‘Dark Waters’ Tells the Origin Story of a Public Health Nightmare. We’re Still Living It.

Yves here. Yet another story of how a major health risk came to light…and unlike yesterday’s account of the FDA hiding information about defective medical devices, this one came out sooner rather than later.

By Emily Pontecorvo. Originally published at Grist

About a third of the way into the film Dark Waters, Rob Bilott, played by Mark Ruffalo, is lying in bed with his eyes open, looking anxious. The lawyer has spent the past year poring over thousands of internal documents from the DuPont chemical company, and has pieced together a harrowing story. The company has been dumping a chemical called “C8” into the air and water outside of its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for decades, and withholding information about the dangers it posed to human health.

Bilott gets out of bed, boots up a boxy PC from the early 2000s, and opens a blank document. He hesitates for a moment — he’s about to do something unprecedented in his corporate law firm — then begins typing a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency outlining everything he’s gathered about DuPont’s cover-up.

That letter became known as “Rob’s Famous Letter” among Bilott’s colleagues, as Nathaniel Rich reported in the New York Times Magazine article that inspired the film. If Bilott had never sent it, the world might still be blind to the dangers of C8 and other per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances known collectively as PFAS — a class of nearly 5,000 substances called “forever chemicals” because of how long they persist. The nickname is hardly an exaggeration. Some of them, like C8, literally never break down in the environment.

So what do companies like DuPont use them for? PFAS are great for repelling water and fats, which makes them a miracle coating in a range of products, like non-stick pans, waterproof clothing, and food packaging. The chemicals have only been manufactured since the 1940s, when 3M first licensed them, but in their short tenure on earth, they have spread to every corner of the planet and made their way into the blood of 99 percent of all human beings. Scientists have found a probable link between C8 exposure and high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.

Dark Waters chronicles the true story of Bilott’s nearly 20-year battle to hold DuPont accountable. In the end, the story is triumphant: Bilott exposes the company’s cover-up, wins a class-action lawsuit, orchestrates the first major epidemiological study that links C8 to several diseases and cancers, and makes DuPont pay hundreds of millions of dollars to its victims and their families. The film offers a much-needed dose of hope that there are people out there fighting for a more safe, just, and honest world … and winning! But viewers should know that the battle is far from over. The story told in Dark Waters is really just the first chapter in a public health nightmare that’s continuing to play out all over the country.

‘Forever Chemicals’ Are Everywhere

By one measure, PFAS are present in the tap water of 19 million Americans across 43 states. They’re found in particularly high levels near military bases and airports where PFAS firefighting foam is used. C8 is no longer produced in the U.S., but companies have simply moved on to manufacturing other PFAS chemicals instead. Companies are not required to prove a chemical is safe before selling it, so there’s not enough research yet to know what the risks of exposure are. Two federal health agencies are spending $7 million to try to learn more, and early studies don’t look good.

In 2005, thanks to Bilott’s exposé, the EPA fined DuPont more than $16 million, the largest administrative penalty the agency had ever imposed. But it hasn’t done much to regulate PFAS in the 15 years since. The EPA is still considering whether to set a safe drinking water standard for PFAS or require companies to report how much they release into the environment. Its only formal policy is a voluntary advisory level for contamination of drinking water — which is really just a suggestion, and one that critics say is far too lax.

States Are Taking Matters into Their Own Hands (and wallets)

Some states, like Ohio and Pennsylvania, are investing in extensive testing for PFAS in their water supplies. Others, like New Jersey, New York, and Michigan, are spending millions on cleanup efforts and trying to enact their own drinking water standards that are much stricter than the EPA’s advisory level.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire passed strict standards on its drinking water and became the first state to require water utilities to test for and treat PFAS. But that decision is getting challenged in court. 3M, which has a paper plant in the state and would be forced to install costly water treatment systems, is fighting back, arguing that no peer-reviewed science was provided to justify the standards. The presiding judge has issued an injunction on the new law. It’s just one example of how the companies who created this mess are still fighting regulations and denying accountability, despite settling thousands of lawsuits for contaminating people’s drinking water.

Good, Old-Fashioned Lawsuits

Several states, including New Hampshire, are turning to Bilott’s tried-and-true method of suing PFAS manufacturers. More than 100 lawsuits seeking damages for PFAS contamination from firefighting foam have been filed by individuals, cities, states, and water utilities. Many of the suits have been consolidated to go to trial before a federal judge in South Carolina.

