Savitz and panel members Kyle Steenland and Tony Fletcher 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. A finding of no "probable link" for a particular potential health effect eliminates the ability of residents to sue DuPont for personal injuries related to such a health effect.
Lawyers for the residents welcomed the Science Panel findings, and said they would move to immediately set up a separate panel of doctors charged under the settlement with implementing the medical monitoring plan.
In a prepared statement, DuPont said it would "move forward with our obligations under the settlement agreement," but added that the company "does not believe that PFOA causes pregnancy-induced hypertension."
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.
Savitz said that panel members did their own studies and reviewed papers by other scientists, using standard statistical tools to determine if C8 exposure was associated with increased risk of disease. Then, Savitz said, the group used the settlement agreement's language to determine if those associations were likely caused by C8 exposure.
"This is a judgment that we made," Savitz said. "The balance is tipped if it's more than 50 percent likely."
Savitz said panel members voted on their probable link findings, but declined to say if all of the votes were unanimous.
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.
More probable link determinations are due in the spring, with the final report from the Science Panel expected by July.
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," said Parkersburg resident Joe Kiger, one of the plaintiffs in the original suit against DuPont. "This is not something we wanted, but something we've been afraid was there."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.