And as you mentioned, it’s not just blood. She’s been covering the PFOA and the larger class of PFAS chemicals for several years. })(); Invest in quality science journalism by making a donation to Science Friday. IRA FLATOW: Mhm. I think that we already have more than enough information on at least PFOA, that there’s more than enough on that chemical to move forward and take effective steps to regulate that. But most importantly, under that settlement, we set up a process to have independent scientists look at all of the data and confirm what kind of health effects were generated from exposure to the chemical. But that’s the system that has worked so far.”. You know, we first alerted the agency in 2001, 18 years ago, about what we were seeing, about the chemical, how people were being exposed, its toxicity. IRA FLATOW: And the first thing that you’re asking for is to actually study the chemicals, study the problem itself? A Parkersburg, West Virginia, farmer and his family were exposed to chemicals which resulted in the illness of family members as well as the death of his farm animals. And as Sharon said, the closer you get to the point of eventually being regulated, the more conflict arises, and the more it slows down. In the latest case, filed in 2018 and pending in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus, Bilott is seeking class-action status through a representative, veteran Kendale, Ohio, firefighter Kevin Hardwick, who has been exposed to the chemicals. Robert Bilott is a partner at Taft, Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio. Many companies have switched to modified chemicals with shorter chemical chains that can break down. And they have, quote, “announced a series of commitments around other limited-use PFASes, which include eliminating use of all PFOA/PFOS-based firefighting foams from our sites and granting royalty-free licenses to those seeking to use PFAS water treatment resin technologies.” We actually have the full DuPont statement up on our website, and Chemours has not yet responded. And one day, I stumbled across a document that mentioned something called PFOA had been sent in materials to that landfill, something I’d never heard of. And he blurted out that he had gotten my name from my grandmother. And, you know, we heard the name of it. IRA FLATOW: And you took the case to defend him and decided to look into it. Who would hold party elites accountable to the values they proclaim to have? So we realized we might be the only ones who knew that, because this was in the internal files, but the regulators, the public, didn’t know. ROBERT BILOTT: That’s right. I organize. But it does get your attention. But Bilott went on to win a community-wide class-action lawsuit in 2004 to clean up contaminated water and get medical monitoring for residents. You know, as these new chemicals come out onto the market, manufacturers have started reformulating their mix of chemicals that they use in making these. I mean, has the EPA decided or attempted to take these chemicals off the market? And this chemical was being used by DuPont making Teflon. Robert Bilott: Cincinnati attorney who took on DuPont wins 'Alternative Nobel'. He talked about it, as he said, for about two decades, he’s been on a crusade. ROBERT BILOTT: Well, that original lawsuit I was mentioning for the community out in West Virginia, Ohio, after the science panel found the links with disease, the 3,500 people who had their cases were able to finally go to court after three trials, where DuPont was found liable, including for punitive damages for causing cancers in that community. Robert Bilott, attorney, partner, Taft Stettinius & Hollister LIZ: Hi there. And we’ve put a home filtration system in for our own water. They may have some of these related chemicals that people are really just now learning about. “There is tremendous fear, anxiety, and uncertainty across the country as to the serious public health threat posed by PFAS contamination,” Bilott said. Robert, what do you think? And we were able to get clean water filters put in. To date, DuPont has paid more than $1 billion in penalties as a result of the earlier PFOA litigation. Robert Bilott That was in 1998. Not just on one farm in West Virginia, not even just in the public water of an entire community there, but it’s now in water all over the country, all over the planet, in the blood of virtually every living thing.”. I was about ready to hang up the phone. Bilott, an attorney and 1983 graduate of New College of Florida, was profiled in The New York Times Magazine in January 2016, in an article headlined “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare.” “We’re fortunate that we have a judicial system that allows people in that situation to go into court and get relief,” he said. ROBERT BILOTT: Thanks much for having me. “We’re talking about a chemical that’s out there. Is that right, Rob? “We look forward to working with DuPont to finalize this settlement and get these injured class members paid as quickly as possible,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Rob Bilott said in a statement. Welcome to Science Friday. 30 Broad Street, Suite 801 And so you see the EPA trying, with varying degrees of success, to try to assess their safety. Well, they’d been studying the health effects of the chemical since the ’50s, finding all kinds of problems– toxicity in rats and monkeys and dogs. Thursday, February 15, at 5:30 p.m. Bilott declined to estimate how much his case could cost PFAS makers, although he did say DuPont spent over $100 million on a court-ordered scientific study in his 2017 "Dark Waters" case. So I sent a big letter to the EPA and to the state agencies in 2001 alerting them. And even though it wasn’t regulated– the regulatory agencies didn’t know anything about it– DuPont had set its own drinking water guideline. The EPA had, I believe it was, 0.4 and 0.2 or 400 and– it’s hard to– now we’re talking about parts per trillion. I got a call one day, and a gentleman on the other end of the line started talking about cows dying. He suspected something coming off DuPont’s landfill was poisoning the animals. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry recently began a nationwide study of the health impacts of PFAS, which have contaminated drinking water via industrial pollution and the use of toxic firefighting foam, but the results will not be available for years. The companies moved to dismiss that case. So the EPA had those documents and went ahead and allowed them to make it anyway. “Scientific, Legal and Regulatory Challenges in Investigating and Addressing Health Threats from Unregulated Drinking Water Contaminants: The Case of Perfluorochemicals” But you’ve seen several states set much lower levels. The last frames of the movie “Dark Waters” are set in a federal courtroom in Columbus. Bilott initially signed on to the case as a favor to his grandmother, who lived in Parkersburg. It’s their first meal, you know? The new national class action suit would hold the manufacturers themselves responsible for the costs of the research. CLAUDIA: Hi. ROBERT BILOTT: Right. Joining is simple and doesn’t need to cost a lot: You can become a sustaining member for as little as $3 or $5 a month. by Robert Bilott, on November 1, 2019 Editor’s note: In 1999, Robert Bilott sued E.I. But, you know, for communities that are exposed to chemicals like this, under our legal system, the people who are exposed are essentially told they’re the ones who have to come forward and prove that the chemical was causing them harm, and the company that put it out there doesn’t have to prove that it’s safe. “We are, and have always been, committed to upholding the highest standards for the wellbeing of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate. And they were selling this material, PFOA, to DuPont, who was using it since as early as 1951 at this factory up the river. Trials in related cases continue today. So you’re seeing really a very downward slope, which is not unusual for environmental contaminants.
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