Exposure by Robert Bilott

Robert Bilott’s ‘auto-documentary’ book, Exposure, on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, is a sobering look at the immorality of corporate America of recent times. In a searing study of how greed drives so much economic activity in America these days, Robert Bilott’s personally and legally revealing work was first made known to me when I recently saw the film Dark Waters – a Todd Hayes (directed) and Mark Ruffalo (produced and lead role acted) – a fine film, worthy of several nominations in this year Hollywood hoopla round. It received none BTW. I think we get the picture.

Bilott’s book tells us the whole story. It begins with Rob Bilott’s ‘unusual’ jumping the fence from his law firm’s usual corporate defence work to take on a plaintiff’s case for an angry lone quite desperate West Virginia farmer, Earl Tennant, who contacted him, then showed up at his office carrying a mountain of evidence.

What Rob Bilott discovered demonstrated how Du Pont had been for years dumping poisonous waste from its Washington Works plant at Parkersburg, West Virginia, into landfills which leached into rivers, streams and ponds, killing cattle and compromising the health of many inhabitants in a wide area around the Parkersburg plant. 

His book is a story of corporate harm, demonstrating the casual and arrogant and quite ugly ease with which a powerful corporation can engage in immoral practices in the name of business as usual. Initially rebuffed by Du Pont, Bilott convinced the courts to order the company to agree to setting up an independent scientific investigation into the potential harm done by a chemical PFOA, that Du Pont used for many products, famously in Teflon, a huge worldwide profit source and spinner for the firm. 

After years of waiting for results from an exhaustive scientific study of the blood samples of nearly 70,000 people in the immediate and surrounding areas, the appointed scientific panel finally came back with findings of clear probable cause links to several major life threatening and life-altering diseases and conditions. The ruined natural water and piped-water supplies meant that many were already suffering, some dying, from these diseases and conditions. 

This story is as stunning as it has been breathtaking, a jury finally finding for a class civil action against the company – who put up a fierce and at times devious public relations & legal defence – with the plaintiffs awarded a 670 million dollar settlement against Du Pont. Du Pont appealed and appealed then in the face of the evidence folded and accepted the jury’s decision. 

This whole immoral if not statutorily felonious ‘environmental crime’ was aided and abetted by the EPA who worked in tandem with Du Pont to obfuscate and hide key facts of a chemical dumping program from the public, while Du Pont carried on its harmful activities for years, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided, where they were the town’s main employer, knowing full well all along that PFOA was an extremely dangerous substance for all life forms. 

So in summary, a fine book and a very necessary read for people who want clean land, air and water and a reasonable chance at living life without corporations poisoning them or providing them with cancer. Also for anyone who believes that honest and accountable corporate activities are a necessary right for individuals in any properly managed and democratically governed society in the 21st century. 

Without Earl Tennant bringing this to Robert Bilott’s attention and Bilott deciding to take the career risk of bringing this civil action on behalf of Earl and many others, for so many stress-filled years of his life, we may never have even heard about Du Pont’s malfeasance.

(In a run up to the class-action trial, Du Pont spun off its Washington Works plant into a new company, Chemours, in a technique many companies use to limit financial damage by placing the offending product range under another firm, that can easily be tipped in bankruptcy thus preventing a payout. After years of seeing how Du Pont operated Robert Bilott was ready for the legal tactic.)

France, by land rover

France. I have been going in the series 3 every year taking old furniture down to Italy or just going for the hell of it, across/under the channel down through France up over the Alps into Italy (you have to see Liguria’s Cinque Terre at least once in your life) – the rest of the time the old car sits idle outside.

As for so many things, time is running out for the old land rover. Old cars are not liked anymore. They are smoky – I won’t defend them more than this: emissions of 24/7 trucks, high octane fuel guzzlers, the factories etc etc, one old car on one month annual trip (no city driving for me) doesn’t add up to much – not in my arithmetic. Not more than 50 mph (in fact 40 mph) is my way and motto (I’d like to put a sign on the back saying – This goes less than 50 mph.. on principle! – as well as by design). It’s not only the bunches of flowers every few miles – where do all these hearts go when  they leave the road..we don’t need to know the details…they’re gone.

How much more you see going slow.

photos by Valentina

One France I know is magic, sometimes a melancholic magic – rivers, fields, towns (to die for, towns so many did die for), little ordered graveyards along the way to forests, mountains, plains. But I can’t sit back and say nothing about these evictions by the police.

Where do the developed countries think their labour forces come from (bus drivers, street sweepers, factory workers). Oh I forgot – all these poor and hopeful immigrants are freeloaders on the state, not cheap labour at all for moneybagging developed nations. That’s what the exploiters want us to believe  – we and Africa, South America, and vast swathes of Asia know better.

The West uses, abuses and discards. Reading some wonderful memories in essays of what New York (New York Calling ed. Marshall Berman) used to be like even in the not so distant past, before Rudi Giuliani began building his ‘political career’ by killing diversity, giving the bankers and other users etc the chance to move in and tear down, throw up condos, destroy the art that the city used to grow on every edgy noisy street corner. It all’s babbitts now whatever they are – John Strasbaugh ‘From Wise Guys to Woo-Girls’ describes one property owner taking out contracts on low-renters to get his hands on their apartments.

Where is the heart, the meaning of community, ‘this land is your land this land is my land’, where is the belief that we all share this planet (being an old car user – I aint perfect)..but where are the Bohos, the ex-centricos, the buskers, the old guys and girls who have ‘lived here all their lives’..where is all this redevelopment going? I look in London and wonder how the architects could even think of putting this up  – the plastic crap that’s dead inside a year – whatever happened to weathered brick? Where’s the spirit of Lou Kahn?

We have to think this through, again, claw back meaning, humanity, the street belief, the daily art and human show, somehow.