Dark Waters is a 2019 American legal thriller directed by Todd Haynes (“Carol” and “Far from Heaven”). The movie dramatizes the whistleblowing story of a cover-up of toxic waste. We see close up the corporate corruption involving Dupont’s manufacturing of Teflon. The hero is Robert Bilott, (played by Mark Ruffalo of “I Know This Much is True”) an Ohio lawyer who spends more than eighteen years proving that DuPont was responsible for poisoning the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia with unregulated “forever” chemicals.
Based on the 2016 New York Times Magazine article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare”, Dark Waters takes us on the journey by a tenacious attorney, Rob Bilott to uncover the dark secret hidden by one of the US’s most illustrious corporations–DuPont. “Better Living Through Chemistry–DuPont’s advertising jingle–this is not.
A growing number of unexplained farm animal deaths are brought to Bilott’s attention when a friend of his grandmother’s brings videotapes of pollution, dying cattle with gross mutations, and assorted abnormalities on his farm. Bilott naively believes when he brings this to DuPont’s attention, they will comply voluntarily with the self-regulation of their toxic chemicals for the community’s welfare.
In the process of expecting cooperation, he risks everything — his future career, his family, and his own life — to expose the truth. DuPont has known for years through their own corporate research, that they were responsible for a shocking increase in cancer, birth defects, death of livestock, and polluted river beds. They fight the lawsuit with the standard practice of deluging the plaintiff lawyer with hundreds of boxes of documents, indirect and more direct threats of loss of employment, and corporate croneyism.
This is no “Erin Brockovich”, but it is a close second. Corporate profits of over $1 billion per year were not going to be sacrificed by the regulation of their most profitable and monopolized product. Dupont is caught in multiple lies from the CEO on down, the company’s defenses refuted by the their own studies. Dark Waters highlights the necessity of compliance by independent agencies like the EPA and intrepid attorneys like Bilott. Both are essential partners, as the EPA lacked power and failed to use what little regulatory authority they did have to eradicate Teflon from the market.
By the end of the film, we learn that 99% of everyone on the planet has Teflon in their bodies. A powerful multinational corporation aligned with the US government let this happen.
Mark Ruffalo truly identifies with Bilott, giving an outstanding interpretation of the contribution the attorney has made to public safety. In outtakes at the end of the film, Rob Bilott and his wife are invited on set and interviewed. In addition, victims who suffered from birth defects due to the chemicals in Teflon appear. Several victims appear in the movie and one has a brief cameo role as well.
Although DuPont should have suffered more, I highly recommend Dark Waters.
Note: Teflon and its chemicals (PFOA and PFOS) are still available in markets worldwide.
Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal: The Hidden Dangers of C8 by Callie Lyons, a Mid-Ohio Valley journalist, was the first book to uncover the DuPont coverup at their site in Parkersburg, West Virginia. And read the follow-up on Lyons’ coverage in the May 2007 article in Mother Jones, “Teflon is Forever”