed in Bartlett v. E.I. du Pont De Nemours and Co., the first of two test cases for plaintiffs claiming that a DuPont plant in Washington, W.Va., dumped a toxic chemical into the water there for years.

The Bartlett trial begins in U.S. District Court on Sept. 14 in front of Judge Edmund A. Sargus Jr. The trial is expected to last four weeks. More than 3,500 cases are part of the multidistrict litigation that has been assigned to Sargus.

Because the cases involve individual medical issues, the courts treat each one separately. But because the cases have common elements, fact-gathering is done jointly, and legal decisions affect all the cases.

Sargus chose the Bartlett case and a second case to be representative of the litigation, according to court documents. DuPont had recommended the Bartlett case, and plaintiffs’ attorneys recommended the other case, Wolf v. DuPont.

After they are tried, the rest of the cases will be settled, withdrawn or taken to trial based on the results of the first two.

Carla M. Bartlett’s complaint says she developed kidney cancer in 1997 from drinking water contaminated by C8 discharged from DuPont’s plant near Parkersburg, W.Va. DuPont used C8 to make Teflon and other products.

DuPont had determined in 1961 that the chemical was toxic in animals, according to court documents. After numerous investigations and legal efforts, DuPont began filtering C8 from the water in 2005. That year, the company also began paying for health studies of people living near the plant, in the Mid-Ohio Valley along the Ohio River.

The multidistrict litigation stems from a 2001 class-action lawsuit in West Virginia that ended in 2005 with an agreement that 80,000 members of that class could sue DuPont over their health problems.

A 2012 health study concluded that C8 can be linked to thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, testicular and kidney cancers, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.

Bartlett’s case accuses DuPont of negligence for failing to make sure that it was safe to dump C8 into the water; fraud and concealment for failing to inform the public of the dangers of C8; conspiring with others to conceal C8 dangers; “trespass and battery” for allowing C8 to enter the bloodstream and body of the plaintiff; and inflicting emotional distress.

Court documents show that Bartlett, now 59, of Guysville in Athens County, had surgery to remove part of her kidney. The surgery was after she gave birth to a son.

Her lawsuit asks for an undetermined amount of monetary damages to compensate Bartlett for her cancer and punitive damages for the company’s “complete disregard and reckless indifference for the safety and welfare of the general public and to plaintiff.”

Sargus has already ruled that Bartlett cannot pursue her claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress by DuPont and her claim of fraudulent concealment in the trial.

In the second case, scheduled for trial on Nov. 30, John M. Wolf, 54, of Parkersburg, W.Va., claims that the C8 in the water caused his ulcerative colitis.

In July, Sargus rejected DuPont’s request to throw out the Bartlett and Wolf cases.

C8 timeline

* 1951: DuPont begins using C8 to make Teflon and other products at its Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, W.Va.

* 1961: DuPont confirms C8 is toxic in animals.

* 1978: 3M, which manufactures the chemical, reports that C8 has been found in its workers’ blood.

* 1980: Studies by 3M confirm that C8 is toxic to rats and monkeys.

* 1984: DuPont has employees obtain drinking-water samples from taps near Washington Works and finds high C8 levels in the water.

* May 2000: 3M announces it will stop making some chemicals, including C8, after being pressed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

* October 2000: DuPont reaches a settlement with a West Virginia farmer who claimed in a lawsuit that C8 killed his cattle and sickened his family.

* 2001: A class-action lawsuit is filed against DuPont on behalf of residents exposed to C8.

* 2002: The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection concludes that C8 in water presents “possible health risks to the public.”

* 2002: In an agreement with the U.S. EPA, DuPont agrees to reduce air and water emissions of C8 and install equipment to remove up to 95 percent of the C8 in the plant’s wastewater.

* 2005: A settlement is approved in the class-action lawsuit. It requires DuPont to pay for a huge health study of residents around the Washington Works plant, to pay for medical monitoring of residents and to filter C8 from the water.

* 2005: DuPont agrees to pay $16.5 million to settle a federal complaint that it hid health information about C8.

* 2008: The health study of residents begins.

* 2012: The health study finds probable links between mid-Ohio Valley residents’ C8 exposure and thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, testicular and kidney cancers, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.

* 2013: A judicial panel consolidates personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont in federal court in Columbus.

* 2014: Medical monitoring of residents begins.

* 2015: The is the date by which DuPont has agreed to phase out production and use of C8.

* 2015: The first personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont are expected to go to trial.

Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Ohio EPA; court documents; Dispatch archives