By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chemical giant DuPont Monday will face the first trial in litigation from residents near one of its plants in West Virginia who have accused the company of sickening them by emitting a toxic chemical that leaked into their drinking water.
Carla Marie Bartlett is among the approximately 3,500 plaintiffs who have sued DuPont in federal court in Ohio, saying they contracted one of six diseases linked to perfluorooctanoic acid, known as PFOA or C-8. Bartlett said she developed kidney cancer from contaminated water.
Bartlett's will be the first case to go to trial, in an early test of potential liability for the allegedly decades-long leak. A second trial will start Nov. 30.
While DuPont is the named defendant, a recent spin-off of its performance chemicals segment, Chemours Co, will cover Dupont's potential liability, according to a Chemours spokeswoman.
The lawsuits center on DuPont’s Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where the company used C-8 as a processing aid to make products like Teflon non-stick cookware.
Plaintiffs say DuPont used C-8 at the plant since the 1950s and continued even after learning that it was potentially toxic and that it had been discovered in nearby drinking water supplies in Ohio and West Virginia.
DuPont spokesman Daniel Turner said in a statement that knowledge about C-8 has evolved over the past 15 years and that the company has worked with regulators, employees and nearby residents to assess and address health and safety concerns. The company said it has phased out use of C-8 in recent years.
In 2001, residents brought a class action against DuPont over C-8 exposure. DuPont settled in 2004, agreeing to fund medical monitoring programs and install new water treatment systems. It also agreed to convene a panel of scientists to determine whether any diseases were linked to C-8.
That panel concluded there was a probable link between C-8 and six diseases: kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.
Class members with one of those diseases then individually sued DuPont. The company agreed not to challenge whether C-8 can cause those diseases, but plaintiffs still must prove it is to blame for their individual illnesses.
DuPont said it believes Bartlett’s exposure to C-8 was insufficient to cause health problems, and that other factors, like obesity, may be to blame for her cancer.
A lawyer for Bartlett did not return requests for comment.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Leslie Adler)