Modal close

Hi there,

This week, Democracy Now! is celebrating our 24th birthday. That's 24 years of hard-hitting news that you know has never been funded by commercial advertisers, corporate underwriters or the government. This is how we protect the editorial independence you rely on. It also means we're counting on you. In honor of our 24th birthday, a generous supporter will DOUBLE every donation to Democracy Now!, meaning your gift can go twice as far. Please do your part. It takes just minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else for another 24 years. Thank you so much!
-Amy Goodman

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.

Donate

Poisoned Water & Corporate Greed: Attorney Robert Bilott on His 20-Year Battle Against DuPont

Web ExclusiveJanuary 23, 2020
Listen
Media Options
Listen

Image Credit: Zeyus Media/Flickr

On Wednesday, the Environmental Working Group released a shocking report about how toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS have been found in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas such as Miami, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. We speak to the famed environmental lawyer Rob Bilott about his 20-year battle with DuPont over contaminated drinking water in West Virginia from toxic chemicals used to make Teflon. Bilott’s fight is portrayed in the new film “Dark Waters.”

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Part 2 on our conversation about a new report that’s detected highly toxic PFAS chemicals in the drinking waters of dozens of major cities around the country, including Miami, including Washington, D.C., including Philadelphia and other places. The so-called forever chemicals are linked to cancer, high cholesterol, decreased fertility. They don’t break down in the environment. The Environmental Working Group’s study co-author Sydney Evans summarized the findings of the report.

SYDNEY EVANS: First, new laboratory tests commissioned by EWG found PFAS in the drinking water of dozens of U.S. cities, including major metropolitan areas. These results show that previous estimates of the number of Americans exposed to PFAS were way off and dramatically underestimated.

Second, of tap water samples from 44 places, in 31 states and the District of Columbia, only one sample had no detectable PFAS.

Last, the water sample collected at Belville Elementary School in New Brunswick County, North Carolina, had the highest level of PFAS of all of the samples tested. At Belville Elementary, the level of PFAS was 186 parts per trillion. To put that in perspective, scientific studies recommend a level of just one part per trillion of PFAS in drinking water.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been listening to the Environmental Working Group. The most noxious of PFAS chemicals, PFOA, which was once used by DuPont to make nonstick Teflon pans, the chemicals in the product C8, went on to be used in countless household products, from stain- and water-resistant apparel to microwave popcorn bags to dental floss. But DuPont had a secret it never told the American public or many of its own workers: C8 is highly toxic. However, it didn’t stop them from discharging C8 into the waterways around its manufacturing plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Now linked to six diseases, including testicular and kidney cancers, the chemical has been used so widely, it’s now in the bloodstream of 99% of Americans, even newborn babies. And the chemical is bioresistant, meaning it doesn’t break down.

For Part 2 of our conversation, we are continuing with the pioneering attorney Robert Bilott, who’s represented 70,000 citizens in lawsuits against DuPont, successfully won compensation for his clients whose drinking water had been contaminated by toxic chemicals used to make Teflon — his story the basis of the new film Dark Waters, where he’s played by actor Mark Ruffalo. Tim Robbins and Anne Hathaway also star in the film. The struggle to discover the truth about C8 and hold DuPont accountable is also the subject of Rob Bilott’s new book, Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont.

Rob Bilott, thanks again for staying with us from Los Angeles to do Part 2 of this discussion. I’m not quite sure where to begin, but if you can talk about these chemicals and what DuPont knew, when they knew it, and where it is most prevalent in the country? And if it’s contaminating the water supply, what about those who are, for example, cooking still with Teflon? Has it been outlawed?

ROB BILOTT: First of all, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this, because right now we’ve got communities all over the country that are learning that these chemicals are in their water. You know, these are man-made toxic chemicals, developed after the war, after World War II, that have been pumped into our environment for the last 60 years. And now it’s not only just PFOA, which we’ve been talking about, was used in Teflon, in a variety of other products, but PFOS, which has also been used in firefighting foam, Scotchgard. And now we have related chemicals that are showing up, as well.

