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Real Life ‘Dark Waters’ Lawyer Spent Decades Fighting DuPont To Save Our Water

Robert Bilott has been fighting to protect drinking water from DuPont chemicals for decades.
Robert Bilott has been fighting to protect drinking water from DuPont chemicals for decades. (Photo: Taft Law)

“We notified the EPA 18 years ago that PFOA in drinking water presented a public health threat, and in 2019 there are still no federal regulatory limits.”

Corporate lawyer Robert Bilott spent two decades fighting DuPont for contaminating the public with a class of industrial chemicals that are linked to multiple serious diseases and reproductive problems, but he believes the “unique health threat” posed by the compounds is far from resolved.

As Citizen Truth’s Jack Xiong wrote, Robert Bilott’s almost two decades of civil actions against DuPont, his former client and one of the world’s largest chemical corporations, inspired the recent film Dark Waters. His battle with the company revealed that DuPont knowingly concealed the dangers of chemical PFOA, and the settlements he negotiated helped fund huge health studies and thousands of personal injury claims.

“His two decades of work negotiated water filtration and treatment for affected communities, the establishment of a novel scientific panel for human health studies, and the introduction of a medical monitoring program for thousands of people exposed,” wrote Carey Gillam with the Guardian. “His work led to DuPont and other manufacturers phasing out the use of PFOA in the US, though similar replacement chemicals have prompted fresh concerns.”

Because powerful corporations want to protect the use of these profitable chemicals, lawmakers and regulators have worked alongside business interests to stall federal regulation.

“We notified the EPA 18 years ago that PFOA in drinking water presented a public health threat, and in 2019 there are still no federal regulatory limits,” Bilott told Gillam. “If [affected] communities had been forced to sit back and wait for action they’d still be exposed every day. They would have no relief whatsoever.”

Critics argue that the Trump administration’s policies reveal a dedication to corporate profits above public health. President Trump denies climate change and has worked to purge his administration of scientists. The EPA has worked to slash environmental regulations over the past three years, including asbestoscoal ashchlorpyrifos, chemical disaster protection, glyphosatemethane, and carbon emission deregulations, as well as efforts to restrict science used in public policy.

Notably, EPA head Andrew Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist. The previous EPA head, Scott Pruitt, was also a former coal lobbyist who resigned amid ethics scandals.

“The administration has demonstrated it has no respect for scientific conclusions, court orders, or public demands for protective policies,” Ms. Gillam told Citizen Truth in July. Yet despite the government’s efforts to block regulation of the industrial chemicals, Gillam notes that significant progress has been made:

“Last year United Nations experts called for the phasing out of certain PFAS. And this week environmental officials in Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark announced a plan to restrict all PFAS compounds and phase out most uses by 2030.”

Still, Bilott believes there is a long way to go, as he is pursuing a new lawsuit against chemical manufacturers 3M, DuPont and DuPont spinoff Chemours. As Gillam explains, “the suit is seeking class-action status on behalf of everyone living in the United States who has been exposed to not only PFOA but related compounds known as PFAS, short for ‘per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.'”

PFAS are a family of nearly 5,000 synthetic chemicals that have been linked to heightened cancer risk, liver damage, hormone suppression and reproductive problems, and higher risk of miscarriage in pregnant women among other serious health issues. While PFAS have been largely phased out of manufacturing, they are referred to as “forever chemicals” because they are extremely resilient and rarely degrade in the environment.

“This is a unique health threat in the sense of its scope and magnitude,” Bilott told Gillam. “As for PFOA, we’re talking about a chemical that has managed to find its way into the blood of almost everything on the planet and almost every person in the United States and is linked with multiple potential adverse health effects. “It is extremely unlikely to ever break down without us going out there and physically finding a way to get rid of it.”

Billott explains that because regulators have abandoned their responsibility to protect the public, he feels a personal responsibility to spread awareness about the dangerous compounds.

“I feel like I have a unique responsibility to get this information out to people,” Bilott told Gillam. “We all know about Flint, Michigan – one chemical, in one water supply. But I suspect most people across the United States are still unfamiliar with PFAS and don’t realize the exposure that occurs. I’m going to continue doing what I can elevating that awareness.”

Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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