Bilott is also still fighting. In 2018, he filed another class-action lawsuit against eight chemical companies, this time on behalf of everyone in the U.S. who has PFAS in their blood … so, everyone. This latest suit is not about money. Instead, Bilott wants the companies to pay for an independent science panel to study the health effects of the entire family of PFAS chemicals. The uncertainty around what these chemicals do to the body has given companies license to just keep producing new ones and allege that they are safer. The book on PFAS was first opened by Bilott, and by establishing the science on them once and for all, he may yet be the one to help close it.

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66 comments

    1. Shiloh1

      So 3M, DuPont and their future BK BadCo Chemours all knew that this was bad stuff 20+ years ago. Wake me up when a former and or current C-Suite-er goes to the big house.

      Reply
  1. dutch

    Here are five concerns raised by the article:

    1)“Some of them, [forever chemicals] like C8, literally never break down in the environment.”
    If they never break down, how can they interact with the chemistry of the body? In order to be part of a chemical reaction the chemicals involved must break down somehow, or at least act as a catalyst for other chemicals to react. And if they don’t react with the body’s chemistry, how can they cause any changes (damage)?

    2)“Scientists have found a probable link between C8 exposure and high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.”
    The shear variety of diseases “linked” to this single agent should raise suspicions. Why just these diseases and not others? What do they have in common that makes them susceptible to C8 exposure while others are not? I am not aware of any relationships having been established within this constellation of diseases. Is anyone else aware of any?

    3)“Companies are not required to prove a chemical is safe before selling it, so there’s not enough research yet to know what the risks of exposure are.”
    Exactly! There is no scientific basis for the conclusion that these chemicals are harmful, which of course would (should) explain why EPA has not been willing to write enforceable exposure limits.

    4)“The EPA is still considering whether to set a safe drinking water standard for PFAS or require companies to report how much they release into the environment. Its only formal policy is a voluntary advisory level for contamination of drinking water — which is really just a suggestion, and one that critics say is far too lax.”
    See above. Upon what basis do “critics” declare the advisory levels too lax? Surely it cannot be based upon the science which does not yet exist.

    5)“The book on PFAS was first opened by Bilott, and by establishing the science on them once and for all, he may yet be the one to help close it.”
    So let’s establish the science first, then draw conclusions – like grownups should do.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Your first point alone demonstrates ‘by science’ you haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Multiple compounds (and elements, such as arsenic and lead) are highly resistant to breakdown in the environment but act as toxic agonists or antagonists – they interact (without necessarily being altered chemically) with receptors in the body such as nuclear receptor proteins, hormones or neurotransmitters, creating cascading impacts. The dioxin/PCB family of chemicals being a well known and intensively studied example – they metabolise extremely slowly, if at all, in the human body, while still having unambiguously toxic impacts.

      In the case of PFAS, they appear to interfere with proteins responsible for controlling the transcription of genes from DNA to messenger RNA. It is an entirely reasonable hypothesis that such an ‘upstream’ impact on gene expression can have multiple mutagenic and other impacts leading to a very wide range of observed symptoms (similar to the dioxin family).

      Your other points are simply obvious logical fallacies.

      Reply
      1. dutch

        I raised the possibility of C8s catalyzing other reactions. Attaching to protein receptors is an example of such a process. Are you positing that C8s in fact attach to the proteins involved in the transcription of genes, or merely stating a reasonable hypothesis? In itself it is not unreasonable, but high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, testicular cancer, kidney cancer, and pregnancy-induced hypertension can not be reasonably assumed to be sequellae of the same upstream transcription error. You need to explain this.

        As for my other “obvious logical fallacies” they are clearly not obvious to me. Perhaps you could elucidate.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You used the word catalyst to support an opening, sweeping statement that shows you don’t know what a catalyst is. And “attaching to a receptor” is not catalysis.

          Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        To add to PlutoniumKun’s argument, a catalyst is something that precipitates or accelerates a chemical reaction without being altered by the chemical reaction. So catalysts also refute point 1.