After the information about the toxicity of these chemicals finally started coming out through litigation, and we started uncovering the documents that DuPont and 3M had, dating back to the 1950s and ’60s, about the toxic effects these chemicals had on all variety of different animal species, liver toxicity, cancer-causing, you know, tests that confirmed PFOA was causing cancer back in the 1980s, worker studies, you name it, lots and lots of internal data that was kept from the public, from the regulators, that finally came out through litigation, that led to these chemicals, PFOA and PFOS, finally being pulled off the market. By 2013, PFOA was no longer being made in the United States.

But what we saw happening is, as those chemicals were being pulled off the market, replacement PFOS chemicals were being used, things with a couple fewer carbon atoms. Instead of C8s, we had things called C6s, C4s. DuPont, for example, replaced PFOA with a chemical called GenX, made down in North Carolina, the community you just mentioned that now has such high levels in an elementary school. Those new chemicals have been pumped out into the environment. And we’re seeing those now showing up in water. In fact, that new Environmental Working Group report that just came out yesterday, you know, shows that downriver from this same DuPont plant in West Virginia, downriver in Cincinnati, Louisville, Kentucky, they’re finding the new replacement chemical, GenX, in the water. So this is a large problem —

AMY GOODMAN: How do you spell GenX?

ROB BILOTT: — all over the country. And it’s continuing as these chemicals continue to proliferate and keep getting pumped out into our environment.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you spell GenX?

ROB BILOTT: G-E-N and then a capital X.

AMY GOODMAN: Houston is one of the places of these scores of cities that they’re finding particularly high contamination. You’ve got contamination of the drinking water. And then also talk about why military sites are particularly vulnerable to this contamination. But Houston and the Houston Channel and the massive population there?

ROB BILOTT: Yeah, well, because historically PFOA and PFOS have been used not just in cookware, not just in fast-food wrappers and clothing, coatings and those kinds of things we’ve already talked about, but both of those chemicals historically were used in firefighting foams, which have been used outside airports, military bases, particularly for foams that are used to fight petroleum-based fires. So, a city like Houston, for example, with lots of petroleum operations or fire, you know, incidences of past fires or — you have, unfortunately, lots of these firefighting foams. And as testing is going on across the country in areas outside these places where foams have been used, sure enough, those chemicals are being found in the water in those areas, particularly outside any place where there’s been a large fire, a petroleum-based fire, in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to a video that the West Virginia cattle farmer Wilbur Tennant shot on his property in the '90s. Now, the film Dark Waters, that's based on your discovery and your representation of these folks, tells this story, as well. And of course you tell it in your book, Exposure. So, after he sells part of his land to DuPont for what the company had assured him would be a nonhazardous landfill, this is Tennant filming a stream.

WILBUR TENNANT: That water shouldn’t look like that. There’s something a little wrong with this water. This stuff comes on down this stream of water. What effect will this anti-sudsing solution have on the livestock? I’ve taken two dead deer and two dead cattle off of this ripple right here. And they tell me the deer died with hemorrhing disease. Well, he was hemorrhing disease all right. The blood run out of their nose and out of their mouth.

But they’ve never — DNR has never checked into it. They need — the EPA of the state of West Virginia, they’re trying to cover this stuff up. But it’s not going to be covered up, because I’m going to bring it out in the open for people to see.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s video shot by the farmer Wilbur Tennant, now deceased. He was on his property in Parkersburg, West Virginia, after he sold part of the land to DuPont for a landfill. A year later, he filmed what happened to his cows.

WILBUR TENNANT: You can see she’s hemorrhaged out the nose. You call this hemorrhing disease or whatever you want to call it, but this cow died with extremely high fever. You see the discoloration in the hair here on her neck. This is 153 of these animals that I’ve lost on this farm. And the state veterinarian, Doc Thomas, he won’t come up here, do anything about it. And every veterinarian that I’ve called in Parkersburg, they will not return my phone calls, or they don’t want to get involved.

So, since they don’t want to get involved, I’ll have to dissect this thing myself. And I’m going to save the parts of it, and I’m going to start at this head of it. One of the things I’ve noticed right off is the discoloration of these jaw teeth. This is on the top. And here’s his tongue. I don’t know what those little red spots are in there on the bottom part of that thing’s tongue. I don’t know. This is very unusual here. Looks like milk coming up on that meat tissues. And I never saw nothing like this in my life.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, that’s video shot by the farmer Wilbur Tennant on his property in Parkersburg, West Virginia, after he sold part of it to DuPont for what he thought was going to be a nonhazardous landfill. Rob Bilott, if you can take it from there? You so well describe this whole story. And how he found you, this corporate lawyer who represented DuPont and other corporations, why he thought you were going to help him? You represented the other side.

