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'20/20' Report Puts Spotlight On C8 Debate

Nov 16, 2003 | The Parkersburg News A segment on ABC's "20/20" news magazine Friday alleging a connection between C8 and birth defects in the children of two former Teflon division workers at the DuPont Washington Works plant has once again focused attention on the chemical.

Ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as C8, is a detergent-like substance DuPont uses in manufacturing fluoropolymers like Teflon. DuPont repeatedly has stated that in more than 50 years of use there have been no known adverse human health effects associated with the chemical.
C8 is the subject of a lawsuit pending in Wood County Circuit Court, originally filed in 2001 by Lubeck/Washington residents who allege their health was damaged because of the presence of the chemical in local drinking water.

DuPont officials released a statement in response to the news program.

"Instead of relying on the well-documented facts and the science regarding the safety of Teflon-branded products, ABC has chosen to accept on face value certain allegations and draw inappropriate inferences from documents and events that are unrelated to the safety of Teflon," officials said in the release. "In fact, ABC's '20/20' failed to provide any new information that would question the safety of Teflon and Stainmaster."

DuPont denied any allegation the firm acted improperly or unethically.

"There is no scientific basis to support the claims of two former DuPont employees that the birth defects of their children were related to C8. Our conclusions are supported by extensive scientific and toxicological studies. In addition, a 3M study monitoring pregnant employees exposed to the chemical found no association between (C8) and birth defects," DuPont's statement said.

According to the ABC segment, out of eight pregnant women working in the Teflon division of the Washington Works plant in 1981, two gave birth to babies with birth defects.

DuPont did not report the birth defects. DuPont spokesmen said on the show the firm was not trying to cover up the situation, saying the information was not disclosed in a birth defect study to the government earlier because there was nothing to connect the defects with C8.

Sue Bailey's son had more than 30 surgeries to correct birth defects he and his family blame on his mother's exposure to the chemical. Bucky Bailey was born in January 1981 with only one nostril and a deformed right eye, according to the ABC program. Karen Robinson, the second former Washington Works Teflon worker mentioned on the show, gave birth to a son who had an eye defect. Her second child, a girl, was born with kidney problems, according to the ABC report.

Charleston attorney Harry G. Deitzler, one of the plaintiffs' lawyers in the local suit, said he isn't certain what impact the ABC program will have on public opinion.

"But the public will certainly re-evaluate DuPont's public relations campaign in which DuPont has steadfastly denied that C8 has been linked with any human health defects. There were eight women who gave birth all the same year; the two referred to in the ('20/20') piece means 25 percent that year suffered defects," he said.

Deitzler said it is his understanding from the news program that defects noted in animals during earlier C8 research were similar to the birth defects which manifested themselves in the human babies. Deitzler said "20/20" contacted plaintiffs' attorneys for an interview, but the attorneys declined.

Asked what effect the show might have on the pending litigation, Deitzler said, "The news story and litigation are entirely separate, and I don't really see one was directly connected with the other. The '20/20' story covered the documented health effects associated with C8 and the dangers there, but it went further and talked about the adverse health impact of cooking with Teflon."

Testing for the presence of C8 in local water supplies repeatedly has been performed throughout the area. One of the highest concentrations was found in Little Hocking.

Little Hocking resident Diana McGrew, who works at a local plant (not DuPont), said she's been following the C8 issue carefully.

"I've looked at both sides, I have been following the news reports, and I have looked at the environmental, health and safety reports, and it just doesn't seem to be an issue for me. Through the Community Responsible Care, there is testing and monitoring done," McGrew said.

DuPont is a large employer in the area, and officials have expressed concern over the pending lawsuit.

When asked what effect the "20/20" report might have, Wood County Commissioner Bob Tebay, who resides in the Lubeck area, said "It's this kind of publicity that could be disastrous. We need to have some definitive, independent, scientific proof before this kind of accusation is made.

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