updated 11/24/2004 11:41:17 AM ET 2004-11-24T16:41:17

A state judge on Tuesday approved an almost $70 million medical study of as many as 80,000 people in two states who drank water containing C8, a chemical DuPont Co. used to produce Teflon at a West Virginia plant.

Blood tests will be conducted on customers of area water districts, former customers of those suppliers, and residents with private wells. Lawyers for the residents hope to test anyone who drank water contaminated with the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, for at least a year.

General terms of the settlement were released in September, but a formal settlement agreement was not filed until last week. The settlement will not be final until after a public hearing on Feb. 28.

Though used since World War II, C8 is unregulated by either federal or state agencies and its long-term effects on humans are unknown.

Legal notices will be published notifying the customers of the Lubeck and Mason County public service districts in West Virginia, and Little Hocking Water Association, city of Belpre, Tuppers Plains-Chester Water District and Pomeroy, all in Ohio.

Test-takers to get paid
Residents who apply and are found to qualify would be paid $150, plus an additional $250 if they complete two blood tests.

The payments will serve as an incentive for a higher level of participation in $546 tests, which are needed to detect C8’s potential effects on people who drank the water, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Harry Deitzler.

“That gets the answer to the question everyone wants to know: ’What does C8 do or not do to me?”’ he said.

DuPont continues to deny any wrongdoing but decided to enter into the agreement because of the time and expense of litigation, said Laurence Jannsen, an attorney for the Wilmington, Del.-based company.

Participation in the lawsuit does not rule out future litigation against DuPont if the scientific panel finds C8 harmful. But allowing independent scientists to examine the alleged effect of C8 is preferable to leaving it to the legal system, Jannsen said.

“This is a case that cries out to be decided by science,” he said.

If any of the $70 million is left over, it will be distributed equally among the participants, unless the amount per person would be less than $25. In that case, the money would be donated to the Good Samaritan Clinic in Parkersburg, according to the settlement.

DuPont's actions since first lawsuit
In all, DuPont will pay at least $107.6 million to settle the class action lawsuit over polluted water supplies near its Washington Works plant, on the Ohio River about seven miles southwest of Parkersburg.

Under the agreement, DuPont will offer the six local drinking water utilities new treatment equipment to reduce C8, at an estimated cost of $10 million. The company will also fund a $5 million independent study to determine if C8 makes people sick, and pay $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses for residents who sued.

DuPont has reduced its C8 emissions by 95 percent since the original lawsuit was filed in August 2001, Deitzler said.

In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleged that DuPont repeatedly failed over a 20-year period to submit required information about C8. The EPA is seeking millions of dollars in fines for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. The company is challenging the fines.

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