“The system is rigged. They want us to believe that it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies, not the scientists, not the government. Us.” -Robert Bilott, Dark Waters
“Dark Waters” is a terrifying environmental legal drama, based on the true story about DuPont’s polluting and poisoning a small town of about 70,000 residents in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and Robert Bilott, the one corporate defense attorney that stood up to it to uncover its disturbing history of knowingly harming its own employees and the community around its plant.
DuPont, whose famous slogan is, “Better living through chemistry,” conducted a number of its own studies on the affects of Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also referred to as C8, a chemical used in the manufacture of its proprietary coating, Teflon, and documented the adverse health effects on workers, scientists and others that came in close contact with the chemical. They knew it was bad for humans. They knew it caused long-term, negative health consequences. Despite what they knew, they dumped it directly into the Ohio River, they dumped it in 55-gallon drums, they buried it in the ground, and never reported those adverse effects to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or any other government health agency tasked to protect humans and the environment.
DuPont, a company whose revenues reach skyward of $80 billion/year, armed to the teeth with lawyers, vehemently opposes the claims made in the movie and has done what it can to disparage the movie and Mr. Bilott, attempting to distance itself from its deplorable past. While critics enjoyed the film and gave it favorable reviews, most viewers avoided it, as it only grossed a modest $11 million in the US. The film boasted a star-studded cast including Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott, Anne Hathaway as his wife Sarah Barlage Bilott, Tim Robbins as Bilott’s boss, Victor Garber as a DuPont lawyer, Bill Pullman and others. The film was directed by Todd Haynes. The basis of the screenplay was an article in the New York Times magazine, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” written by Nathaniel Rich. You can read that article here.
The result of a class-action lawsuit against DuPont demanded that a study conducted by three independent scientists with no affiliation to DuPont or the community affected would study the people exposed for adverse health affects for its exposure. The results of the study are below:
The C8 Science Panel studied 55 health outcomes and, between 2011 and 2012, delivered four reports to the court concluding that PFOA was probably linked to six outcomes: kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), aka C8, is a man-made chemical. It is used in the process of making Teflon and similar chemicals (known as fluorotelomers), although it is burned off during the process and is not present in significant amounts in the final products.
PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Studies have found that it is present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. Higher blood levels have been found in community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA. People exposed to PFOA in the workplace can have levels many times higher.
PFOA and some similar compounds can be found at low levels in some foods, drinking water, and in household dust. Although PFOA levels in drinking water are usually low, they can be higher in certain areas, such as near chemical plants that use PFOA.
Links to more information cited in this blog about the movie and the health-related studies are below: