An Unexpected Message
A few weeks ago I had watched the new film that recently came out titled 'Dark Waters' that tells the story of how environmental attorney R. Bilott had taken on DuPont in a multi-decade legal battle that would ultimately encompass thousands of individuals.
Bilott had been a corporate defense attorney for several years in his career, and the movie describes his character as essentially working for chemical companies with his defense attorney work.
When he took on the case against DuPont he obviously 'switched sides' and was now coming after those who were like those who he used to spend years defending. With his work he helped to shine a light on harmful chemicals that have been known to contribute to a wide variety of illnesses for thousands of individuals.
These chemicals have been found in drinking water throughout the United States. Since he first began his investigation into this matter, thousands of lawsuits have been settled by DuPont regarding PFOA. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been paid out.
It all started when a West Virginia farmer (seen in the image above), played by B. Camp, walks into his office and claims that he believes there is something wrong on his farm, with hundreds of his cows getting sick etc. At first he doesn't think much of it but we soon see that the farmer has peaked Bilott's interest to look into the matter.
"He [that farmer] 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... [eventually that farmer] happened to be talking to his neighbor one day, who was friends with my grandmother... So that’s how [he] got my name." - Bilott
The film follows the story as Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) discovers that the company allegedly knew full well that the chemicals were dangerous and yet allegedly dumped them into the community drinking water regardless, thus fueling a potential problem where thousands of people might get sick.
The government was allegedly unaware of the existence of those chemicals or their danger, and still years later failed to implement any restrictions on them despite lawsuits involving those chemicals. As pressure against these chemicals has grown however, now they've moved to make an effort to regulate them.
"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".
It was eventually discovered after Bilott had sued DuPont on behalf of that farmer, that the local DuPont company was allegedly dumping toxic chemicals into the local water supply that goes to thousands of residents, other reports have suggested the contamination came from a leak at one of their plants.
Scientific research has found links between these 'forever chemicals' and cancer, thyroid diseases, and a myriad of other illnesses.
Even though they officially did not admit any wrongdoing the company settled that lawsuit for $70 million.
"Even one individual standing up could make a change. You know, somebody like Wilbur Tennant, who knew something bad was happening to his animals, to his family, to his community. You know, somebody like that standing up can take on even the biggest powers against him in the community. Coming together can make a huge difference."
His character in the film, Bilott, obviously seemed to be overwhelmed with how long it was taking, meanwhile people in the community had been getting sicker or even passing away. This went on for him for 20 years.
In the film we can see that he didn't think they would ever express wrongdoing in the matter, that they would cover it up and "get away with it," not have to spend any time in jail for allegedly engaging in actions that posioned thousands of people. Where was the government to protect anyone or enforce consequences? Seemingly nowhere.
Eventually it all boils up to his realization that the system is not in place to protect people and that the system is incapable of delivering adequate justice when wrongdoings do occur.
"The system is rigged. They want us to think it'll protect us but that's a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies, not the scientists, not the government. Us. A farmer with a 12th grade education told me that, on day one he knew. And I thought he was crazy." - Bilott, Dark Waters
Some might say now that the system has worked for those people and for Bilott, with the millions upon millions that have been paid to victims. However, we see after all of the legal battles, still no wrongdoing has been admitted to, no responsibility taken in that regard. No apologies.
But for those victims who had suffered and who need healthcare services to respond to that injury etc, the financial compensation is going to do more for them then perhaps any apology would.
One might assume however that those responsible simply got away with it by paying their way out of the conflict. Not only that, but it's alleged that despite pulling those controversial chemicals off of the market and opting for new alternatives to try and solve the issue, such as opting for the chemical known as GenX, those alternatives might also allegedly be causing similar long term health consequences that are not yet known. Is it justice to pay out hundreds of millions, or even billions, when there are thousands of people, potentially millions, who could get sick because of contamination to the water supply in dozens of cities with these chemicals? To me, his realization that the system is not there to provide that justice that you would expect it to, is one of self-responsibility and refreshing and therefore it was surprising to hear that come at the end of the film.
For that one farmer who had started the entire fight, by first going to Bilott with his story, he never got to see his suspicions confirmed.
"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... 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." - Bilott