ROB BILOTT: Yeah, Mr. Tennant had been observing all these problems on his property for years. He started camcording back in around 1995. And he was watching this white foam coming out of a creek that his cows were drinking out of. He was watching his cows waste away and animals all over the area dying — deer, fish, birds. And he couldn’t really get anybody to pay attention to him. He went to the state. He went to the federal EPA. He called the company. He tried talking to local lawyers. But that landfill was owned by DuPont, which was one of the biggest employers in the town, and most people didn’t want to get involved, when they heard that it might be something going against DuPont.

So, Mr. Tennant happened to be talking to his neighbor one day, who was friends with my grandmother. My mom’s family grew up in that area outside Parkersburg, and his neighbor had actually just been on the phone with my grandmother the day before, and she had been bragging about her grandson who was an environmental lawyer up in Cincinnati. So that’s how Mr. Tennant got my name. You know, I’m an environmental lawyer, so I could help him. So he called me, and I heard his story. When I heard that this was a referral from my grandmother, I said, “Sure, come on up. Bring your videotapes. Bring your your photographs. We’ll take a look at it, see if it’s something we can help you with.” That was 1998.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain what you thought? I mean, you weren’t even — you were just a young partner. You just made partner — right? — in this firm.

ROB BILOTT: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re not exactly going to endear yourself to your boss and others — played by Tim Robbins in Dark Waters — when you say you’re taking on the companies where you’re getting the big bucks, because you usually represent them.

ROB BILOTT: That’s right. I had spent the prior eight years working at my firm primarily representing big chemical companies, helping them comply with all the different state and federal laws. And that’s one of the reasons I thought I could help Mr. Tennant, when he came in and showed me what was happening at this landfill. We could watch the videotapes, Tom Terp and I. Tom, played by Tim Robbins, who — you know, we sat down and watched these tapes. It was pretty obvious to us that something obviously was going on at that landfill. Something was being discharged in way too high of quantities.

And in my world, when I was dealing with this for our chemical company clients, you had lists of regulated hazardous materials, and things were permitted. And if you had a landfill and you had a permit, you had to comply with certain limits. So, we thought this would be a straightforward case. We’d pull the permits. We’d check the list of the regulated hazardous materials. And if something was being emitted too high, we’d fix it. We’d get to the bottom of it. We had no idea that what we were dealing with was something that was completely unregulated, was not on any list, was not on the permits, and opened up a huge new issue for us, something we had no idea we would be getting into at the time. But we thought this would be a straightforward, easy case.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you — would you describe yourself as a little naive at the time? Didn’t you even approach DuPont and say, you know, you’re on the same side, you knew they’d want to know about a problem that they had, and they’d want to fix it immediately.

ROB BILOTT: Absolutely. You know, I had worked with the DuPont attorneys in many years leading up to that phone call from Mr. Tennant. I was doing a lot of work at the country’s Superfund cleanup sites. I was representing our chemical company clients, and I would routinely talk with or meet with the DuPont attorneys, would be there representing DuPont at these same cleanup sites. So I knew those folks. And I assumed that if they heard that there was a problem like this going on at one of their landfills, and particularly near one of their biggest manufacturing sites, they’d want to get to the bottom of it, and we’d get it resolved pretty quickly.

And so, when, you know, after we brought this issue to their attention, the DuPont attorneys told me that they were already working with the EPA, they had an expert team that was looking into it, a cattle team was going to get to the bottom of it, I believed them. And I assumed that DuPont had some of the leading experts in the country. EPA was one of the leading experts, as well. Certainly they would figure out what was happening with these cows. And unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. That team didn’t even look for this chemical in the cows.

AMY GOODMAN: And I want to talk about what the deregulation fervor has meant under the Trump administration. But I want to stay with this story. I want to turn to Bucky Bailey. His mother worked in the Teflon division of a DuPont plant in West Virginia while she was pregnant with Bucky.