        Reply
      3. Amfortas the hippie

        “let’s wait for the science” is a BS argument.
        that’s the excuse for my nemesis: Persistent Herbicides…another forever chemical…that gets prayed on hay, eaten by cows, passes unchanged through 4 stomachs, is still an herbicide in the manure, then passes unchanged through the hot composting process, so that the finished compost is also an herbicide.
        dowdupont won’t let the epa have the test to determine if this crap is present in compost(it’s proprietary).
        their objection to any epa action beyond “it’s ours!”:
        “lets wait for the science”.

        it’s like the goal is Mordor.
        see:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Ringbearer

        Reply
    2. Dirk77

      The history of artificial chemicals, such as those described above, shows that the burden of evidence to demonstrate that the substance is safe must be on the people that produce it. It is required by the FDA for the class of chemicals called drugs, and should be required for the chemicals described here.

      So your suggestion is correct: wait for proper science to be done. In the meantime, especially in light of the epidemiology studies showing a correlation between the presence of these chemicals and various diseases, these chemicals should be banned.

      Reply
      1. dutch

        I tend to agree. I don’t know that a ban is required, but I see no reason why they should be allowed to enter the water supply.

        Reply
    3. Ignacio

      1) Harmful by accumulation and long term exposure. Somehow like microplastics. This makes it very difficult to asses scientifically the real toxicity of the product. Another reason is that we don’t have in human/animal population negative controls.

      Are you really wanting to have a chemical that accumulates in your body during all your life and pray it just accumulates without harm?

      Reply
      1. dutch

        No I don’t particularly want it in me, but that’s not the same as claiming it is harmful. Saying it is somehow harmful by accumulation or long term exposure is not a good enough reason to make it illegal. Is it a nuisance? Yes. Is it harmful? Who knows?

        Reply
        1. Ignacio

          Why not enough reason? It is because you don’t notice inmediate toxit effect that you can release it? You recognize that you cannot asses if it is harmful or harmless. Precautionary common sense says that if it accumulates and you don’t have any idea on its effects by accumulation and long term exposure, it is best to avoid it: forbid it unless a solution for removal is provided. You cannot design a scientific procedure that in reasonable time will say if it is harmful or not. The fact that you don’t want it accumulating in your body says it all.

          Reply
        2. Ignacio

          Risk assesment is obviously required. I find it very much concerning the link with high cholesterol levels which is strong enough to forbid these products.

          Reply
          1. JTMcPhee

            Risk assessment is a very flawed approach. From the git-go, it has been pushed by Big Chem, Big Ag, Big Pharm and all the other Bigs that legalized the overthrow of any vestige of the precautionary principle in regulatory decision making. (Of course the precautionary principle is anathema to the thinking of the Bigs, hence no part of their business planning except in providing money to lobbyists and captive scientists to argue for universal “risk assessments” in regulatory decision-making. Along side that other pernicious dogma, “cost-benefit analysis.”

            Both dogmas provide nearly infinite pathways for gaming by the credentialed class, including undermining the observations and findings of what I would characterize as honest scientists. These ideas have given birth to the industry of “risk management,” and a large amount of “scientific” BS that is generated just to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt and provide “expert opinions” that are used to impeach the actual honest science. There are what I would consider to be useful applications of risk assessment methods, but most of them conclude that “more study is needed,” as in this article, “ Risk-Assessment Study Fuels Debate Over Toxicity Of Industrial Chemicals — Scientists call neurotoxic effects of industrial chemicals a ‘global pandemic’, https://cen.acs.org/articles/92/i11/Risk-Assessment-Study-Fuels-Debate.html But the Bigs produce lots of “risk assessments,” some of them mandated by existing laws, that pretty uniformly conclude that the risks are minimal and of course outweighed by the economic benefits of whatever chemical they plan to sell.

            Some commenter the other day, Pooh-poohing the whole notion of the precautionary principle, daringly offered that adoption of the precautionary principle would destroy that principle. Logic chopping in the extreme. This roundabout on the wisdom of loading up our planet with largely unstudied chemicals, including their synergistic effects, is essentially about who has the power to Set the burden of proof. Pretty clearly, in operation as opposed to lip service, the Bigs have forced that burden onto the public at large. Also, the Bigs have forced the assignment of the “Legal right” In this binary circumstance, to pollute Or to be free from pollution, to the Bigs. So it is up to the mopes and their attorneys and friendly scientists to discover and spotlight all the horrors that the Bigs get to get away with. With no effective means to deter the Bigs’ behaviors, or to get any kind of equitable relief or apply any effective punichment either to the Big corporation or the C- Suite-ers who force the exposure of people and the planet to toxic but profitable-to-a-few crap.

