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21 Jan 2016

Nathaniel Rich, New York Times Magazine (USA)

USA: Lawyer "became DuPont's worst nightmare" by uncovering toxic pollution, seeking to hold it accountable

"The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare", 6 Jan. 2016

...Wilbur Tennant...said that his cows were dying left and right. He believed that...DuPont...was responsible. Tennant had tried to seek help locally, he said, but DuPont just about owned the entire town. He had been spurned not only by Parkersburg’s lawyers but also by its politicians, journalists, doctors and veterinarians... [Rob] Bilott...[of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, which had a large practice defending companies from environmental claims] filed a federal suit against DuPont in...1999 [over environmental impacts on Tennant's farm]...

...Bilott [obtained a court order forcing] DuPont to share all documentation related to [PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid]...[and received dozens] of boxes containing thousands of unorganized documents... The story that Bilott [found in the documents]...was astounding in its breadth, specificity and sheer brazenness... ...[Although] DuPont’s own instructions specified that it was not to be flushed into surface water or sewers...[for decades] DuPont pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder...into the Ohio River...[and] dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA-laced sludge into...pits...from which the chemical could seep straight into the ground...

[Refers to various scientific findings by DuPont on PFOA's health effects, including its role in causing cancer, and dispersion, which DuPont did not disclose to environmental regulators or to the public.]  [Bilott said] ‘‘...DuPont…knew this stuff was harmful, and they put it in the water anyway...’’ ...What was [PFOA] doing to the tens of thousands of people in the areas around Parkersburg [West Virginia] who drank it daily from their taps?

...[In 2000-01, Bilott drafted] a public brief against DuPont...[demanding] immediate action to regulate PFOA and provide clean water to those living near the factory... Harry Deitzler, a plaintiff’s lawyer in West Virginia...[said] ‘‘Before that letter, corporations could rely upon the public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated.’’... The letter led, four years later,...to DuPont’s reaching a $16.5 million settlement... The fine represented less than 2 percent of the profits earned by DuPont on PFOA that year.

...In September 2004, DuPont decided to settle [a class-action lawsuit by Bilott on behalf of those whose water was tainted by PFOA]... It agreed to install filtration plants…[and to] fund a scientific study to determine whether there was a ‘‘probable link’’...between PFOA and any diseases... In December 2011, after seven years, the scientists…[found] a ‘‘probable link’’ between PFOA and kidney cancer, testicular cancer [and other diseases]...

As of October, 3,535 plaintiffs have filed personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont. [In the] first....[verdict, in October 2015,] a kidney-cancer survivor named Carla...Bartlett was awarded $1.6 million. DuPont plans to appeal...

DuPont, which is currently negotiating a merger with Dow Chemical, last year...[spun off] its chemical businesses...into a new corporation called Chemours....[which] has replaced PFOA with similar…compounds designed to biodegrade more quickly... Like PFOA, these new substances have not come under any regulation from the E.P.A. ...Chemours [says]...: ‘‘A significant body of data demonstrates that these alternative chemistries can be used safely.’’ 

Last May, 200 scientists…signed the Madrid Statement, which expresses concern about the production of all fluorochemicals, or PFASs, including those that have replaced PFOA... DuPont’s head of global media relations, wrote…: ‘‘DuPont does not believe the Madrid Statement reflects a true consideration of the available data... DuPont worked for more than a decade, with oversight from regulators, to introduce its alternatives. Extensive data has been developed, demonstrating that these alternatives are much more rapidly eliminated from the body than PFOA, and have improved health safety profiles...’’

[also refers to 3M]