As part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit, chemical maker DuPont is paying for a medical survey checking the health of as many as 60,000 residents of the Ohio River Valley near its Washington, West Virginia Teflon plant. Environmentalists are worried that workers and others nearby may have been exposed to unhealthy amounts of the chemical ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as C8, which the company uses in the production of its non-stick Teflon coating.
But just what constitutes unhealthy amounts of C8 is hard to quantify, as the long-term effects remain unknown. The chemical has been shown to be responsible for giving lab rats liver cancer, and earlier this year a scientific review panel dubbed it a "likely" human carcinogen. Critics provide anecdotal evidence of links to cancer, heart disease and birth defects.
Meanwhile, DuPont counters that its own studies on employees at its Teflon plant found only higher cholesterol levels and no other health effects on those workers in close proximity to C8. And a smaller independent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Medical School corroborates DuPont's findings.
When the dust clears, the current round of screenings and analysis should shed more light on the true long-term health impact of C8 exposure. Some 17,000 residents have already taken part in the study, with 26,000 more people waiting for their number to be called and countless more still yet to sign up. Volunteers are paid $400 out of the lawsuit settlement fund for participating. And depending on the results, they may end up getting lots more.