            Reply
    4. JE

      You clearly don’t understand basic chemistry or biology, both of which are so incredibly complex that we as a species do not truly understand them completely yet. But we do know that chemical reactions can be catalyzed by molecules without said molecules being consumed (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catalysis). Similarly, in the body extremely complex interactions between different systems can cause disease in seemingly unrelated organs, metabolic processes, etc. Just the role of a single chemical like serotonin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin) in the human body is so varied and complicated that we do not know all the functions of it, impacts of disruption of the pathway, diseases impacted, etc.

      Grownups understand that the way we do things in the US (and largely the rest of the world too) is driven by money, not science, not safety. Money. Your arguments amount to basically delaying tactics, the same that were and are being used by big tobacco, oil, pharma, etc. Denying existing science, calling for more science, and meanwhile continuing to conduct business as usual strip-mining the populace and planet. There IS a scientific basis that these PFAS chemicals are harmful as the links show, and also that such chemicals are NOT required to be shown to be safe when introduced into the market even in pharmaceuticals (i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alatrofloxacin). We as a species have made incredible progress technologically, but we need to reevaluate what our priorities are going forward. For example, truly doing due diligence on the impact of a chemical before introducing it into the wild. Right now the system is to get it in the market with cursory testing and use the world as a guinea pig in large part. Do we need a new non-stick coating, a better fracking fluid, a cheaper flame retardant, a cure for restless leg syndrome? Maybe, but we’re doing pretty well and are learning that a lot of the chemicals we already have are killing us or otherwise damaging the world. No amount of due diligence will give us 100% certainty but what we’re doing now is not working.

      Reply
      1. dutch

        In fact I mentioned the possibility of catalyzation in my post. Are you saying that in fact the mechanism by which C8 chemicals affect body chemistry is through catalyzing certain reactions? If so what are they? I raised 5 concerns about the article in my post. You have, sort of, addressed the first one. What about the rest?

        Yes, we all agree that the body is complicated but that doesn’t mean that just about any chemical can have an affect on who knows which organs. If you posit a specific effect, you’d better have a specific mechanism in mind.

        Reply
        1. redleg

          PFAS compounds mimic fatty acids, and are taken up as such. That’s the entry point. Multiple paths exist to cause damage to multiple systems from there.
          Please do your homework.

          Reply
    5. redleg

      The concentration of these chemicals is at the parts per trillion level, so detection of this stuff is outside the capabilities of most competent testing labs. Even at those tiny concentrations, effects are turning up.
      Minnesota has been on the 3M PFAS case for over a decade. There’s a bunch of PFAS links on that MDH page.

      Reply
    6. Danny

      “So let’s establish the science first, then draw conclusions – like grownups should do.” Then subject the science to peer reviewed independent studies, THEN put the product into the market.

      Dutch, you should put your mouth where your money is, like this guy, to show your sincerity, beliefs and faith in action:

      “Governor Jerry Brown’s chief of staff, B. T. Collins, wanted to assure the public that malathion was safe, and that the aerial spraying would harm only the Medfly. Collins called a news conference, then chug-a-lugged a beaker of malathion solution. The video of his stunt was played across the country.
      Unfortunately, malathion was found to be pretty rough on automotive paint. Southland residents were later told to cover their cars if parked in the open.
      Sadly, Collins died of a sudden heart attack just over a decade later, while he was serving in the state legislature. He was only 52. ”

      https://www.scpr.org/blogs/larry-mantle/2010/05/17/1197/pour-me-another-malathion-hold-lemon/

      Reply
      1. dutch

        I agree that chemicals that may enter the environment should be thoroughly tested before allowing their dispersal. But how thorough is thorough? I don’t know what testing was done on C8s before marketing them. So I can’t say whether enough was done. I do know, however that at this point in time there is inadequate evidence to conclude that they are harmful.

        The Agency for Toxic Substance & Disease Registry (ATSDR) states the following: [As of 2018] studies do not clearly show whether PFAs cause cancer in people. People exposed to high levels may have increased risk of kidney cancer or testicular cancer. However, these studies are not consistent and may not have looked at other factors like smoking. Studies in animals have shown that PFOA and PFOS can cause cancer in the liver, testes, pancreas, and thyroid.
        However, some scientists believe that humans may not develop the same cancers as animals.

        Add to this the fact that EPA has still not issued enforceable exposure limits. This should should give us pause before declaring a public health emergency.

