Starting in 1951, the chemical company DuPont produced the important fluoropolymer Teflon at a plant at Parkersburg, West Virginia, USA. The surface-active substance perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was used as an auxiliary agent for the polymerization.
During the years the company underplayed the danger of PFOA, although some workers at the plant contracted rare cancer diseases. In 1984 DuPont discovered elevated levels of PFOA in drinking water around the plant. Nevertheless, the use and emission of PFOA continued until 2015.
The Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at the Northeastern University in Boston, USA, has made a website with lots of information about the PFOA contamination of Ohio River Valley.
DuPont was met with various lawsuits. The first one ended in a sealed settlement in 2001. The second one on behalf of 80.000 people living in the Ohio River Valley was settled in 2004 for $343 million. The settlement also included the creation of a C8-Science Panel and funding of a study to collect medical information on the exposed population and determine, whether PFOA exposure actually posed harm. The project was complete in 2013, and linked PFOA exposure to 6 diseases: ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, and kidney cancer. Lots of scientific studies in this program have been published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
DuPont also got a penalty of $16.5 million from the US Environmental Protection Agency for the company’s failure to disclose health risks found with PFOA, and was required to remediate drinking water exceeding 0.4 ppb (µg/L). DuPont (and other industries) agreed to phase-out all uses of PFOA and other C8-fluorochemicals by 2015.
In February 2017 DuPont agreed to pay $671 million in cash to settle about 3,550 personal injury claims. That will not end the lawsuits because in February 2018 Ohio Attorney General filed a lawsuit against DuPont for releasing toxic chemicals into the Ohio River and to compensate Ohio for expenses related to the contamination.
A movie “The devil we know – the chemistry of a cover-up” has been produced about the PFOA contamination in Ohio River Valley. It will be showed and discussed at the University of California in San Francisco on Thursday, October 14th, 2018.