Sustained Outrage

C8 Science Panel secrecy?

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The C8 Science Panel, from left to right, Tony Fletcher, Kyle Steenland and David Savitz.

The announcement about Thursday’s C8 Science Panel event was pretty clear:

Event is for press only. A public meeting date will be scheduled at a later time.

All of the DuPont lawyers and PR people who attended must not have gotten the memo.  Neither did the plaintiffs’ lawyers, but at least they were there with one citizen, a representative of the class of residents whose drinking water was polluted by DuPont’s C8 emissions.

The three Science Panel members scheduled the event to tell reporters about the results of their three latest C8 studies. I did a story about that, and it’s posted here.

Don’t hold your breath, though, for the Science Panel to schedule that public meeting. Panel member Tony Fletcher told me that wouldn’t happen until after the scientists come up with an answer about whether C8 makes people sick — and that might not be until next year or the year after, according to a schedule posted online by the panel.

Fletcher said the Science Panel is focused on getting information out through the media, its Web site, and through a new e-mail newsletter that you can sign up for by clicking here.  But that kind of communication only goes one way — the scientists tell the public what they think the public should know. I though this project was all about public health. Fletcher didn’t seem to think a public meeting — where folks in the Mid-Ohio Valley could meet the scientists, ask them questions, and just maybe give the scientists some tips about what to investigate — was needed. “Do you really think there’s a demand for that?” he asked me.

Well, Joe Kiger, the citizen representative who attended the press conference, seemed to think so. Kiger said he gets phone calls constantly from people who don’t know what the Science Panel is up to, and would like more information:

The people in this area are very concerned. These are the answers people are looking for. People are sitting back and asking — is there a correlation?

While all of the lawyers and PR people from both sides attended the press conference,  apparently the Science Panel never heard of the goosey-gander rule. They didn’t invite reporters to their private luncheon meeting, which immediately followed the press event.

It’s kind of surprising that the plaintiffs’ lawyers are allowing all this secrecy. After all, they represent — essentially — the general public in this case, in the form of nearly 70,000 folks who drank DuPont’s polluted water.

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The closed-door meetings didn’t stop with the luncheon, though. After that, the Science Panel had a private meeting with Wood Circuit Judge J.D. Beane (above), who is overseeing the class-action settlement that is funding the Science Panel’s work. It was the second such private meeting they’ve had with Beane, who previously sealed data from the C8 project — including versions both with and without information that would identify individual study participants — from the public.

I called Judge Beane yesterday about this. I was all ready to get on my open government high-horse, and cite the West Virginia Constitution’s mandate of open courts  or the Supreme Court ruling that requires judges to enter an order explaining their reasons if they have a closed hearing.

But Beane said there wasn’t much to the meeting, and that he’d hold similar such gathers in open court in the future:

They just dropped in to say hello, and let me know that things are going smooth. It really could have been open to anyone who wanted to attend. There was nothing secret or anything.

I wouldn’t have a problem with that at all. I think they wanted to do it this way so that the lawyers  weren’t there hanging over everybody. I certainly wouldn’t care to tell them, “Let’s have this in open court, and let the press attend.”  We’ll just open it up. I really think it needs to be opened up.