You think you already have a low opinion of chemical companies that pollute the land and water and then do everything they can to skate, and leave behind poisons that will linger for decades? Not yet you don’t. Not until you read this article on Huffington Post, maybe the best thing I’ve ever read on that site (almost certainly the best, since I rarely read it at all). A lot of it can be summed up in this excerpt, but the whole thing is worth reading:
Desperate to find out what was killing the animals, Jim and his brother Earl dissected some of the bodies. “As soon as you cut the skin loose, you get some of the foulest smells you’ve ever smelled,” says Jim. “The innards was bright green.”
Soon the cow carcasses were piling up faster than the Tennants could bury them. Family members were being hospitalized for breathing problems and chemical burns. Convinced that the landfill was to blame, the Tennants tried unsuccessfully to get help from environmental agencies. They also considered suing DuPont, but had trouble finding a local lawyer who was willing to sign on.
Finally, in the late 1990s, the Graham family, who owned the neighboring farm, suggested they call Rob Bilott, an attorney at a Cincinnati firm called Taft Stettinius & Hollister. Bilott was hardly an obvious choice: He had spent much of his career on the other side of the table, representing chemical companies. But his grandmother lived in Parkersburg and was friends with the Grahams; Bilott had ridden horses and milked cows at their place as a child. After hearing the Tennants’ story, his firm agreed to accept their case.
Over the next year, Bilott filed numerous motions and DuPont turned over boxes of documents on hazardous substances used at the Washington Works plant. But none seemed relevant to the Tennants’ situation. Then, in August 2000, Bilott came across a single paper that mentioned the presence of a little-known substance called perfluorooctanoic acid in Dry Run Creek. Bilott requested more information on the chemical, which is often called C8 and is found in thousands of household products, including carpeting, Teflon pans, waterproof clothes, dental floss, kitty litter and cosmetics. Unbeknownst to Bilott, his inquiry triggered a panic inside DuPont’s Delaware headquarters. “The shit is about to hit the fan in WV,” the company’s in-house counsel, Bernard J. Reilly, wrote in an email to his colleagues. “The lawyer for the farmer finally realizes the surfactant [C8] issue … Fuck him.”