In a plant outside Parkersburg, DuPont produces C8, a chemical used in the making of Teflon and other non-stick products.
Relatively high levels of C8 have been found in surrounding water supplies – and in the bodies of thousands of area residents.
Now, scientists have released the first of many studies on the health effects of C8. But the study raises almost as many questions as it answers.
This study was just the first of several on the health effects of C8. The independent panel of scientists found three things:
One, workers at the plant and those who lived close to it had 4 times the level of C8 in their blood than others in the Parkersburg area. In general, people in the study had almost 8 times the amount of C8 in their blood as the average American.
Two, that diabetes had no connection to C8.
Three, that people with high C8 levels in their blood also have high cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease.
Kyle Steenland, professor from Emory University, is one of three members appointed by a Wood County judge on the C8 science panel.
Steenland says there’s a correlation between cholesterol and C8 – but that doesn’t necessarily mean C8 causes high cholesterol.
“The higher the C8 the higher the cholesterol. While that’s not a good thing, we can’t say that the C8 caused high cholesterol because we don’t know which came first,” Steenland said.
Steenland and the panel are studying samples from more than 69,000 people living in the Mid-Ohio valley near the DuPont plant. Steenland says he’s encouraged by the large number of people that are involved in the study.
“People have been very responsive,” Steenland said. “We’ve had a very good response rate in the order of 90-95 percent.”
The researchers are in the middle of a four-year follow-up study to the original C8 health project in 2006. They’re hoping to discover if C8 is linked to other diseases, such as cancer.
Joe Kiger is one of the lead plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed by 50,000 residents of the Mid-Ohio valley. It’s been two years since residents were tested, and now they’re anxious for answers.
“It seems like every time we turn around there is more and more and more that comes up that delays everything,” Kiger said. “The working man and woman out there and the children and everything we need to know.”
He says it’s been 8 years since he realized there was C8 in his water. Kiger says that he’s afraid but impatient to discover how C8 is affecting him and his family.
“In a sense it’s a double edged sword,” he said. “I hate it, but my whole premise on this thing is if there is a probably link then we can’t sit on it.
“What are we going to do to help these people? Let’s say if it is a disease, if it is due to thyroid, if it is due to prostate cancer, we need to know this.”
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner says the public and workers at the Dupont plant are not in danger because the chemicals have not been proven to cause problems.
“There’s no data that shows any causal relation to human health effects. DuPont’s position is and continues to be that based on the weight of evidence there is no human health effects related to C8 and no risk to the general public,” Turner said.
But the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection says C8 may cause cancer, and DuPont has agrees to phase out the product by 2015. DuPont also agreed to install filters in the six water districts where C8 was present.