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C8 linked to high cholesterol, panel says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A panel investigating the potential dangers of C8 on Monday finalized its list of human health impacts that are probably linked to chemical exposure, paving the way for Mid-Ohio Valley residents to receive free medical testing and possibly file more lawsuits against the DuPont Co.

The C8 Science Panel issued the last of six "probable link" findings, concluding that chemical exposure is likely tied to high cholesterol in humans.

The three-person panel had previously reported a "probable link" between C8 exposure and five other diseases: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and dangerous high blood pressure among pregnant women.

"The panel's combined reports leave no doubt that the past levels of C8 in drinking water has caused serious disease among many local residents," said Harry Deitzler, a lawyer for Parkersburg-area residents whose legal settlement created the Science Panel.

The findings released Monday are the latest results from a six-year study of the DuPont chemical. The work, focused in part on C8 tests and other health data from roughly 70,000 current and former residents, allowed one of the most extensive examinations of how a toxic chemical affects humans.

"We've had the ability to really advance what's known about this chemical in terms of human health," said Science Panel member Kyle Steenland, an Emory University epidemiologist.

Under a legal settlement that created the Science Panel, any probable link connections mean DuPont Co. will have to fund up to $235 million in future medical tests for area residents, to help provide early detection of diseases linked to exposure to C8 from the company's nearby Washington Works plant.

In a prepared statement, DuPont said it would begin funding medical monitoring for eligible residents under a program "that will extend many years into the future" and would continue providing treatment to remove C8 from local water systems.

DuPont also said, though, that allegations - including those in some newly filed lawsuits alleging illness connected to the chemical -- that C8 exposure made individual residents sick "ignore family history and lifestyle choices as leading causes of health issues and disease in specific individuals."

Deitzler said that the Science Panel's work took a variety of potential disease causes into effect, and tried to isolate C8 impacts alone as much as possible. "DuPont continues to ignore the undisputed scientific facts," Deitzler said.

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.

In April, lawyers for residents and DuPont announced the formation of a separate, three-person panel of medical experts who will design the appropriate medical monitoring program for residents.

The work of the panels is part of the 2005 settlement of a lawsuit filed against DuPont by Mid-Ohio Valley residents whose drinking water was contaminated with C8 by DuPont's nearby Washington Works plant.

Along with creation of the Science Panel and provisions for medical monitoring, the settlement allowed personal injury suits by residents who believe C8 exposure caused them to contract one of the illnesses identified by the Science Panel as probably linked to the chemical.

"We can't undo the damage that the pollution caused, but fortunately the lawsuit forced DuPont to get the poison out of the water pending final results from the panel," said Rob Bilott, another lawyer for the residents. "Now the residents can be tested for the C8 linked diseases, and hopefully quick diagnosis and treatment will increase recovery rates. Our next step will be to seek fair compensation for those who have been harmed because of DuPont's contamination of their drinking water with PFOA."

The term "probable link" 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 suit.

The finding that links C8 exposure to cholesterol was not a surprise. Several peer-reviewed scientific studies have found similar links, and a report that found higher cholesterol among Mid-Ohio Valley residents with greater C8 exposure was among the first papers made public by the Science Panel four years ago.

Science panel members conducted their own additional studies, which were able to better examine whether high cholesterol in residents occurred before or after C8 exposure, a missing factor and weakness of previous research.

Other new reports released Monday said the panel found no "probable link" between C8 exposure and high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, Parkinson's Disease, chronic kidney disease, liver disease and osteoarthritis.

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


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