        As to my drinking malathion: Since I have no money in this, putting my mouth there makes no sense at all. But we all have C8s in our systems already. I don’t like being a guinea pig in this experiment anymore than you do, but I’m not willing to say that I’m being made sick by it.

        Reply
    7. Steve

      So let’s establish the science first, then draw conclusions

      Yeah let’s wait 50 more years for the science to be so well established that not even the most gregarious of shills can spin it away. Tobacco companies were spinning away diseases (a high number of them, which is funny that you tried to spin this in your 2nd attempt at a point) for decades even after research became more and more sound. Not only that, but they didn’t even have to win over academia their public propaganda was so strong.

      like grownups should do.

      You’re probably one of first people I’ve seen actually try to defend bullshit like PFAS here on NC, so that’s an interesting comment to make. I guess you guys are trying information ops on more social media than just reddit and facebook.

      Reply
    8. xkeyscored

      Dear Dutch,
      I’ve invented a new wonder chemical. I tested it on my dog, who died of thyroid cancer, my cat, who’s now suffering from testicular cancer, etc. But these are supposedly unrelated diseases, and since I haven’t done any other research into its safety, the EPA allows me to offer it to you at a very attractive rate (for me) via your food, water and environment.
      I think that about covers your five points. Sue me if you’re still alive.

      Reply
  2. dutch

    I should also add, that this situation is a classic example of what happens when lawyers lead what should be a scientific debate.

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      The problem with your argument anet ‘scientific debate’ is that the argument ignores the suppressive quality of “industry financed” ‘science.’ The chemicals have been around for decades, plenty of time to have done the “scientific due diligence” of exposure studies, even assuming the least cost scenario of using the public as your test group. That there is no publicly available work on the potential harms of these substances after such a length of time shows either a willful disregard for the public safety or a complete incompetence on the part of those supposedly ‘responsible’ for the public health.
      Thus, it follows that “lawyers lead” the debate by default.
      The “scientists” have abrogated their claim to primacy in the field.

      Reply
      1. dutch

        I should not have to point out that the argument “We don’t know, so it must be bad” is fallacious. Even a lawyer can figure that out. But if “scientists” aren’t the ones who should be doing “science” who should?

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          First, when it comes to the public health, an attitude of “We don’t know so it must be bad” can very clearly be argued for where chemicals with effects on the molecular level are concerned. Prudence would dictate a higher level of care,due to the demonstrated higher potential of harm, such as the Thalidomide disaster. A simple sedative proved to be highly mutagenic
          See for Thalidomide: .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalidomide
          Second, the “pure” purpose of lawyers is to mediate disputes within a society. The subject at hand is a clear case of such a ‘dispute.’ The manufacturers see a clear case for profit. the Public sees the potential for harm. This ‘dispute’ which usually is obscured by industrial propaganda and regulatory capture, must be presented squarely before the public. What better class to do so than the Lawyers. As I stated above, the Scientists have shown a recent track record of capture by the manufacturing class. Another form of ‘dispute’ to be addressed. Again, the Lawyers play their part.
          Finally, there is no impartial “Hidden Hand” to guide the scientist class. They are constrained by budgetary and salary considerations. Since the Academic and Government spheres seem to have abrogated their responsibilities towards the general public, that other ‘Power’ within society, the Lawyer Class must ‘rise’ to the challenge. The Tobacco Saga is a prime example.

          Reply
        2. chuck roast

          Yah, Dutch. I’m good with scientists leading the debate and letting the lawyers follow. Unfortunately, the scientists do not lead the debate on exotic chemicals. There is no debate.

          Any polymer that appears to have a commercial function is simply produced and meets the market requirement. LLC’s are largely protected from any future adverse affects “possibly” associated with chemical. Years and years of tests…he said, she said…piles of anecdotal evidence and IBD YBD. In the interim…kaching! That’s the way it works my friend.

          Reply
        3. Yves Smith Post author

          Utter bullshit. Google “precautionary principle”.

          You have been engaging in agnotology, which is a violation of our written site Policies. And the comment above is a twofer by virtue of straw manning, another policy violation. Any more of this and you will be blacklisted.

          Reply
      2. JTMcPhee

        There are a lot of people, even within the EPA and FDA, who as scientists and regulators are trying to figure out toxicity and other health effects against the power of the corporate state. There really is a vast number of chemical species in commerce and being released into the biosphere, often by corporate actors that know or suspect that their cash cows and niche products (complete with all the known and sort of unintentional side products) are killing and sickening people and so many species.

