Troubles aren't over for corporate polluter DuPont, which has faced thousands of lawsuits over its toxic product, PFOA, or “C8.” The federal judge overseeing multi-district litigation in Columbus, Ohio, has ordered the company to turn over documents related to a case of C8 pollution near its factory in Dordrecht, Netherlands.
The historic city of Dordrecht is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands, bordered by four rivers. An ongoing investigation by a public health institute in that country has found that people who lived in the vicinity of the local DuPont plant were exposed to levels of perfluorooctanoic acid at levels higher than allowed by regulations. This exposure has been going on for several years. Better known as C8, this chemical was used in the manufacture of Teflon, the “non-stick” surface applied to cookware. The report indicates that local residents were exposed to elevated levels of C8 over a 32-year period between 1970 and 2002. However, this exposure was not through drinking water, but was due to the presence of C8 dust in the atmosphere.
According to the report, the risk of cancer “would appear to be limited.” However, “...an impact on health, such as on the liver, cannot be ruled out with such chronic exposure.” That health authority report has led to a criminal investigation by Netherlands law enforcement.
In the U.S., over 3,500 lawsuits have been filed against DuPont, alleging that C8 has been responsible for a number of health problems. The C8 Science Panel has found “probable links” between C8 exposure and disease of the heart, kidneys and liver, osteoarthritis, Parkinson's, autoimmune disease, respiratory problems and neurological disorders in children.
It is also known to be a “probable carcinogen.” So far, a number of bellwether cases against DuPont have been settled out of court; in others, juries have found the company liable. The Honorable Edmund A. Sargus, Jr., who is presiding over the multidistrict litigation, has ruled that information from Netherlands health authorities can be used in deliberations on whether or not DuPont was truly being as “proactive on safety” as the company claims as well as assisting juries in the assessment of punitive damages. In his order, Judge Sargus wrote:
“The knowledge DuPont possessed about potential dangers associated with C8, the time frame in which DuPont obtained that knowledge, DuPont’s decisions regarding its continued release of C8 into the environment and its decisions to inform the public of the potential dangers or not to inform are relevant and probative of whether DuPont exhibited a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of persons that has a great probability of causing substantial harm.”
Judge Sargus also points out that “The conduct DuPont is accused of in the Netherlands is not dissimilar to the conduct that allegedly harmed the plaintiffs in this [litigation].”
Attorneys for the corporate polluter are calling Judge Sargus' ruling a “fishing expedition.” However, the Netherlands report was used by a plaintiff in one of the bellwether trials, which ended with the jury awarding $5 million to the plaintiff.