ROB BILOTT: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: He was born with only one nostril, a deformed eye, and has undergone more than 30 surgeries to fix the birth defects. I spoke with him, along with you, Rob, in 2018 at the Sundance Film Festival, when the documentary The Devil You Know came out. This is Bucky.

BUCKY BAILEY: My mother worked directly with the C8 chemical, directly on the line of production. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Of Teflon, in particular, the DuPont plant.

BUCKY BAILEY: Yes, ma’am. And she was removed when she was pregnant with me, from the line, stating safety reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell me, when you were born, what were the challenges you faced?

BUCKY BAILEY: Many. I wasn’t given a day to live. Doctors came in and told my parents, brutally, “Don’t get your hopes up. He may not make it through the night.”

AMY GOODMAN: What was wrong?

BUCKY BAILEY: I wasn’t breathing properly. My mother was devastated. She was having to sit me up just so I could breathe. The nurses, no one wanted to touch me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe your nose and your eye when you were born?

BUCKY BAILEY: Yes. So I was born with one nostril. Completely, I have a serrated eyelid and a keyhole pupil.

AMY GOODMAN: Which means, a keyhole pupil?

BUCKY BAILEY: My pupil is off to the right. And I have light conception and some image visibility, but I cannot read out of it.

AMY GOODMAN: At the time, did she immediately link it to her work at DuPont?

BUCKY BAILEY: At the time, she was bewildered. She did receive a phone call, that gave her suspicion, wondering about my status, not about how she was or anything moving forward, which, at the time, caught her off guard completely, because DuPont was such a great company. It was the status quo to be a part of DuPont.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bucky Bailey. Rob Bilott, tell us more about him, what you understood happened to him and his mom. And we were talking to him in 2018. He is a robust married man now and has children himself.

ROB BILOTT: Right, yeah. His story is really an important part of this whole history of PFOS chemicals. In 1981, the 3M Company had done a study with rats and had found that the chemical PFOA appeared to be causing eye defects in the baby rats. They notified DuPont about that, because DuPont was their biggest customer for PFOA at the time. So DuPont scientists immediately set out to figure out: If this is happening in rats, are we seeing any similar effects among our female employees who have given birth recently? So, DuPont designed a study to look at whether they were seeing any similar eye defects in human babies born to women at the plant. That was in 1981.

They went and pulled the records. And one of the — there were seven women at the plant who had recently given birth. Two of those women had been given — given birth to babies with eye problems, eye defects. One of those was Bucky Bailey. And as soon as DuPont gathered that data and actually saw that they had two out of the seven children that had been born with eye defects, they stopped the study. They never published it. They never turned that data over to the EPA. And that was part of the unfortunate — the history here of information being withheld about the toxic effects of these chemicals.

And we really wanted to highlight what the Baileys went through, what Bucky in particular went through. So, we were fortunate to have him participate in the film, Dark Waters. He appears in the film. And I devote a chapter, as well, in the book to helping explain his story and what his family had to go through. And, you know, they were gracious enough to share that story with us, so the rest of us now understand the history of how this happened, how something like this happened in the United States during our lifetimes, without us knowing about it.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened? I mean, what kind of compensation did Bucky get?

ROB BILOTT: Well, you know, we eventually set up a scientific panel, an independent panel of scientists, to look at what does this chemical do to people who are exposed over the long term. We already had the study from DuPont itself showing this problem within the women at the plant and their children. This was also showing that the C8 was going directly across the placenta, from these women to their children. The children were being born with C8 levels, PFOA levels in their blood. But DuPont was disputing any of these health effects. So, when we eventually settled our litigation in 2004, we set up this independent panel to try to confirm what these various health effects were. And the panel, unfortunately, was unable to confirm whether there was a link with the birth defects. There simply were not enough cases, even in the 70,000 people, to be able to confirm whether those effects were linked. And so research is still ongoing with that.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a clip now from Dark Waters, the new feature film that’s playing around the country. The clip begins with, well, Tim Robbins playing your boss, Rob, at the corporate law firm —

ROB BILOTT: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: — Tom Terp.

TOM TERP: [played by Tim Robbins] We should want to nail DuPont. All of us should. American business is better than this, gentlemen. And when it’s not, we should hold them to it. That’s how you build faith in a system.

