Julia L F Goldstein

How Are You Changing the World?

Owning up to Responsibility

Jan 15, 2016 by Julia L F Goldstein

How can we as a society teach our children to take responsibility for their own actions when huge corporations refuse to take responsibility for theirs, even in the face of threats to human health? I recently read a New York Times article called "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare." The author tells the story better than I can, so I encourage my readers to follow the link. But here are some takeaways:

  • DuPont held the city of Parkersburg, WV hostage for years.  Wilbur Tennant, a farmer who suspected that a DuPont landfill was responsible for the deaths of his cattle, found that no local politicians, doctors, or vets would listen to his concerns. He contacted lawyer Rob Billot and showed him graphic footage of what was happening to the cattle.
  • DuPont's response to Billot's lawsuit was to commission a study, hiring its own veterinarians. They concluded, not surprisingly, that Tennant was delinquent in the care of his cattle, despite Tennant's evidence showing that the cattle were healthy for decades before Tennant's brother sold land to DuPont and it built a landfill near Tennant's property.
  • Compelled by court order, DuPont gave Billot access to huge stacks of archived documents showing that the company knew for decades that it was discharging toxic chemicals into the landfill but hid all evidence.
  • The culprit is PFOA - perfluorooctanoic acid - which DuPont bought from 3M and used to produce Teflon. DuPont's own records specify that PFOA is to be disposed of in chemical waste facilities and never discharged into any bodies of water, but DuPont blatantly ignored these guidelines.
  • Medical studies on rats showed that PFOA is extremely damaging to internal organs. DuPont knew that PFOA was present in the local water supply but failed to disclose this.
  • This problem extends well beyond Parkersburg. A nonprofit organization conducted a survey in 2015 and found that water supplies in 27 states exceeds safe PFOA limits, as defined by researchers at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts.
  • Billot filed a class action lawsuit against DuPont, which resulted in a $16.5 M settlement with the EPA, but this hardly puts a dent in DuPont's profits.

Between reading this article and seeing the movie The Big Short I am disgusted by how so many people are driven by profit and greed to such an extent that they ignore the effects of their actions on human lives and society.