On the edge of the Ohio River lies Outfall No. 5, a waste pipe for DuPont’s Washington Works industrial site. For over forty years, this pipe steadily dumped a little known compound referred to as C8 directly into the Ohio River. A compound DuPont called a “cancer causing toxin” and “poison” as they put it directly into the drinking water supply for residents throughout West Virginia and Ohio.
C8 is special. It belongs to a class of chemicals called surfactants which are an essential ingredient in the manufacturing process for Teflon. There are substitutes for it, but C8 is unique. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is in the blood of 99.7% of Americans. It is also bio-persistent. Once it is in your blood it stays there decades, a fact that DuPont has known since 1961.
Yet knowledge of bio-persistence and the harm it causes would not convince DuPont to abandon its favorite poison. In the 1960s and 1970s, DuPont conducted in-house animal studies to determine just how harmful C8 actually is. What they found was that it is a poison that causes liver damage, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and a host of other debilitating diseases. Despite these findings and the knowledge that their actions would cause cancer and death in people throughout the Ohio River Valley, DuPont management rejected the idea of tweaking its Teflon process when viable C8 alternatives were proposed in 1984. Instead, DuPont increased its output of C8 pollution into the Ohio River.
3M, the original supplier of C8 to DuPont, made the correct – albeit delayed – decision to discontinue the production of C8 in 2002, in part due to its own animal studies and incontrovertible evidence of bio-persistence. Undeterred that it no longer had a supplier, DuPont built its own plant to produce C8 and continued to pollute the Ohio River; nothing could separate DuPont from its profit-producing poison.
It was not until 2014, following numerous lawsuits and EPA fines, that DuPont totally eliminated its use of C8.
So far, there have been 3,500 injury cases filed against DuPont. One trial has been held so far, resulting in a $1.6 million verdict in favor of the victim. One down, 3,499 to go.