This movie and the scandal it explains should really have us thinking twice about what we’re consuming — and what is to come with climate change.
“Dark Waters,” a movie starring Mark Ruffalo (noted climate advocate) that tells the story of years of deception and oversight by DuPont Chemical Company, centered on a small town in West Virginia.
They used and produced a chemical, C8/PFOA, to use in Teflon coating — yes, Teflon, the stuff you cook on — and then dumped the byproducts in landfills, poured the sludge into waterways, and pumped the toxins into the air. C8 was not regulated by the EPA at the time because it was grandfathered into their plans back in the 70’s, so they were able to do this this freely — and this made a coverup even easier.
PFAs are not just found in non-stick pans. They can be found in cleaners, textiles, leather, paper and paints, fire-fighting foams, and wire insulation, to name a few sources. There are 4,000 PFA chemical designations.
Back to West Virginia. Producing C8 made people and animals sick, both from the production of and the dumping of chemicals into the environment. And they weren’t just sick from contact with these chemicals. People were dying of cancer, mothers were giving birth to babies with birth defects, and workers on the Teflon line were extremely ill.
This story/movie originated from a New York Times magazine piece by Nathanial Rich. It’s just as captivating as the movie, if you haven’t yet read it.
More on PFOA, discovered in DuPont documents by Rob Billot, the lawyer at the center of the movie and Rich’s piece:
Billot’s biggest discovery concerns “PFOA,” a man-made chemical created by the 3M corporation (and used in the US military), also called “C8.” It was and is used to keep Teflon coating from clotting. It was not to be disposed of in surface ponds or flushed into sewers but DuPont did it anyway. DuPont had been doing medical tests for decades and knew that PFOA caused tumors in rats. Billot discovers that PFOA cannot be broken down or digested by the human body. Once ingested, it remains causing cancers and other serious illnesses.
And here’s the reason you should be extremely pissed off and scared.
Not only was Teflon in use until the 2010’s (yeah, you should probably throw out your pans), but “PFAS (the chemical group of which C8 is a part) are present in the tap water of 19 million Americans across 43 states.” The EPA is recently “dedicated” to cleaning up forever chemicals.
And here’s why: C8 is thought to be in the blood of 99% of humans, including 1.3 million in my current state of New Jersey.
In an EPA study:
California had the highest highest frequency of detection, followed by New Jersey, North Carolina, Alabama, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, Georgia, Minnesota, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Most significantly, 66 water supplies serving 6 million people had at least one water sample at or above the EPA’s safety limits. The number of affected people is likely much higher but data are limited. Most in-home water filters cannot effectively remove PFAS chemicals, though activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis can eliminate some forms of the compounds.
In the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, the lawyer who took the case, Rob Bilott, made sure medical monitoring was in place for the families affected as part of the settlement— 69,000 people signed up for testing. Of those people tested, over 3,000 had claims to make for their illnesses, which included kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia and ulcerative colitis. He is still trying their cases today.
Two other interesting themes I took away from this movie both related back to the business practices.
The first: in the movie, the head of the firm says “American business is better than this. If it’s not, we should want to nail them.”
Here’s the thing — American business is not, in fact, better than this.
Exxon and other oil companies have been knowingly selling us fossil fuels, the burning of which which caused the climate crisis, all-the-while funding a decades-long deception campaign to protect their profits (they’re still doing so, by the way).
Coal did the same thing. DuPont was knowingly poisoning air and water, and knowingly making their own people sick, and also created a deception campaign. And then there’s big tobacco deception. Opioids deceptive marketing. And let’s not forget Love Canal, the Berkeley Pit, Hinkley, California (hello, Erin Brockovich).
And it’s not just businesses causing environmental and public health disasters. The government has been downplaying risks and reporting too. And, from ProPublica:
Until there’s a true limit on the concentration of PFAS compounds allowable in drinking water, soil and groundwater — and the classification of PFAS as a hazardous substance — the EPA can’t hold water utilities, companies or other polluters to account. It also can’t compel the Department of Defense to adhere to the standard or clean up contamination.
It’s a tale as old as time. Which leads me to…
The second: this movie could be an (not-so-hidden) allegory for #ExxonKnew or for the climate crisis or for anything else that may be unearthed any time soon (we’re ripe for another scandal, aren’t we?).
We are polluting our waterways/oceans, burning fossil fuels with no end in sight (and emissions will hit an all-time high in 2019, AGAIN), and, apparently, poisoning people left and right. Climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is killing people, especially from deadly heatwaves all over the world.
So, what can we do?
If you read this blog, you know I like to end my posts with something… hopeful. But honestly? You should be scared about these calculated deception messages by the worlds biggest, richest companies.
The payouts by DuPont accounted for 2% of their Teflon sales for a YEAR — hardly enough to bankrupt them. When BP was found liable for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, they were fined tens of billions of dollars. Obviously, this didn’t put a dent in their earnings, and they’re even now pushing how green their company is. And even though Exxon is being sued by several cities and states for climate damages, they’re still continuing on with their deception campaigns!
So this is my message in today’s post: be vigilant. I mean, maybe it’s not great to be paranoid, but things are happening, and everyone is affected. So read with care, be informed, and maybe filter your water.
Cover photo by Jim Witkowski on Unsplash
2 thoughts on ““Dark Waters” should scare the shit out of you”
Let’s also not forget the deceptions practiced by the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation formed by GM and Standard Oil to manufacture leaded gasoline. Or by Monsanto with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – their deception was based on just not saying anything about PCB toxicity for some 40 years. These deceptions allowed these and other corporations to sell the public on the benefits associated with their products without having to mention a product’s downsides or handle them is a responsible manner or not produce them at all. So, in terms of vigilance, I’d add “there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or chemical).” They all have downsides and you should be REAL skeptical if none are mentioned or your questions about them are deflected.
Yes exactly! I’ve written about PCBs too. The whole thing is wild and everyone should be aware and vigilant.