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We will return on the same query in a short span of time. Enquire Now. But DuPont continued to market Teflon and related products, which would burgeon into a billion-dollar-a-year business for the company. By the early s, Congress was once again debating how to regulate the chemicals that now formed the fabric of American domestic life. Both houses drafted legislation that would empower the Environmental Protection Agency to study the health and environmental effects of chemicals and regulate their use.
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But the industry unleashed another lobbying blitz. Under the final version of the Toxic Substances Control Act of , existing chemicals were again grandfathered in. Manufacturers did have to inform the EPA when they introduced new chemicals—but no testing was required. The resulting regulatory regime, which exists to this day, is remarkably laissez-faire. Only a handful of the 80,plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety—meaning that we are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment.
Sue Bailey had just gotten pregnant with her third child when she was transferred to the Teflon division of Washington Works. There, she said, she channeled C8 waste into on-site pits using a contraption that looked like a bicycle pump. For the rest of her pregnancy, she suffered from crippling anxiety.
When Bailey gave birth in January , the baby had only half a nose and a ragged eyelid that gaped down to the middle of his cheek.
The doctors warned that he might not live until morning. Bailey was so shell-shocked that she could hardly bear to hold him.
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He claimed it was a routine inquiry. When Bailey returned to work later that year, she found a memo on the locker-room bench. But a few months later, a friend put her in touch with another Teflon employee named Karen Robinson who had given birth to a baby with similar eye deformities. But she noticed that the plant foremen were treating her differently. Is there anything we can do to help you?
Her superiors had reason to be nervous. Two other secret industry studies had found eye defects in lab animals whose mothers were fed C8 and related chemicals during pregnancy. In March , DuPont sent a pathologist and a birth defects expert to review the 3M data Bailey had read about in the locker room. DuPont immediately removed all female workers from areas where they might come into contact with the chemical. The Washington Works lab also started designating one person per shift to analyze C8. Kenton Wamsley, a former lab technician, vividly recalls the day his supervisor assigned him this task.
So I shut my mouth. A flow-chart from the DuPont pregnancy study. In April , DuPont began secretly monitoring 50 female employees who had been exposed to C8. Under the guise of routine medical checks, it collected blood samples and had the women fill out lengthy questionnaires.
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Rather than informing regulators or employees, DuPont quietly abandoned the pregnancy study. A page from the questionnaire DuPont gave to female workers. Less than a year later, DuPont and 3M had compiled new data purportedly showing that there was no link between C8 and birth defects in animals.
In a meeting with EPA officials, the companies claimed that the deformities reported in previous studies had actually been caused by researchers mangling delicate fetal eye tissue during dissection.
Immediately after the meeting, DuPont moved women of childbearing age back into areas with C8 exposure. But DuPont continued its clandestine testing of employees, and this yielded more troubling revelations. He urged that all "available practical steps be taken to reduce this exposure. Chemicals with these qualities tend to be very toxic even at low doses. Shift after shift, Ken Wamsley says he handled C8 samples with his bare hands and inhaled fumes from the furnace where he heat-tested Teflon at degrees.
Before long, he developed asthma and crippling stomach pain.
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As the evidence about C8 piled up, DuPont started to consider the effect the substance might be having outside the factory fence. Over the decades, the company had dumped huge quantities of Teflon waste into the ocean and into unlined pits along the Ohio River. In , DuPont began dispatching employees to secretly fill jugs of water at gas stations and general stores around the plant and bring them in for testing.
Sure enough, the tests revealed C8 in the water supplies of two nearby towns—Lubeck, West Virginia, and Little Hocking, Ohio, just across the river from Washington Works. DuPont considered notifying the public, but ultimately chose not to. Minutes from the C8 meeting. According to the minutes, attendees discussed recently adopted plans to cut C8 emissions at Washington Works, such as adding scrubbers to vents that spewed the chemical into the air. But they decided to scrap these initiatives. They call them DuPonters, the 1,plus men and women from in and around Parkersburg who make their living at the Washington Works plant.
In an area where few people have college degrees, the DuPonters stand out for their relative wealth. More than one person told me that DuPont employees could get bank loans without even filling out applications. The official who negotiated the deal later became a DuPont consultant. But the animals kept dying even faster, and by the late s, the EPA was asking questions. DuPont proposed a collaborative investigation, in which it would appoint half of the scientists.
When the Tennants finally filed suit in , other locals treated them like lepers. The Tennants had brought their case at a moment when the entire chemical industry was in state of panic over C8. A study by 3M, which manufactured C8, had found that workers with ongoing exposure were three times more likely than the average man to die of prostate cancer. DuPont scientists had also linked it to leukemia and other diseases in people. Recipients were ordered to return a previous draft for destruction.
One of the three monkeys in the lowest-dose group fell into a catatonic stupor and died. These findings suggested even modest exposure could have devastating health effects.
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In April , the company notified the EPA of its conclusions. The press release made no mention of C8, but the company began quietly phasing that out, too. There was almost nothing in the public record—in fact, the only clues Bilott could find at the time were in the 3M press release. The judge in the Tennant case eventually forced DuPont to turn over thousands of documents on C8. The memo explaining the decision to purchase Lubeck's contaminated well field.
But it soon discovered that the new wells were contaminated, too. Rather than notify the EPA, as the law required, DuPont devised a testing method that grossly underestimated C8 levels. The documents also showed that the company had been monitoring C8 in Dry Run Creek for years, even as it stonewalled the Tennants. The following year, the company shuttered another landfill and started trucking all of its C8 waste into Dry Run. After Bilott figured out that C8 was in the water, DuPont began scrambling to get the information out first.
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In October , a letter went out to the people of Lubeck, informing them that there was C8 in the water. He also invited the Tennants up to Cincinnati and walked them through his findings. All Della could think about was the children who had lived and played on the farm. Jim and Della Tennant. Joe Kiger, a local PE teacher and longtime Lubeck resident, was sitting on his patio swing when his wife, Darlene, handed him a letter explaining that there was something called C8 in the water. But over the next few weeks, he began wondering about the teenagers in the neighborhood who had developed testicular cancer.