PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid (also called C8), was an essential ingredient in DuPont's non-stick cookware for decades. The chemical is now the subject of about 3,500 personal injury claims against DuPont, along with others filed against various companies that used the chemical.
The legal process has uncovered hundreds of internal documents revealing that DuPont knew of the chemical's danger to the public and employees, yet continued using it, despite the known risks.
A decade ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fined DuPont $16.5 million for withholding decades' worth of information about health hazards associated with PFOA.
In 2005, a panel of three scientists was ordered as part of a settlement to determine the chemical's effects on people. After seven years of research, the panel linked PFOA to ulcerative colitis, imbalanced cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, thyroid disease, testicular cancer and kidney cancer.
Its health effects were deemed to be widespread and occurred even at very low exposure levels. Now residents of Hoosick Falls, New York, where a string of rare cancer deaths, thyroid disease and other health problems occurred, are suing PFOA manufacturers for contaminating their local water supply.
Hoosick Falls Residents Demand Answers Over PFOA Water Pollution
Earlier this year, four residents of Hoosick Falls filed a class-action lawsuit against Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics and Honeywell International, which ran the area's plastics plant.
PFOA was produced at the plant as part of a powdery substance called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which was added to products to help them repel grease and water.
It's alleged that for a period of about 15 years, the "heavier-than-air" material was released from smokestacks and into the surrounding environment.
In the 1980s, "scrubbers" were installed in the smokestacks to help prevent pollutants from being released, and it's alleged that workers would clean the scrubbers and other contaminated equipment outdoors on a hill outside the plant, just 400 yards from the area's primary underground well. Times Union reported:
"A toxic chemical that contaminated the Hoosick Falls water system may have seeped into the village's underground wells over a period of decades, when workers at a nearby plastics plant cleaned smokestack filters and other equipment on the ground outside the facility, including flushing manufacturing byproducts into a storm drain.
In addition, several people who worked at the McCaffrey Street plant, owned by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics since 1999, recalled how a powder-like smoke plume that seemed heavier than air often settled in the valley around the small plant that overlooks the Hoosic River. The facility is several hundred yards from the village's water treatment plant."
In 2014, one area resident, Michael Hickey, sent water samples to be tested after his father, who worked at the plastics plant, died of kidney cancer. The testing revealed elevated levels of PFOA in the water supply.
Initially, the response was slow from state and local government — the state Health Department initially told residents there were no health risks from consuming the contaminated water, then abruptly changed their tune after the EPA advised residents not to consume or cook with the water.