CEH Hosts “Dupont-Slaying” Environmental Attorney Rob Bilott and Frontline Activists Fighting “Forever Chemical” Crisis

Left to right: Organizers Martha Camacho-Rodriguez, Emily Donovan, Lawyer Rob Bilott, Tony Stefani, and Jose Bravo at CEH press conference.

For Immediate Release: October 10, 2019  

Media Contacts: Michael Green, CEH’s CEO and Founder, 510-378-7333, Zack Kaldveer, CEH’s Communications Manager, 510-938-2664

CEH is working with these community groups to end the use of “forever chemicals” by providing cutting-edge scientific research, investigations, product testing, advocacy, and legal action

SAN FRANCISCO—The Center for Environmental Health hosted environmental lawyer Rob Bilott as he joined grassroots community activists from across the country for a roundtable conversation about their fights against exposure to a cancer-causing class of chemicals and the corporate giants that create them. Bilott gained notoriety for his recent groundbreaking legal victory against DuPont for knowingly poisoning the drinking water of a West Virginia community of 70,000 – causing elevated levels of cancer and babies born with birth defects in residents and employees. 

CEH has partnered with each of the community group leaders that spoke at the roundtable conversation, helping to connect brave leaders with the latest scientific and public health resources available and supporting these communities’ efforts to address their fight against PFAS exposure. CEH’s CEO Michael Green summed up the scope of the crisis: “We face one of the most serious environmental health crises in human history. For decades, chemical companies have contaminated our bodies and environment without our knowledge or consent. PFAS chemicals are found in every corner of the planet, and nearly every person’s blood. It’s time to stop creating any more of these forever chemicals and prioritize peoples’ health over corporate profit.”

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) make products water- and grease-resistant. They are in non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant carpets, lubricants, firefighting foams, paints, cosmetics and dishes our kids eat off at school. People are exposed to PFAS through contaminated food, air, dust, rain, soil and drinking water. PFAS can cause a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, hormone disruption, decreased fertility and other serious health issues.

Rob Bilott – who led off the discussion – has a new book out called Exposure that tells the story of his fight against the world’s largest chemical company over the contamination of drinking water after a West Virginia farmer came to him with evidence his cattle were being poisoned by chemicals coming from a DuPont landfill. Rob not only won the case but forced DuPont to admit it had been contaminating the local water supply with toxic chemicals they knew to be hazardous to human health. To date, Rob has helped secure over $1 Billion in benefits for his clients. His story is the subject of an upcoming feature film, Dark Waters, starring Mark Ruffalo, who also spoke at the event. 

“My involvement has morphed from one family dealing with one chemical to now dealing with the whole country dealing with this whole class of chemicals,” said Rob Bilott, partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. “We’ve filed a new class-action case in Ohio and our lead plaintiff is a firefighter who has had exposures. It’s not seeking money, its seeking studies to prove what these chemicals do to people who are exposed to them over a long period of time.”

View and download videos of Rob Bilott and the community activists telling their stories.

Termed “forever chemicals,” PFAS can take thousands of years to break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for decades. PFAS are now in the blood of 99 percent of Americans and have contaminated the drinking water of as many as 110 million Americans. Despite the risks they pose, there are no legal limits on releases of PFAS chemicals or legal requirements to clean up legacy contamination.

Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear, a grassroots community group of volunteers that CEH has partnered with to help restore and protect drinking water quality in Southeastern North Carolina, explained what its been like having a Chemours manufacturing site adjacent to the Cape Fear River, which supplies the drinking water to 250,000 residents. “We have increased testicular cancer, we live in a confirmed thyroid cancer cluster area, and we’ve requested data on pediatric cancer rates…Too many people are sick with illnesses and diseases and cancers at ages far too young to pass off as normal. There are no federal laws right now that will allow or empower a state to even find out where PFAS chemicals are being used in any companies’ manufacturing process.”

“We’re dying. But we’re not dying on our terms,” said Martha Camacho-Rodriguez, founder of Social Eco-Education, a grassroots environmental justice group working with to address toxics issues in Southeast Los Angeles and nationwide. “It’s really important for us to unite on this battle…so we know that when we’re drinking water just because it’s clear and doesn’t smell doesn’t mean it’s not poisonous.” CEH has been partnering with SEE and other Southeast LA residents in litigation against metal processing industrial polluters in the City of Paramount who were emitting dangerous levels of hex chrome into the air.

“We tested (microwave) popcorn bags in Dollar stores and every single one of them came back with PFAS chemicals in them,” said Jose Bravo, Executive Director of the Justice Transition Alliance (JTA), which serves people of color and low-income communities disproportionately impacted by toxic chemicals. “We are asking Dollar stores to provide bulk popcorn and paper bags for people to put popcorn in.” CEH conducted the tests in conjunction with JTA and released a video featuring the Oakland rapper Mystic and a local kindergarten class to educate families about the PFAS chemicals put in microwave popcorn bags and how to make their own safe, toxic-free microwave popcorn. 

“Due to exposures to toxic chemicals on the job we’re contracting various forms of cancer at younger ages and a lot more rare forms of cancer,” said Tony Stefani, President, San Francisco Firefighters Cancer Prevention Foundation. “Seventy-three firefighters we’re currently working with have…cancer and we’ve lost approximately 305 firefighters to cancer since 2005. We are extremely concerned about this toxic group of chemicals.” CEH co-sponsored landmark California legislation with firefighter groups signed by the Governor in 2018 that will phase out harmful flame-retardant chemicals in upholstered furniture, children’s products, and some mattresses. 

CEH focuses on ending the use of PFAS chemicals across an array of campaigns through cutting-edge scientific research, investigations, product testing, advocacy, and legal action. For example, CEH works with major companies and institutions to ensure they purchase furniture made without PFAS and other toxic chemicals. To date, dozens have signed CEHs Purchaser Pledge, which informs their furniture suppliers that they prefer to buy furniture made without toxic chemicals. Signers include Genentech, Kaiser Permanente, LinkedIn and more. The companies that have signed the pledge collectively spend more than $357 million in annual furniture purchasing power. 

Other CEH related projects include a recent ground-breaking report that found PFAS contamination in foodware, a campaign to detoxify state prison facilities where furniture made with PFAS chemicals are assembled, litigation to remove PFAS from consumer products, working with school districts around the country to transition to PFAS-free foodware options, and pressuring the federal government to address this crisis with the urgency it deserves. 

CEH urges consumers to find out if your tap water has been properly tested. If concerned, consider installing an in-home filter. Avoid “nonstick” or “waterproof” products and disposable foodware and carryout items. Avoid microwave popcorn. Don’t use beauty products with ingredients containing the term “fluoro.” And pressure your schools and places of work to go “PFAS-Free.”    

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