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Wednesday,  April 19, 2006

Lawsuit alleges DuPont contamination of New Jersey drinking water

By RANDALL CHASE
Associated Press Writer

PENNSVILLE TWP. -- Drinking water supplies near the DuPont Chambers Works here have been contaminated with chemicals, including a suspected carcinogen used in the production of Teflon, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.

The lawsuit alleges that the contamination is linked to the manufacturing, use and disposal of perfluorinated chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid also known as PFOA, at DuPont.
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status and compensatory and punitive damages for what they describe as the "intentional, knowing, reckless and negligent acts and omissions of DuPont in connection with the contamination of human drinking water supplies."

"We're looking for medical monitoring on behalf of all the people who have been exposed," added Shari Blecher, an attorney for the plaintiffs.

DuPont released a statement saying the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, is without merit.

"We are confident in the safety of our operations at our Chambers Works site," the company said.

PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a processing aid used in the manufacturing of fluoropolymers, which have a wide variety of product applications, including nonstick cookware. The chemical also can be a byproduct in the manufacturing of fluorotelomers used in surface protection products for applications such as stain-resistant textiles and grease-resistant food wrapping.

According to the lawsuit, DuPont has known for years that PFOA was being released into the air from operations and activities at the Chambers Works Plant, and was contaminating the groundwater underneath.

Similar concentrations have been found in recent testing of water wells owned by the Penn's Grove Water Supply Co., which supplies public drinking water to the towns of Penns Grove and Carneys Point, the lawsuit claims.

"The levels alleged in the complaint fall well below any established regulatory guidance," DuPont said in its statement.

"Moreover, to date, there are no known human health effects associated with PFOA. Based on health and toxicological studies conducted by DuPont and other researchers, DuPont believes the weight of evidence indicates that PFOA exposure does not pose a health risk to the general public."

Tests by Pennsville Township have also shown very slight traces of PFOA in a well there.
In 2004, DuPont agreed to pay as much as $343 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by Ohio and West Virginia residents who alleged that their water supplies had been contaminated with PFOA from a DuPont plant in Parkersburg, W. Va.

The company agreed to spend up to $70 million for medical evaluations of up to 80,000 people who drank water contaminated with the chemical. DuPont also agreed to provide six local utilities with new water treatment equipment and fund an independent study to determine if PFOA makes people sick. Eventually, DuPont could be forced to spend another $235 million on a program to monitor the health of residents exposed to the chemical.

The plaintiffs in the New Jersey lawsuit claim DuPont has failed to undertake similar efforts to protect New Jersey residents.

In addition to contaminated water supplies, the lawsuit alleges that DuPont found elevated levels of organic fluorine in the blood of Chambers Works employees exposed to perfluorinated chemicals in the 1970s, and that the workers had higher incidences of medical disorders, including abnormal liver function tests, when compared with non-exposed workers. The company stopped its blood monitoring program without informing workers of its findings, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleges that DuPont rejected the recommendation of its own occupational health official for a comprehensive medical surveillance program for workers exposed to PFCs, noting that creation of such a program "could have significant repercussions at any of our other sites that handle ... similar products."

DuPont has been working with the EPA to virtually eliminate exposure of PFOA from their manufacturing operations and products since 1989.

John Strait, the plant manager of the DuPont Chamber Works, commented on PFOA when it was first discovered in the water supply in Penns Grove.

"Because it is biopersistent, we want to reduce its emissions," Strait said
DuPont has reduced its PFOA emissions by 95 percent in 2000 from U.S. manufacturing facilities and hope to eliminate 98 percent worldwide by 2007.

Staff Writer Andrew Frankum contributed to this story.