Silent Spring meets Erin Brockovich in this eye-opening, riveting true story of the lawyer who spent two decades building a case against DuPont for its use of the hazardous, unregulated chemical PFOA, uncovering a history of environmental contamination that affects virtually every person on the planet, and the heartless behavior that kept it a secret for sixty years.
The story that inspired the forthcoming major motion picture from Participant Media/Focus Features starring Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway, directed by Todd Haynes.
1998: Rob Bilott is a young lawyer specializing in helping big corporations stay on the right side of environmental laws and regulations. His life and career take an unexpected turn when he gets a phone call from a West Virginia farmer named Earl Tennant. Earl is convinced the creek on his property is being poisoned by runoff from a neighboring DuPont landfill. His cattle are dying in hideous ways, as is much of the surrounding wildlife. Earl hasn’t even been able to get a water sample tested by any state or federal regulatory agency or find a local lawyer willing to take the case. As soon as they hear the name DuPont—the area’s largest employer—they shut him down.
Once Rob sees the thick, foamy water that bubbles into the creek, the gruesome effects it seems to have on livestock, and the disturbing frequency of cancer and other health problems in the surrounding area, he’s persuaded to fight against the type of corporation his firm routinely represents. After intense legal wrangling, Rob ultimately gains access to hundreds of thousands of pages of DuPont documents, some of them fifty years old, that reveal the company has been holding onto decades of studies proving the harmful effects of a chemical called PFOA, used in making Teflon. PFOA is often called a “forever chemical,” because once inside the body, it remains there for a long period of time, building up faster than the body can excrete it, and once in the environment, it does not break down or degrade for millions of years, contaminating the planet forever. Although aware of these properties, DuPont kept its scientific findings from the public while at the same time dumping hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA waste into the Ohio River and landfills. The case of one farmer soon spawns a class action suit on behalf of seventy thousand residents—and the shocking realization that virtually every person on the planet has been exposed to PFOA and carries the chemical in his or her blood.
What emerges is an unforgettable, David and Goliath-style legal drama about malice and manipulation, the failings of environmental regulation; and one lawyer’s twenty-year struggle to expose the truth about this previously unknown—and still unregulated—chemical that we all have inside us.
Robert Bilott is a partner at the law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP in Cincinnati, Ohio where he has practiced environmental law and litigation for more than twenty-eight years. He has been selected as one of the Best Lawyers in America for several years running and has received numerous honors for his work in environmental law and litigation. Rob is a former chair of the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Environmental Law Committee and a graduate of New College in Sarasota, Florida (BA) and the Ohio State University College of Law (JD, cum laude). In 2017, Rob received the international Right Livelihood Award, commonly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” for his years of work on PFOA.