ROBERT BILOTT: [played by Mark Ruffalo] This farm is like a graveyard. There’s something very wrong. There are thousands of people, sick people. They’re hiding something.

PHIL DONNELLY: [played by Victor Garber] You want to flush your career down the toilet, be my guest.

SARAH BILOTT: [played by Anne Hathaway] You need to tell me what in the hell is going on.

ROBERT BILOTT: I’m going to expose all of it.

SARAH BILOTT: He’s willing to risk his job for a stranger who needed his help.

ROBERT BILOTT: They’re all terrified.

TOM TERP: You need to finish this.

AMY GOODMAN: A clip from Dark Waters, that tells the story of this intrepid, dogged, relentless corporate lawyer, who becomes everyone’s lawyer, Rob Bilott. He’s written also a book about his whole experience, that goes right through today. It’s called Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont. Parkersburg, West Virginia, do we all live there now? Is that what this whole country is?

ROB BILOTT: You know, unfortunately, as to PFOS, it’s starting to look like all of us. This is all of our problems. You know, all of us have been exposed to some degree to these same chemicals. And I’m hoping, you know, through the movie and through the book and people looking at this history and understanding how this happened, how this contamination occurred, how it is that it’s now affecting virtually all of us, across the country, across the planet, that this is — this is all of our problems. And hopefully people will be inspired to know that each of us can stand up and make a difference here and really drive change, you know, like exactly as Mr. Tennant did. You know, he stood up and took on one of the biggest employers in his town. That entire community then got together and stood behind him and helped prove the health effects, that are now going to be used and the scientists can rely on to help everybody across the country and across the world, protect us from these chemicals in our water. So, I’m hoping people will be inspired to realize this is a problem we all share. It’s not political. It crosses the party lines. It is clean water. It is clean blood. And it’s something we all should be concerned about and all can do something about.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at an Environmental Working Group interactive map of the United States, and it’s got, in purple, military sites; in blue, drinking water; and other known sites. I mean, California, from San Francisco to Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, I mean, it’s blue. It’s the drinking water problem. New Jersey is — essentially, the state is blue. Michigan. But also let’s talk about military sites and why the areas around where people live on these military bases are so contaminated right now. What is in the products that are used there?

ROB BILOTT: Yeah, primarily, what you’re seeing is, when the U.S. EPA finally came out with the first guidelines for these chemicals in drinking water in 2016 — and keep in mind, you know, I think I first sent a letter to EPA asking them to set standards for these chemicals in our drinking water in 2001. And by the way, we still don’t have enforceable standards on a federal level in this country for these chemicals. Rather remarkable, given what we know about them. But when the guideline first came out in 2016, the Department of Defense, realizing that PFOA and PFOS have been used in firefighting foams, realized that those foams had been spread at military bases during training exercises, during firefighting activities, and they put together a list of hundreds of sites across the country where they believe that firefighting foams might have been used, and which would have resulted in PFOA or PFOS being emitted directly out into the environment and likely gotten into the drinking water. And they started comprehensively going down that list and testing.

And what we see — and you see those dots on the Environmental Working Group map — is the testing that’s finally started around these military sites, particularly for firefighting foams, and the chemicals are being found. And what you’re seeing, too, is the states that have started to go out and start comprehensive sampling, the states like New Jersey, California — Ohio has just ordered statewide sampling, Pennsylvania is considering the same — they are likely going to be finding a number of sites, as well. When the testing begins, that contamination, that’s likely been out there for decades, is finally being discovered, finally being reported to the people who were exposed to it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Rob Bilott, talk about what’s happening now, in the Trump years, who — President Trump, who’s so fiercely opposed to regulation. What’s happening with the EPA? Does it even exist as we used to know it, or the agency formerly known as the Environmental Protection Agency?

ROB BILOTT: Well, you know, it’s one of the things I try to go into some detail in my book, in particular, Exposure, is to describe how did this happen and what was going on with the EPA. How did that agency allow this to happen? And once they were informed about it, now almost two decades ago, why is it still happening? And why do we still not have federal regulations? You know, and I think what we’re seeing is just an incredibly complex problem, where the information is being turned over to the public agencies, and it is just moving at glacial, glacial pace. Nothing really is moving forward at the EPA. I think they announced back in 2003 that they had a priority action plan for PFOA and PFOS. Then the next plan was announced in 2009, an action plan. The EPA was going to take action on these chemicals. Ten years later, in 2018, 2019, we get another action plan. And all it is is the EPA saying, “We’re studying it. We’re studying it. We’re continuing to look.” And nothing happens.

