Tuesday, September 29, 2009

chemicals, politics and bullshit

Good morning world! It's pretty much a perfect Fall morning and as I continue my morning reading and drink my french pressed breakfast blend, I remember why I do this work.

Federal judge throws out most of C8 suit against DuPont

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge on Monday dismissed most of a lawsuit filed against chemical giant DuPont Co. by Parkersburg residents over the pollution of their city's water with the toxic chemical C8.

U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin dismissed claims of negligence, nuisance, trespassing and battery, almost a year to the day after refusing to allow Parkersburg residents to pursue their case against DuPont as a class-action lawsuit.

Goodwin allowed residents to continue to pursue only a part of the lawsuit that seeks to force DuPont to pay for medical monitoring for early detection of any illnesses linked to C8 contamination.

In a 41-page ruling, Goodwin concluded residents did not have a case on most of their claims. The judge also found that court is not the proper place to decide what to do about any problems caused by DuPont's discharge of C8 into the Parkersburg community.

"The potential effects of these chemicals on human health are of great public concern," Goodwin wrote. "Issues of institutional competence, however, caution against judicial involvement in regulatory affairs.

"Courts are designed to remediate, not regulate," Goodwin wrote.

C8 is another name for ammonium perfluorooctanoate, or PFOA. DuPont has used the chemical since the 1950s at its Washington Works plant south of Parkersburg. C8 is a processing agent used to make Teflon and other nonstick products, oil-resistant paper packaging and stain-resistant textiles.

Around the world, researchers are finding that people have C8 and other perfluorochemicals, or PFCs, in their blood at low levels. Evidence is mounting about the chemical's dangerous effects, but regulators have yet to set a federal standard for emissions or human exposure.

In September 2004, DuPont agreed to a $107.6 million settlement with residents of communities around Parkersburg. The money is funding two major studies of C8's health impacts, and DuPont could end up on the hook for another $235 million in medical testing costs if a link to illness is proven. DuPont also installed treatment systems to get the chemical out of local water.

Wood Circuit Court Judge George W. Hill had certified those communities' case as a class action. At the time the settlement deal was made, though, C8 had not yet been found in the Parkersburg city water supply.

Later, C8 was detected there, and a follow-up lawsuit was filed. It ended up in front of Goodwin because of a 2005 law that said federal courts must handle proposed class actions that involve significant amounts of money or parties from different states.

DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said, "We are still in the process of reviewing Judge Goodwin's order, but pleased he has dismissed virtually all the claims. The company will continue to defend itself as the case proceeds."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.

I get a lot of calls from communities that ask for the name of a good lawyer. That a polluting facility in their town is harming the future of their children and their families. The hardest part of that conversation is what I have to say next. You can't stop polluting facilities by suing. You need to organize. You need to knock on your neighbors doors and invite them over for a coffee along all the other neighbors on your block. You need to strategize and find out who holds the real power in your town and figure out what will bring them to their knees, because it isn't a lawsuit. They will always have more money. When I suggest that they find out if those with power have kids at their school or go to the same church they begin to feel uncomfortable. I can hear in their voice that they think I'm radical. That its going to start trouble. But that's exactly what we need to be doing when we are being poisoned. We need to start trouble.

There is a good story about a victory over a medical waste incinerator in South Bronx about the importance of community involvement:

"In the battle to close the incinerator, the most important thing was to get the word out in the community and bring people together. All of the invaluable help, advice, research, and allies that we have gained over the years came to us because people saw a community in motion. No expert in the world can win your struggle for you if the community is not coming together to speak out. Even if it is a few hardcore people doing a lot of the work, it is vital to continually find ways for community members to participate, through activities such as prayer vigils, rallies, petitions, and school classes making posters. We wanted the community to own the victory through their involvement, to make it strong for the future.

One important way we did this was through the participation of children and adults who were concerned about children's health. We had very strong involvement, particularly of the parochial schools in our area. Parents, principals, and teachers were very worried about increased school absenteeism from asthma, and complaints that outdoor recess made children feel ill. We spoke in classes and the kids responded with beautiful poems and posters. One of the children who spoke out against the incinerator later died of an asthma attach. We brought bus loads of kids wearing oxygen masks to our demonstrations, which not only made for great press, but also kept the issue of why we were there close to our hearts."

Lawsuits like the one above help bring greater attention to these types of issues, but it isn't where we win. We win when people like you do something unexpected and refuse to be bullied by polluting companies.

What are you going to do today to help bring attention to an issue you care deeply about?


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