        I can speak from experience at the EPA that for many years, the “corporate lawyers” and lobbyists, and the captive regulators, have been gutting the work of scientists both in and out of the Agency in pursuit of profit and destruction of regulations, enforcement, and any consequences other than occasional “cost of doing business” fines and penalties.

        The various laws like TSCA, EPCRA and the like that we’re supposed to have forced the corps to do even a modicum of the testing that ought to be done on bio-active substances have been effectively neutered by reg capture. EPA executives have fired or isolated the diligent scientists and favored the dishonest and obfuscatory “good science” shills. Don’t be straw-manning this. There’s a systemic problem of corruption.

        Reply
    2. a different chris

      I should add that you don’t actually seem to know what you are talking about. There were scientists* involved.

      More to the point, I don’t care. You make Compound X in your basement, it needs to stay in your basement. If it comes out of your basement, you need to prove that it is totally safe. You need to meet at least (ugh) the FDA’s standards of proof. I don’t care what it is used for, everything seems to find its way into the body at some point. House scientists need not apply.

      Also, your “inert” argument:
      1) Who the (family blog) actually knows
      2) A sock is inert, If I stuff one down somebody’s throat, it will kill them quicker than arsenic for sure.

      Reply
      1. xkeyscored

        Chlorfluorocarbons (CFCs) were thought safe precisely because they’re so inert. Then we realised they were destroying the ozone layer.

        Reply
    3. Yves Smith Post author

      You don’t understand chemistry or even basic risk assessment, aka the precautionary principle, and you try to wrap yourself in the mantle of science? A mere statistician like Nassim Nicholas Taleb would flay you alive.

      Reply
  3. Trainreq

    Those that can, should read the post and links. Those that can’t or won’t should apparently feel free to opine.

    Reply
    1. dutch

      In fact I have read most of the C8 Panel’s Probable Link Reports. And by and large the links are statistical in nature and not terribly strong.

      Reply
      1. Jokerstein

        Many perfluoroalkanes (PFAs), perflurononane for example, can be used as blood substitutes for carrying oxygen. This has been known for decades (e.g. here, here, and here).

        That’s not to say that you want them around, but the picture is quite complex, and simple assertions are not enough.

        For example, I can’t find any documentation that PFAs act like fatty acids, and it doesn’t make any sense chemically (I have a PhD in Organic Chemistry, plus an MS in molecular physiology, and I have published papers on the similar perfluorochlorocarbons and their chemical interactions). They key functional group in fatty acids (carboxylic acid) is missing in PFAs.

        Perfluorocarboxylic (such as C8, or PFOA) acids DO act as fatty acid mimics, because they ARE fatty acids.

        When one is speaking about polyfluoroalkyl compounds it is critical to distinguish between the various classes, and this distinction appears to be absent from a lot of the discussion here (and in the documentary). Without this nuance misinformation spreads and informed discussion gets buried under assertions based on false understanding.

        FWIW, if I had to choose any pollutant (not that any are good) to be exposed to, PFAs would be my choice.

        Reply
        1. redleg

          Are you arguing chemistry or policy?

          Chemistry: The MDH is regulating these as a class of chemicals because some are fatty acids and the rest can react to form them (personal communication with Yingling, c.v.), amongst other factors (detection issues, etc.). As a PhD in this field, there’s clearly opportunity to do research.

          If you are arguing policy, your statement can be interpreted as “this stuff is no big deal- you’re lucky it’s not worse” which is shill level horsehockey. Please clarify.

          Water suppliers have an obligation to supply safe water to their citizens/customers (in MN, anyway). GAC treatment plants are expensive to build and operate, especially to remove substances that shouldn’t be there in the first place. The track record for industry concealing/falsifying information regarding hazardous cash cows alone is enough to justify water suppliers taking legal action to recoup costs to the public expended to remove manufactured substances that may be hazardous in any detectable amount.

          Reply
          1. Jokerstein

            Speaking as a chemist. Yingling (who he?) is full of shiytte if they say that perfluroalkanes will react – in any REASONABLE climatic/physiological/human-experiential scenario – to form fatty acids. It is NOT going to happen.

            If anyone can propose a reasonable chemical mechanism for this to happen, either catalysed or uncatalysed, and support it with experimental data, I’ll eat my nutsack.

