Special panel links C8 to kidney, testicular cancer
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VIENNA, W.Va. -- A team of experts revealed Monday that it has found a "probable link" between C8 and human cancers, rebuffing DuPont Co.'s longstanding contention that exposure to the chemical is harmless.
The three-person C8 Science Panel said it is "more probable than not" that exposure to C8 put residents of the Mid-Ohio Valley at a greater risk of kidney and testicular cancers.
Panel members made those conclusions in the second set of significant findings in their six-year study of the DuPont Co. chemical.
Previously, the panel said there was a "probable link" between C8 exposure and dangerous high blood pressure among pregnant women. Panel members have said they found no link between exposure and some other conditions, including birth defects and other negative pregnancy outcomes, adult-onset diabetes, and more than a dozen other types of cancers.
But 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.
"At least we know now," said Wood County resident Joe Kiger, one of the plaintiffs in the C8 suit. "Thank God we found out there was a problem. Maybe now we can do something about it."
Last week, lawyers for DuPont and the residents announced the formation of a separate, three-person panel of medical experts who will design the appropriate monitoring program, required as part of a landmark legal settlement.
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 Monday's cancer announcement, the Science Panel cited previous studies of DuPont workers, as well as the results of their own still-to-be-published analysis of health data for thousands of Mid-Ohio Valley residents. Panelists have examined available scientific papers by other researchers, and performed their own follow-up work, based in large part on data collected from 70,000 Parkersburg-area residents with money from the lawsuit settlement.
"We had to put all the evidence together to come up with some kind of conclusion," said panel member Kyle Steenland, who studies environmental and occupational health issues at Emory University in Atlanta.
The panel found the kidney cancer rate among residents exposed to higher levels of C8 was between 20 percent and 60 percent higher than lesser-exposed residents, depending on the chemical concentrations. For testicular cancer, rates were between 80 percent and 170 percent higher among residents with higher exposures, the panel said.
Panel members released their latest findings at a press conference at a hotel just outside Parkersburg, timing the event to start after copies of their findings were publicly filed with Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane.
In December, the Science Panel released its first probable link findings, reporting after a year-study study that scientific evidence shows C8 exposure likely causes high blood pressure among pregnant women.
The work of both 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.
Once the Science Panel determined there was a probable link between C8 exposure and any human illness, DuPont was on the hook for funding up to $235 million for future medical monitoring for area residents.
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.
In a statement issued Monday, DuPont said, "A probable link report does not mean that the Science Panel has concluded that PFOA exposure has caused or will cause any human disease among the class members as a whole, including the Washington Works employees, or any individual."
Lawyers for residents, though, issued their own statement that said the latest Science Panel findings "nixed DuPont's protestations that PFOA is harmless."
"Today's scientific findings, coupled with the scientific panel's related findings in December, finally put to rest the long debate over whether PFOA is linked to any serious adverse health effects in humans," lawyers for the residents said. "It is has now been confirmed that human exposure to PFOA is linked to one of the most serious of human diseases -- cancer."
The Science Panel is schedule to release the rest of its probable link determinations in July.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.