Class-action sought by plaintiffs for Teflon suits


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Owners of Teflon-coated pots and pans in 15 states, including Massachusetts, are seeking to have their cases combined in a $5 billion class-action lawsuit claiming DuPont Co. failed to disclose possible health risks from using the nonstick cookware.

The lawsuits claim DuPont continued to tell the government and consumers for years that Teflon was safe even though its own studies showed the material could become toxic when heated “enough to fry an egg,” according to Des Moines attorney Kim Baer, who represents six plaintiffs from Iowa.

U.S. Magistrate Celeste Bremer didn’t signal at a hearing Thursday when U.S. District Judge Ronald Longstaff will rule on the request to certifying the cases as a class action.

DuPont attorney Adam Hoeflich of Chicago said Teflon has a 40-year history of safe use and no studies exist that show the material can become toxic. “Not one study has shown that there is any harm to consumers,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The plaintiffs won’t be seeking to show that anyone has been injured as a result of using Teflon-coated cookware, according to Baer. Instead, the case will likely center on DuPont’s failure to notify people of the possible health risks of using Teflon-coated products.

“It’s what DuPont knew, when they knew it and when they told the public about it and whether or not there are still things that they know that they haven’t shared,” Baer said.

If the cases are certified as a class action, plaintiff lawyers would be able to argue that they represent potentially millions of consumers who have owned and used Teflon-coated products and seek damages for them all.

Hoeflich said DuPont objects to class-action certification. “We’re talking about different people who bought different cookware at different times and used it differently for host of different reasons,” he said.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs have estimated a successful class-action case could cost DuPont as much as $5 billion.

A judicial panel in February set U.S. District Court in Des Moines as the place to hear the initial stages of the cases from California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Thursday’s hearing was attended by 27 attorneys.

Additional cases are expected to be filed, including one in West Virginia next week.

The lawsuits allege DuPont concealed studies that showed that perflourooctanoic acid, also called PFOA or C-8, used in the Teflon manufacturing process releases toxic particulates when heated to 464 degrees. The lawsuits claim the particles can cause extreme damage to rats within 10 minutes and death at longer exposures.

The lawsuits also claim that at 680 degrees Teflon-coated pans release six toxic gases including cancer-causing agents and PFOA, which has been determined by the Science Advisory Board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to likely be a cancer-causing agent in humans.

But that government agency says it doesn’t believe customers should stop using the Teflon products. “EPA wants to emphasize that it does not have any indication that the public is being exposed to PFOA through the use of Teflon-coated or other trademarked nonstick cookware,” the EPA Web site says.

The government continues to seek information about PFOA through enforceable agreements with and voluntary efforts by DuPont, it says.

DuPont agreed last year to pay $16.5 million to settle government allegations that the company hid information about the dangers of PFOA. Environmental regulators had sued the company over a case in West Virginia involving the release of PFOA during the manufacturing process.

On May 17, 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a subpoena to DuPont requesting documents about PFOA and related compounds, suggesting that the government is considering a criminal case.

DuPont said it will be fully responsive to the government’s request for information.

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