So, what’s been happening in the meantime, states have been moving forward to set standards to try to protect people within their boundaries from these chemicals, while this process goes nowhere at the EPA. And because of that, you’re seeing federal legislation being proposed for the first time to require these chemicals to be regulated, because the EPA is moving so slowly. So, I think as people find out these chemicals are out there, that they’re being exposed to them, how toxic they are, they’re demanding action now, and they’re not content to continue to wait another 20 years for the EPA to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Wilbur Tennant, the man whose cows all died. Tell us what ultimately happened to him, the farmer who originally came to you because he knew your grandma.

ROB BILOTT: Right. Unfortunately, both he and his wife Sandra passed away. They passed away before they could see the results of the independent science confirming that these chemicals were in fact causing serious health problems to their entire community — and, frankly, probably to the rest of us, as well. Mr. Tennant and his family were heavily exposed to these chemicals. And Mr. Tennant was developing all kinds of health problems. And it was happening while we were trying to uncover the problems there at his property. He died, unfortunately, in 2009. His wife passed away from cancer shortly thereafter. And that’s one of the reasons we really wanted to get their story out. You know, the Tennants, I think we all owe them a debt of gratitude for what they went through, what they did to get this information out to the rest of us, the sacrifice they and their family made, and their entire community made, so that the rest of us now know what we know about these chemicals and can do things to protect ourselves now, finally.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Rob Bilott, author of Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont. A final question, as you head off to the airport: What is your focus now? And what do you think people should do in their own communities? As you say, this has gone back for years. How do people succeed? I mean, you represented 70,000 citizens in lawsuits now against DuPont. And now you’re hoping to represent all the people of the United States. What would that mean?

ROB BILOTT: I’m hoping people realize that they can speak out, they can take action. In fact, one of the things that’s been done with the release of the movie Dark Waters, through Focus Features and Participant Media, is the creation of a campaign called FightForeverChemicals.com. Mark Ruffalo, for example, came out in D.C. and announced that campaign in D.C., to make people aware that there are communities all across the country that are facing this problem, that are all trying to work together to get information out so that everybody understands what we do know about these chemicals, what science there already is, what we already know, so we don’t have to go out and reinvent the wheel and have other communities spending 20 years to find out what we already know. So, there’s a broad coalition forming all across the country, and now it’s expanding in other countries, as well, to try to make resources available to people faced with these exposures, to help educate folks, to help them understand what these chemicals are, where they’ve been used, what companies are switching away from them, if they want to make a choice to try to avoid those exposures and to try to encourage other companies to do the same thing, to move away to safer chemicals and hopefully stop these exposures.

AMY GOODMAN: And that final question that I had about Teflon, people who are using their — that actually still use Teflon?

ROB BILOTT: Yeah, you know, the formulation has changed, kind of quietly changed, over the years. As PFOA was phased out, replacement chemicals, things like GenX, are now being used to manufacture some of these same products, such as Teflon. So, when you see the label, some of these products are now labeled as ”PROA-free,” which is the original chemical that we’ve been talking about, the one used in Teflon back in the '50s through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. That doesn't mean PFAS-free, P-F-A-S. What it likely means is, if it’s got nonstick coatings like that, it may have one of these newer replacement chemicals. And the scientific community is telling us they may present some of the same toxicity problems. And we ought to be very concerned and looking into those chemicals, making sure they’re not presenting the same problems.

AMY GOODMAN: Again, Rob Bilott, thanks so much, the author of Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle Against DuPont, his story the subject of a new dramatic film, Dark Waters. Rob Bilott has represented 70,000 citizens in lawsuits against DuPont, successfully won compensation for his clients whose drinking water had been contaminated by toxic chemicals used to make Teflon. Rob Bilott is a leading environmental lawyer, recipient of the 2017 Right Livelihood Award, subject of a 2016 New York Times Magazine article headlined “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare.”

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

“Dark Waters”: Meet the Lawyer Whose 20-Year Fight Against DuPont Inspired the New Film

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation
Up arrowTop