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C8 Science Panel meets with public

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. -- Members of a three-person science team promised Monday night that Mid-Ohio Valley residents would soon get answers about whether the chemical C8 is making them sick.

"We will be reaching a lot of conclusions soon," said Kyle Steenland, an Emory University scientist and C8 Science Panel member.

Steenland and the two other panel members held their first-ever public meeting Monday night, pushed by a local judge to tell residents more about their work.

Several dozen residents turned out for the meeting at Blennerhassett Middle School, to quiz Science Panel members about potential links between C8 and high cholesterol, learning disabilities in kids, and how long it takes the human body to rid itself of the chemical.

The scientists declined to provide any new data or conclusions from their ongoing work, saying that more reports would be coming out between now and a final product sometime next year.

"This is about what I expected," said local resident Joe Kiger, a lead plaintiff in the suit that forced DuPont to fund the panel's work, and a consistent critic of the speed of the scientists' studies. "We're not going to get any solid answers right now."

Science Panel members are working to implement a key provision of a more than $100 million class-action settlement between DuPont and about 70,000 residents whose drinking water was polluted by C8 from the company's Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg.

C8 is another name for perfluorooctanoate acid, or PFOA. In West Virginia, DuPont has used C8 since the 1950s as a processing agent to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.

DuPont and other companies have reduced their emissions and agreed on a voluntary phase-out of the chemical, but researchers are still concerned about a growing list of possible health effects and about the chemical's presence in consumer products, as well as continued pollution from waste disposal practices.

The panel members were appointed to study C8 and determine if there is a "probable link" between exposure and illness. If they conclude there is,

DuPont could be on the hook for up to $235 million for future medical monitoring for area residents. The term "probable link," though, isn't a standard one for scientists who study toxic chemical exposure. It's defined in the DuPont legal settlement as whether, "based upon the weight of the available scientific evidence, it is more likely than not that there is a link between exposure to C8 and a particular human disease" among Mid-Ohio Valley residents taking part in the lawsuit.

"It's important to recognize that the work we are doing is under a legal framework," panel member David Savitz of Brown University told residents. "It is not under the usual scientific framework we work in.

"It isn't something where you can just plug numbers into an equation and get the answer, I'm afraid," Savitz said. "It's a judgment. There's no getting around it."

Science Panel members have previously published peer-reviewed papers, along with a dozen separate "Status Reports" filed with Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane and posted on the panel's website. They've found C8 exposure associated with a variety of adverse health effects, ranging from high cholesterol and hypertension to excess cancer deaths and thyroid disease among children.

So far, though, the panelists have not filed a report in which they actually either find or rule out a "probable link" between such problems and C8 exposure. Panel members say those decisions will be made by July 2012.

While panelists have traveled the world giving presentations in which they provide data to fellow researchers, the panel's Status Report documents to the local community have been short on detailed evidence to support their conclusions.

Panel member Tony Fletcher of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said he and his colleagues have tried to provide frequent updates without overwhelming or confusing the public about their work. Publishing in journals and networking with other scientists provides the panel with important feedback and helps ensure the reliability of their work, Fletcher said.

"We've tried to be reasonably transparent with the public," Fletcher said.

A second public meeting is scheduled for today<co tues> at 6 p.m. at Meigs Local Middle School in Pomeroy, Ohio. Science Panel members are also scheduled to appear at a hearing before Beane in Wood Circuit Court at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday in Parkersburg.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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