            Policy is something else, but all chemistry’s history, plus thermodynamics, says that PFAs stay PFAs in normal terrestrial conditions. In the upper atmosphere, with lots of UV, and consequent triplet state valence electrons from ozone, things are different (hence the damage freons do up there) but down here, no way.

            Reply
            1. redleg

              None of those compounds should be in the water at all, in any amount. That’s why any diligent water supplier must remove them.

              Since these compounds are so harmless, then explain why 3M would settle a lawsuit with b the State of MN for $850M, which is in addition to a 2007 order to pay $40M for cleanup?
              Perhaps that’s $890 million to avoid the discovery process, ya think?

              You, sir, appear to be a well educated shill. If your honor is offended, you should come and speak to the Minnesota Groundwater Association on April 28. I will even set it up for you, although you will be facing several hundred people aggressively hostile to your cause.

              Reply
                1. redleg

                  I’m completely serious. Come and present to the MGWA. We’ll see how well your argument stands up in front of those dealing with the problem. It’s important that an expert such as yourself be allowed to publicly present your research on the topic and receive real time peer review.
                  Of course I’m asking a question to which I already know the answer. You probably lack the fortitude to expose yourself to a room full of unsympathetic scientists and regulators, with an open mic, while being recorded. Choose your date- April or November (date TBD), University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and I can set up your chance to walk the walk.

                  Reply
            2. xkeyscored

              PFAs stay PFAs in normal terrestrial conditions
              I agree, and I can’t see how they or their acid relatives (PFOA etc) would be classified as fatty acids either, containing fluorine in place of hydrogen.
              That doesn’t make them safe. The body might ‘see’ them as fatty acids, much as the body ‘sees’ strontium as calcium, with unfortunate effects in the case of radioactive strontium, and not entirely known effects with these chemicals.
              (I haven’t seen the film, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find it gets the chemistry a bit muddled up.)

              Reply
        2. Normansdog

          Taken at face value from a PhD qualified scientist thus appears to be a reasonable argument – some stuff is possibly dangerous while other stuff appears from its chemistry to be less so. I am not sure why this statement is getting such negative treatment.
          The usual-suspect commentators on NC are obviously very well informed individuals but not experts in every field on earth. I have read stuff here from my field of expertise which was just wrong. Abusing experts is not a good way of discussing a subject.

          Reply
      2. Yves Smith Post author

        I’m sure you know as much about statistics as you do about science, which is so little as to be functionally negative knowledge. And a handwave is not an argument.

        Reply
  4. JEHR

    “The chemicals have only been manufactured since the 1940s, when 3M first licensed them, but in their short tenure on earth, they have spread to every corner of the planet and made their way into the blood of 99 percent of all human beings.”

    I have recently been diagnosed with Lymphoproliferative Disorder (a kind of blood cancer where white blood cells and platelets proliferate while red blood cells decrease.) The doctor who did my biopsy said that he thought that chemicals in the environment are probably the reason for such a blood disorder. I have lived for 80 years on this earth and I’m sure I have come in contact with many, many unsafe chemicals. Perhaps this disorder will be more common as people live longer. Not a great prospect for the future.

    Reply
    1. dutch

      I am sorry to hear about your blood disorder. But an environment that has allowed you to live in it for 80 years is a pretty damn healthy one.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        And another data point would be all the people who die young from all the multiple and proliferating and synergizing chemical exposures? Some lucky folks’ immune systems keep them alive to ripe old age despite a lifelong diet of cigarettes, booze and deep-fried food. Others die young. Proof of a” pretty damn healthy environment?”

        Reply
  5. Joe Well

    If these chemicals were innocuous, why would they have bothered dumping them in public waterways in the first place? They could have just dumped them onto the grounds of their own plant if they’re so safe. Or hire a bunch of Democratic political operatives to drink them on stage.

    Reply
  6. jlowe

    I’m looking forward to seeing “Dark Waters” but not terribly in a hurry to see it and probably will wait until I can stream it (already read the book). Someone needed to tell the story of the communities living in the shadows of fluorochemical plants. Not to let 3M or DowDuPont off the hook or anything, but, after 2002 when EPA banned PFOA and PFOS under TSCA, alternatives emerged and we kept buying stain- and water-resistant fabrics, cookware with non-stick coatings and flying on airplanes (taking off from airports with fire departments using AFFF that contains PFAS). So, after 2002 if we were paying attention at all, we would have become aware there was something wrong with PFAS. The members of the Fluorocouncil have a large responsibility here as they have the technical capabilities and financial resources to support PFAS risk management (as well as being PRPs), but shouldn’t those of us who bought PFAS-containing products after 2002 also be included as potentially responsible parties, and have some financial skin in the game regarding PFAS cleanup?

