DuPont Washington Works in Washington, West Virginia, viewed from Little Hocking, Ohio, over the Ohio River on August 2, 2004. A federal jury has found DuPont liable for Carla Bartlett's kidney cancer, agreeing with the defendant that the company had negligently contaminated her water supply in Tuppers Plain, Ohio, for years. (Photo: Tony Kemp / The New York Times)
Almost two decades ago, Carla Bartlett, a then 41-year -old West Virginia secretary and mother of two, was first diagnosed with cancer - what her surgeon later labeled a "garden variety" type of kidney cancer.
"I was scared to death," Bartlett, now 59, told an Ohio federal jury this fall during hearings in the first of more than 3,500 personal injury and wrongful death suits by West Virginia and Ohio residents against the chemical giant DuPont. "And all I could think of was not being there, not being able to be there for my family." Bartlett's tumor and part of her rib were removed in a surgery in 1997 that, she said, involved cutting her "virtually in half." Though the cancer hasn't recurred since, for Bartlett, the harm, both physical and emotional, has lingered. "It's never out of my mind, because you worry constantly about it," she said. "And then I have the reminder of the scar, every day, that, you know, this… this is… this was cancer; this could come back."