The chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8, because of the eight-carbon chain that makes up its chemical backbone) has spread from the company DuPont’s plant into the drinking water of 80,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio. A 59-year old woman named Carla Bartlett has developed kidney cancer after drinking C8-contaminated water for over 10 years. Bartlett is the first of many personal injury and wrongful death claims stemming from the 2005 settlement of a class-action suit filed on behalf of the people who lived near this plant. DuPont’s attorneys presented their arguments stating that the company is not responsible for the tumor that Bartlett was treated for in 1997. Their defense is that the company’s employees did not realize that C8 was dangerous when Bartlett was exposed, even though there were internal documents indicating DuPont’s knowledge that the chemical posed risks to both animals and humans.
The company is going to have to admit that C8 can cause kidney cancer; they are denying that it caused Bartlett’s particular cancer. They are saying that “kidney cancer occurs every day all across this great country of ours” and then they are pointing out how Bartlett weighs 230 pounds and that one of the major risk factors for kidney cancer is obesity. The company dumped 7,100 tons of C8-contaminated sludge into a landfill. DuPont’s attorneys argue that, if the chemical were really dangerous, government agencies would have regulated it and they think it was within their rights to dump barrels of the stuff into the ocean, as DuPont did in the 1960s. They stated, “they were allowed under the law”.
In October 2015, a jury determined that C8 from DuPont’s plant contributed to the development of Bartlett’s cancer. The jury found DuPont responsible for negligence and infliction of emotional distress. Bartlett was awarded $1.6 million in a verdict that could influence many similar lawsuits.
Sharon Lerner, “The Teflon Toxin Goes To Court,” The Intercept, September 19, 2015, https://theintercept.com/2015/09/19/teflon-toxin-goes-to-court/.
“Teflon on Trial: Ohio Woman Wins $1.6mn Lawsuit Alleging DuPont Chemical Led to Cancer,” RT News, October 8, 2015, https://www.rt.com/usa/318032-dupont-chemical-cancer-lawsuit/.
Sharon Kelly, “Teflon’s Toxic Legacy,” Earth Island Journal, Winter 2016, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/teflons_toxic_legacy/.
Student Researcher: Carolyn Kelley (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Carmen Works (Sonoma State University)