    It should be interesting to see how this gets resolved and how the cost allocation is figured out. What we learn about PFAS in drinking water might prove helpful when we get around to figuring out who pays how much to mitigate climate change.

    Reply
  7. Donna

    I am a homemaker and dumped my Christmas gift of Teflon pots and pans in the 80s without even taking them out of the box. However, today I cannot even boycott the stuff. I do a lot of baking and needed a jelly roll pan last Christmas. I went to every major department store. Then finally succombed to shopping online. Nada. This year I needed bread pans. Nada. So don’t say ignorant consumers are buying the stuff. Even informed consumers have absolutely no choice. The manufacturers just change the name of the coating or as someone mentioned up above change the formula. Now of course new formula with no testing but this time it must be safe. Consumers should at least have a choice. Do fire departments have a choice? Could I avoid Scotchgard on my new carpet?

    Reply
      1. Xihuitl

        One can buy Pyrex loaf pans now. Mine is recent. I also have Pyrex roasting pans and pie plates. Also uncoated tin springform cake pans and tart pans. Surely there are uncoated baking pans.

        Reply
    1. fajensen

      Yes, Teflon is being forced upon us everywhere. One can still buy ‘plain iron’, ‘enamelled, and, ‘cast-iron’ cooking utensils, but it is ‘work’ and in the ‘western shops’ they tend to be twice (and up) as expensive than the ‘teflon’ versions. It is very much ‘A Class Thing’ here (DK, SE) to not have ‘anything Teflon’. It is a selling point.

      Asian shops/markets and professional kitchen suppliers that also does retail sales usually have plain cast iron, steel, aluminium and glass / ceramic cooking utensils for fairly reasonable prices.

      The ‘Matfer Buorgeas‘ ‘unsullied metal’ or ‘enamelled’ products are not exorbitantly expensive and not bad at all. Because the iron is a bit thicker and the design more ‘old-school’ I prefer the ‘Du Buyer‘ ‘Mineral B’ for most of the cooking and I have 2 ‘Le Creuset’ enamelled pots for dishes that basically sits in the oven at 125 degree C for 4-6 hours (mystery-meat curries, stews, duck comfit).

      The ‘catch’ is that only stainless, ceramic and Pyrex utensils can go in the dishwasher and the ‘plain-iron’ and ‘cast-iron’ pots and pans will not tolerate soap. These have to be washed off when very hot, using just hot water and then be lightly greased with f.ex. olive oil after use. Many people do not like the idea that the frying pans, muffin trays, and such are still greasy when they are put in the cupboard, so they will still use soap, thus causing everything to stick and burn – which then makes them get ‘non-stick’ utensils ‘because those works’.

      PS –

      There is something odd going on with the fact that that the more chemicals, which to my thinking should add complexity and costs, something contains or involves in it’s manufacture, the cheaper the end product will be. Almost like business like Du Pont, Bayer or Monsanto somehow are subsidising the inclusion of their product into the production of something.

      It seems like the financial cost of adding complexity to a manufactured item is generally negative! Money is create from quantum foam somewhere!!

      Reply
    2. level

      No guarantee, but you may be able to find non-coated products at thrift stores. Most will be the worst of the worst: scratched teflon pans. But sometimes you will find quality vintage cookware. You might try yard sales and estate sales, also.

      Reply
  8. xkeyscored

    The active, desired ingredients in Amanita muscaria, or Fly Agaric, mushrooms pass through the body unchanged, though the less desirable ingredients seem to be metabolised. Thus, people get high, with fewer unwanted effects, by drinking the urine of someone who has consumed them (as, presumably, do reindeer with the same behaviour).
    Being unreactive does not imply lack of effect.

    Reply
  9. Appleseed

    On Nov. 21 US EPA announced an updated and validated way to test for an additional four per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water, including the GenX chemical, hexafluoropropylene oxide dimer acid (HFPO-DA).” Further, “EPA’s validated method, EPA Method 537.1, will ensure that both government and private laboratories can accurately and consistently measure 18 PFAS in their drinking water, which is a critical step for estimating people’s exposure and potential risk to PFAS,” said EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science, Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta. Stay tuned!

    Reply

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