This article originally appeared in Water Quality Products January issue 2019 as "Hollywood Moment"
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have made a big splash in news headlines recently, notably in Hollywood. A new film called Dark Waters hit big screens Dec. 6, 2020, and chronicles the true story of an environmental lawyer’s battle against Teflon producer DuPont Co. to raise accountability for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) contamination in West Virginia drinking water.
It’s no secret that celebrities have influence over public opinion and purchasing decisions, so whenever a celebrity figure takes up a water crusade my ears perk up at the opportunity to increase public awareness of water industry concerns. So, when Dark Waters, starring and produced by actor Mark Ruffalo, premiered, I lined up opening weekend to see if the film’s portrayal aligned with my own knowledge of the dangers of PFAS contamination.
Based off of the 2016 New York Times article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” the story is one I’m sure many of WQP’s readers are familiar with and the ramifications have inevitably impacted every professional in the water industry. The film follows Rob Bilott, a corporate lawyer from Parkersburg, West Virginia, who takes up the case of a small farmer, Wilbur Tennant, from his hometown against major chemical manufacturer DuPont over supposed chemical runoff pollution that sickened Tennant’s livestock. Ultimately, Bilott helped to uncover a cancer cluster and reveal the public health threat behind unregulated chemicals, including PFOA.
Dark Waters is already making waves in consumer awareness. Ahead of the film’s release, Ruffalo and Billot headed to Washington D.C. to announce the release of a new website, www.fightforeverchemicals.com, and to petition the U.S. EPA to set regulations.
In the wake of this major media coverage of a water quality issue our industry consistently works to develop enhanced solutions to mitigate contaminant concerns. I encourage you to use this time to have meaningful, honest and productive conversations with your customers, friends and peers. Be an open resource to your community on the impact of PFAS and other emerging contaminants, as well as a source for solutions. If you have thoughts on this film and its implications in your community or business, send me a note at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you.