Company says scientific data about the toxic chemical is ‘currently legally insufficient’
SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The law firm associated with consumer advocate Erin Brockovich is no longer pursuing personal injury litigation related to the discharge of GenX into the Cape Fear River.
In a letter sent to clients earlier this month, Weitz & Luxenberg wrote the firm was ceasing its investigation into the chemical that had been released for decades from Chemours’ sprawling Fayetteville Works plant because of a lack of health effects linked to the man-made compound.
“Most importantly, consultations with lead scientists in the field suggested that the scientific data is currently legally insufficient to proceed with a case at this time,” Attorney Robin Greenwald wrote. “As a result, we will not be moving forward with your personal injury lawsuit and/or diminution of property value.”
Weitz & Luxenberg is known for asbestos litigation and is one of the largest mass tort and personal injury law firms in the country. It has won over $17 billion in verdicts and settlements.
When contacted, the firm declined to comment on the record. But a member of the firm did say Weitz & Luxenberg is “trying to map out” a path for PFOA litigation, and believed GenX might be a vehicle. But after investigating, decided a GenX case wouldn’t be successful.
PFOA stands for perfluorooctanoic acid. Commonly called C8 because it has eight carbon atoms, PFOA was used in the manufacture of many products and is most commonly associated with DuPont’s Teflon. But research has linked C8 to a host of serious health ailments, prompting DuPont to develop the “safer” GenX — although some researchers fear it may pose at least some of the same problems.
Chemours was formed in 2015 from DuPont’s “Performance Chemicals” division and includes the Fayetteville Works plant, 100 miles upstream from Wilmington, where C8 was and GenX is produced. Along with the Cape Fear River, GenX has been found in Wilmington-area public water supplies, with no way for the utilities to filter it out.
Wilmington is not unique
The law firm’s letter comes less than a month after Brockovich visited Wilmington. She was shooting a television show and took part in several events, including a panel discussion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in August. During the panel, Brockovich said no one knows how GenX impacts humans, but argued it doesn’t belong in the water.
Brockovich rose to national prominence in the 1990s after she took on Pacific Gas and Electric for contaminating the drinking water in Hinckley, Calif. Her investigation was portrayed in Steven Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning film “Erin Brockovich,” starring Julia Roberts, that came out in 2000.
Brockovich, reached Monday, said she was aware of Weitz & Luxenberg’s decision to stop pursing litigation, but admitted she didn’t always understand how the decision is made. She said litigation is only one of several paths to ensuring clean water in the Cape Fear region.
“Often times the science has not caught up with litigation or policy and in the meantime people continue to drink a poison,” Brockovich said. “Without that science, it can strangle hold the law.”
Brockovich is paid by the hour to consult for Weitz & Luxenberg and other firms. Her work often means holding town hall meetings, collecting community data and public speaking to create awareness, she said. Brockovich does not make money on litigation, she said. Her income comes from books and paid speeches.
Brockovich said Wilmington is not unique. She travels internationally dealing with similar issues.
“We can’t just let chemicals into the marketplace without knowing the repercussions,” she said. “I’ve said a thousand times we have to end this dump first and ask questions later.”
Reporter Kevin Maurer can be reached at 910-343-2384 or Kevin.Maurer@GateHouseMedia.com.