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Not too long ago, I wrote about how the Environmental Protection Agency is turning a blind eye to the toxins in our drinking water, particularly perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, the toxic chemical produced by Dupont for use in Teflon non-stick cookware.
Thanks mainly to the decades-long efforts of an attorney who formerly defended chemical companies, DuPont was brought to task. But now they’ve turned their attention to producing a “PFOA substitute” that’s just as poisonous. You may be exposed to it right now.
First, a little history is in order…
A history of deceit
As an environmental attorney at a large law firm, Rob Bilott stood to earn a lot of money through the federal government’s Superfund, established in 1980 to pay for the emergency cleanup of hazardous wastes. Bilott’s job was to advise his corporate clients how to clean up their messes.
Until he met Wilbur Tennant.
Tennant was a cow farmer in Parkersburg, West Virginia, who came to Bilott with videos of his cattle, suffering and dying with bizarre and awful symptoms: malformed hooves, skin lesions, blackened teeth, bleeding noses, foaming mouths and bowed legs.
The videos also showed a large pipe running into the creek adjoining Tennant’s farm, discharging green, foaming water.
Bob Bilott was a defender of chemical companies. But he knew that “there’s something really bad going on here.” In that moment, he became Dupont’s worst nightmare.
Uncovering the truth
In 1999, Bilott filed a Federal lawsuit against Dupont. While preparing, he stumbled on a letter from Dupont to the EPA which mentioned a chemical he’d never heard of: PFOA.
It took a court order for Dupont to turn over all their documentation related to this chemical. More than 110,000 pages of paperwork, some over fifty years old, revealed a timeline of lies and disregard for public safety:
- 1961 – Dupont researchers find that PFOA increases liver size in rabbits, rats, and dogs. It binds to blood proteins, circulating to all organs of the body.
- 1970s – Dupont factory workers are discovered to have high PFOA concentrations in their blood.
- 1981 – Dupont tests children of pregnant employees in their Teflon division. Of seven births, two had eye defects.
- 1984 – Dupont becomes aware that dust vented from their Teflon plant was depositing residues in the local water supply.
None of this research was revealed to either the EPA or the public.
By the mid-1990s, Dupont had dumped 7100 tons of PFOA sludge into their Dry Run Landfill, knowing that it drained onto Wilbur Tennant’s farm.
In 2005, thanks to Rob Bilott, Dupont reached a $16.5 million settlement with the EPA, a fine equal to less than two percent of their profits from Teflon that year.
The lies continue
Now that you have the history, fast forward to today.
Between 2006 and 2011, Dupont released 16 reports of “substantial risk of injury to health or the environment” by a new chemical they’d developed, called GenX.
Nevertheless, GenX was introduced to the market in 2009 as a safe substitute for PFOA.
In one experiment reported by Dupont, rats given various amounts of GenX over two years developed cancerous tumors in the liver, pancreas, and testicles, as well as kidney disease, liver degeneration, and uterine polyps.
Yet, the senior toxicologist who signed the report concluded that “these tumor findings are not considered relevant for human risk assessment.”
As Alan Ducatman, a physician who studies perfluorinated chemicals like PFOA and GenX, comments, Dupont’s reporting on the hazards of GenX “…has an eerie echo.”
The wheels of justice turn slowly…
Even more mind-boggling is that Dupont has actually been dumping GenX into the Cape Fear River in North Carolina since 1980, to the tune of about 200,000 pounds so far.
Perfluorinated chemicals are considered “emerging contaminants,” meaning they are not regulated by federal law. This month, the EPA asked Dupont to test drinking water near two of its plants, in North Carolina and West Virginia, for GenX contamination.
Don’t hold your breath.
Here are some ways to protect yourself from poisons like PFOA and GenX. And you really should get started sooner than later.
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- The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare — The New York Times
- New Teflon Toxin Causes Cancer In Lab Animals — The Intercept_
- Citizen Groups Will Sue Dupont And Chemours For Contaminating Drinking Water In North Carolina — The Intercept_
- EPA Orders Testing For Genx Contamination Near Chemours Plant In West Virginia — The Intercept_