DuPont Co. agreed Sept. 9 to pay up to $343 million to settle class-action lawsuits in West Virginia that it polluted drinking water with a chemical used to make fluoropolymers.
DuPont and lawyers for residents in several rural water districts near the firm's Parkersburg, W.Va., plant said they had reached a tentative agreement that calls for DuPont to pay for water treatment plants and for an independent review of the safety of perfluorooctanoic acid.
Wood County Circuit Court must approve the agreement. Residents sued in 2001 after PFOA was found in the drinking water of about 50,000 people in West Virginia and Ohio.
Initially, the deal requires DuPont to pay $85 million, plus $22.6 million in lawyers' fees, and it could pay another $235 million if a scientific review finds a link between PFOA and human disease. The firm said it welcomed the chance for a communitywide study of potential health effects and said that settling the lawsuit ``in no way implies any admission of liability on DuPont's part.''
But the Washington-based Environmental Working Group, which has pushed EPA to investigate the firm, said DuPont would not have settled if company officials ``didn't think they were guilty of polluting local tap water and the people themselves.''
The firm agreed to pay $10 million for facilities to remove PFOA, also known as C-8, from the water in six affected communities, $20 million to community health and education projects, and $50 million directly to area residents.
The independent scientific panel set up by the settlement - whose members will be chosen by the firm and plaintiff lawyers - will be key to DuPont's potential liability. DuPont agreed to spend $5 million to fund the panel.
If the panel finds a link between PFOA and health problems in residents, then DuPont would have to pay up to $235 million for medical monitoring and agree not to contest ``general causation'' in future claims residents may make. If the panel finds no link, the residents agree to waive claims.
DuPont said the panel will take one or two years to complete its work.