December’s conversation with Robert Bilott — a recap

Attorney Robert Bilott

Few know about the dangers of the “Forever Chemicals” which have now permanently entered our drinking water and our blood streams. This family of highly toxic compounds known as PFOA or PFAS (most notably present in Teflon cookware and in Scotchgard) is essentially unregulated and continues to fall outside the scope of state and federal regulations. As far back as 1950, chemical companies like Dupont and 3M covered up evidence of PFAS health hazards. They have always known that these chemicals could have a toxic effects on our organs, but they kept those facts from the public and even their own workers. PFOAs build up in our bodies and never break down in the environment. Even in very small doses, they are linked to cancer, reproductive and immune system harm. (We are just learning that people with higher levels of PFAS may experience worse outcomes from COVID.)

This past December, the League of Women Voters of the Cincinnati Area joined nine other local organizations to cosponsor an in-depth conversation with Rob Bilott, the Cincinnati-based lawyer who has now become famous for pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the chemical giant DuPont. (He represented some 70,000 people in and around Parkersburg, W.Va., where the drinking water had been contaminated by the nearby DuPont plant.) Bilott’s story has gained recognition most recently through the Hollywood film Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo and in the documentary The Devil We Know.

A week before meeting with Bilott himself, the League joined in a discussion of Bilott’s book that narrates the author’s two-decade long personal struggle: Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s 20-Year Battle Against Dupont.

Although the earliest form of these chemicals, or “long chain” chemicals (i.e., made up of a string of eight carbon atoms), have now been phased out, the EPA and Food and Drug Administration have recklessly allowed the introduction of “short chain” replacements (six carbon atoms) that pose even greater risks. PFAS chemicals continue to be widely used today in cardboard and paper fast food wrappers, stain-resistant furniture & carpets, Gore-Tex jackets, personal care & cleaning products, paints & cosmetics. PFAS in fire-fighting foams are a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases such as Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Bilott said that the PFAS problem has now become a worldwide threat, but that meanwhile – with the help of widening public awareness – he will continue his crusade to legally abolish the manufacture of the entire class of these hazardous chemicals.

Jeanne Nightingale
Natural Resources Committee

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