Wood County, W.Va., Judge Gives DuPont Deal Preliminary Approval

A circuit judge on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a more than $100 million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged DuPont poisoned drinking water supplies here with the toxic chemical C8.

Nov. 24—PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A circuit judge on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a more than $100 million settlement of a lawsuit that alleged DuPont poisoned drinking water supplies here with the toxic chemical C8.

Wood Circuit Judge George W. Hill Jr. praised both sides for "saving the community and the court system a lot of expense.

"I think we probably ended up with a good result," Hill said of the settlement. "I hope it works out well."

Hill's approval allows lawyers for thousands of area residents and DuPont to issue public notices of a more detailed public hearing on the settlement.

That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28.

In early September, lawyers issued a news release to announce that they had settled the 3-year-old lawsuit over DuPont's controversial Teflon ingredient, C8.

Initially, they said that the deal involved a $70 million cash payment by DuPont, of which $20 million would be spent on "health and education projects." They also said DuPont would offer to provide six local drinking water companies with new treatment equipment to reduce C8 in their water supplies.

The company will also fund a $5 million independent study to determine if C8 makes people sick, and pay $22.6 million in legal fees and expenses for residents who sued.

Eventually, DuPont could be forced to pay another $235 million for a program to monitor the health of residents who were exposed to the chemical. That requirement kicks in if the independent study determines that C8 causes human health problems.

In court papers last week, lawyers revealed that the $70 million cash payment would be used to pay residents who agree to take part in a more detailed health survey of those who drank water polluted with C8.

As many as 80,000 current and former residents who qualify and agree to take part would be paid $400 and receive $546 in health screenings, according to the settlement documents. The health survey will be overseen by two former executives from local hospitals and the funding administered by a local accountant.

"It's unprecedented," Harry Deitzler, a lawyer for the residents, said during a Tuesday hearing in Parkersburg. "It gets to the answer everyone wants, which is what does C8 do to me?"

Deitzler also explained to Hill that the settlement preserves the rights of residents who learn later that C8 made them sick to sue DuPont for monetary damages for their illnesses.

Under the deal, if the independent study determines that C8 can cause illnesses in humans, DuPont cannot challenge that theory in any future lawsuits.

"If the science panel comes up with that conclusion, there is no limit to the recovery," Deitzler said during the hearing.

At its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg, DuPont has used C8 for more than 50 years in the production of Teflon. The popular product is best known for its use on nonstick cookware, but it is also used in everything from waterproof clothing to strain-repellent carpet and ball-bearing lubricants.

In court documents, one DuPont executive testified that the company earns about $200 million a year from products made with C8.

DuPont lawyer Laurence Jannsen said that the company, in settling the residents' class-action suit, does not admit any wrongdoing. Still, Jannsen said, the company is pleased with the deal.

"While DuPont specifically denies any liability or wrongdoing as alleged in the complaint, DuPont has at all times and continues to believe that this case, this controversy, is best decided based upon the basis of the best possible science," Jannsen said during Tuesday's hearing.

In last week's court filing, lawyers in the case revealed that they reached their settlement on Sept. 4 — six days before the deal was publicly announced and a month before trial was to begin — in Boston.

At the time, lawyers were negotiating as part of a court-ordered mediation process, the documents said.

To see more of The Charleston Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wvgazette.com.© 2004, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.