‘Dark Waters’: How Toxic Waste from a Major Corporation was Exposed
Accurately depicted in new film Dark Waters, DuPont was guilty of actions such as dumping sludge they knew to be toxic into a farm in West Virginia.
The new film Dark Waters dives into the subjects of public health, chemistry, and law, depicting the true story of environmental attorney Robert Bilott and his almost two decades of civil actions against one of the world’s largest corporations, DuPont.
Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven, Carol) and starring Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) as Bilott, Dark Waters is based on the 2016 article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” by Nathaniel Rich, published in The New York Times Magazine.
In the film, Bilott links a number of unexplained deaths to a company he once defended, DuPont. In the process, he risks everything – his future, his family, and his own life – to expose the truth. It also takes a toll on his health, resulting in a stroke-like transient ischemic attack.
Bilott would publish his own book on the subject this year, entitled “Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont”. The New York Times Book Review praised that the book was “for Erin Brockovich fans, a David vs. Goliath tale with a twist.”
Accurately depicted in the film, DuPont was guilty of actions such as dumping sludge they knew to be toxic into a farm in West Virginia, and quietly conduct tests for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the nearby river. This impacted livestock, resulting in discolorations such as blackened teeth, as well as blood coming out of their noses and mouths and terrible deaths.
Subsequent studies would also conclude a probable link between PFOA exposure in humans and high cholesterol, kidney cancer, and testicular cancer. Citizens in the region at the time – Ohio and West Virginia – were allegedly too enthralled by the multinational company’s economic benefits to question its impact on their health and safety.
In real life, Bilott first worked on behalf of chemical companies for his employer, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, guiding the firm’s corporate clients on how to comply with the Superfund law passed by Congress in 1980, which regulated sites tainted with hazardous substances. He would continue to work with large corporations until 1998, when he was first alerted about the health concerns surrounding Dupont.
Bilott still works with his original firm and is currently launching another major class action suit against eight different chemical companies on behalf of everyone in the U.S. with polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), not just PFOAs, in their blood.
Also starring in the new film is Anne Hathaway as Bilott’s wife, as well as Bill Pullman and Tim Robbins.
Dark Waters premiered in theaters November 22.