CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The DuPont Co. agreed to pay as much as $343 million Thursday to settle allegations the chemical giant contaminated drinking water in West Virginia and Ohio with a key ingredient used in its Teflon products.
As many as 60,000 residents around DuPont's Washington Works plant on the Ohio River near Parkersburg, W.Va., sued over exposure to the chemical C8, also known as ammonium perfluorooctanoate or PFOA.
If the settlement is approved by a West Virginia judge, DuPont will fund a $5 million study of whether C8 causes disease in humans.
If an independent, scientific panel finds such a link, DuPont will pay up to $235 million for medical tests on residents.
DuPont will spend an additional $10 million to remove as much C8 from the area's water supply as possible. That includes building state-of-the-art water treatment plants for communities in the two states.
DuPont also will pay $70 million into a fund to be overseen by a court-appointed administrator, with at least $20 million of that going toward health and education projects. About $22.6 million of the potential settlement is earmarked for lawyers' fees and expenses.
"We want to make very clear that settling this lawsuit in no way implies any admission of liability on DuPont's part," general counsel Stacey J. Mobley said. "Nevertheless, a settlement at this time provides benefit to both parties by taking reasonable steps based on science and, at the same time, contributing to the community."
Plaintiffs' attorney Harry Deitzler said: "Had it been litigated, we wouldn't be at this point for another two years."
The proposed settlement would still allow individuals to pursue personal injury claims and punitive damages if the scientific panel finds a C8 link. But they would have to prove that C8 was to blame for their specific injuries.
"The most important thing now is that the 'independent panel' be truly independent of DuPont's reach," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit watchdog in Washington, D.C.
The proposed settlement follows a July report by the Environmental Protection Agency alleging DuPont failed to properly report the discovery of C8 in drinking water near the Washington Works and in the blood of pregnant employees at the plant.
The EPA is seeking millions of dollars in fines from DuPont, which has said it had no legal obligation to provide information about C8 releases.
Teflon is one of DuPont's most popular products. The nonstick substance can be found in everything from cookware and clothing to car parts and flooring.
Though C8 has been used since World War II, its long-term effects on humans are unknown.