updated 7/8/2005 9:42:56 AM ET 2005-07-08T13:42:56

Tens of thousands of Ohio and West Virginia residents could be tested over the next year to determine if their health has been affected by drinking water containing a chemical used to make the nonstick substance Teflon.

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DuPont Co. agreed in February to pay for the screenings to settle a class-action lawsuit. Teflon is one of the company’s most popular products; the substance can be found in everything from cookware and clothing to car parts and flooring.

The tests will begin this month for residents who receive their drinking water from six public water districts, or from private wells within the districts, where concentrations of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as PFOA and C8, have been found.

The water supplies are near DuPont’s Washington Works plant, along the Ohio River near Parkersburg. About 80,000 residents live in the districts, and it’s hoped at least 60,000 will participate in the screening.

“The more participants we have, the more valid the data is going to be,” said Dr. Paul Brooks, who will oversee the collection process with retired hospital administrator Art Maher. Both were appointed by the Wood County Circuit Court.

Residents will receive $150 to answer a health questionnaire. If they agree to submit a blood sample, they will receive an additional $250. Residents will walk out of the collection centers with a check, Maher said.

Only residents who received the water for at least a year before December 3, 2004, are eligible.

Each blood sample will be subjected to 51 tests, including those that check for the presence of C8, organ function and cancer markers. The screenings will not test for HIV, drugs or sexually transmitted diseases.

Unknown effects on humans
DuPont agreed to the health screenings to settle a 2001 lawsuit filed by residents who alleged the company intentionally withheld and misrepresented information concerning the nature and extent of the human health threat posed by C8 in drinking water. About $70 million has been allocated for resident payments and lab work.

Though used since World War II, C8’s long-term effects on humans are unknown.

A federal scientific review panel has said the chemical is “likely” to be carcinogenic to humans, but DuPont officials have disputed the draft report. The panel agreed earlier this week to revise the draft to better reflect opposing viewpoints before submitting it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by July 20.

The goal is to complete the collection process in one year and turn the information over to a court-appointed panel of three epidemiologists, Maher said.

Based on the findings, DuPont could be required to spend another $235 million to monitor the residents’ health.

“If they don’t find a link, that’s the end of the thing,” Brooks said. “If they do, it goes into another process with other scientists involved.”

The settlement also called for DuPont to provide the six water utilities with new treatment equipment to reduce the chemical in water supplies at an estimated cost of $10 million.

In a separate matter, DuPont has set aside $15 million to settle EPA complaints that the company failed to report information over two decades about the potential environmental and human health risks of the chemical, although no agreement has been reached. In May, the company was served with a subpoena from a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., for documents related to the chemical.

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