PARKERSBURG – DuPont executives say a new movie doesn’t accurately tell the full story about the chemicals that allegedly leaked into waterways around Parkersburg from one of its plants.
“Dark Waters” opens Nov. 22. It tells the story of attorney Robert Bilott, who was a corporate defense attorney who ended up filing lawsuits against DuPont for leaking an alleged cancer-causing chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as C8, a PFAS into water near its Washington Works plant that produces Teflon in Wood County.
PFAS is a group of chemicals that were used in firefighting foam and consumer products like non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. They are and will remain in the bloodstreams of almost every American, but the exact health effects of exposure are debated.
The movie stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper and Bill Pullman. It was filmed last year, primarily in Cincinnati. Directed by Todd Haynes with a screenplay written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, the movie is based on a 2016 New York Times Magazine article about Bilott.
“DuPont is in the business of creating essential innovations the world needs today,” a company spokesman told The West Virginia Record. “Hollywood is in the business of telling stories. While seeking to thrill and entertain, these stories often stretch facts.
“Unfortunately, a Hollywood film claiming to be ‘inspired’ by real events seems poised to grossly misrepresent things that happened years ago, including our history, our values and key science. The film’s previews depict wholly imagined events. Claims that our company tried to hide conclusive scientific findings are inaccurate.
“We have always – and will continue to – work with those in the scientific, not-for-profit and policy communities who demonstrate a serious and sincere desire to improve our health, our communities and our planet.”
A local plaintiff’s attorney who worked with Bilott on the DuPont litigation for years said “Dark Waters” focuses on the story of a lifelong West Virginia farmer whose cattle allegedly were poisoned from a nearby industrial dump.
“It accurately portrays the farmer’s love for his animals, his very astute perception of what had been done, and his resolve to get to the bottom of the problem, not just for himself but for all of humanity,” Harry Deitzler told The Record. “The farmer searches for, and reaches out to, an attorney who will share his anger and help him take on the industry to stop the poisoning of our world. The farmer finds that lawyer through family connections but faces a challenge to enlighten and inspire that attorney. The attorney ultimately understands and commits, risking his career and nearly losing his marriage while working to achieve justice for the farmer.
“Earl Tennant of Belleville was the farmer, and Rob Bilott of Cincinnati was the attorney. Although Rob is the central figure and my name is also mentioned in the movie, in real life the path to discovering and exposing the truth spanned two decades. The movie cannot even begin show the myriad of details encompassed, nor can it feasibly name all of the key people essentially involved during that extended timeframe.
“Multiple law firms and attorneys were on the legal team, and countless professionals from different backgrounds participated in the medical fact finding and research. In the end, every person contributed an element which was essential to the final product. Without any one of those dedicated and creative individuals’ involvements and their contributions, the final result may never have occurred.”
DuPont and Chemours settled more than 3,500 C8 lawsuits in 2017 for more than $670 million. Both companies denied wrongdoing.
“The behaviors that you might see in (the movie) are certainly not the behaviors that I witnessed at any point in my career,” DuPont CEO Marc Doyle said on the investor call, referring to movie posters proclaiming “the truth has a man on the inside.”
In one scene in "Dark Waters," Ruffalo portrays Billot claiming that "DuPont is knowingly poisoning 70,000 local residents."
DuPont Executive Chairman Ed Breen stopped short of telling investors the company might pursue legal against against the move producers.
“I'm not going to comment on the legal piece but, obviously, we have a lot of legal folks (who) have been looking at this,” Breen said on the investor call.
One West Virginia lawmaker said she was bothered by an image from the movie showing a young girl with bad teeth.
“I see Hollywood is at it against with @DarkWatersMovie,” House Majority Leader Amy Summers (R-Taylor) recently tweeted. “Just another attempt to make a buck at the expense of working people in West Virginia. I’m tired of these ridiculous stereotypes of bad teeth but I cant’ say I’m surprised.”
A West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter responded to Summers’ tweet.
“As a person who grew up in Washington and has detectable levels of C8 in my blood, that clip/scene/whatever really rubs me the wrong way,” Dave Mistich tweeted. “I’ve seen no evidence that exposure to that chemical deteriorated oral health.”
A website called Truth About Dark Waters calls the movie “agenda-tainment.”
“It cherry-picks facts, ignores key science and fabricates events to mislead and scare the public,” the site, sponsored by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, claims. “Even the producers recognize they’ve split from the truth. Unlike so many other movies, this film doesn’t claim to be “based on a true story.” By playing fast and loose with the facts, it aims to spread fear and outrage that activists and trial lawyers can use to short-circuit the traditional public policy process and expand class action lawsuits.”
The site says the movie is being made because of money.
“A well-financed network of political activists, investors, Hollywood producers, and trial attorneys are working together to cash in on this story,” it says. “In recent years, law firms have been pursuing ever more litigation against manufacturers, hoping to find their next ‘Big Tobacco’ payday. These attorneys are incredibly cozy and entwined with the groups helping finance this film, as well as activist groups and media outlets calling for action.
“This network hopes to use the spotlight generated by this Hollywood production to take their fight against Ohio River Valley manufacturers to new levels and score big profits.
“‘Dark Waters’ and its supporting network desperately try to paint manufacturers as big, bad, evil corporations, willing to do anything to make a buck.”
The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association has said it wants to push back against the film and those behind it.
“Our communities and our industries are increasingly under attack from a well-coordinated network of Hollywood stars, big-funders, activists and trial attorneys,” OMA President Eric Burkland said. “‘Agenda-tainment’ films, like Dark Waters, are all about scoring political points. They ignore science and truth – and fabricate increasingly absurd events. By scaring the public, these films seek to hijack the public policy process so trial lawyers can profit.
““The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association will not let Hollywood activists rewrite our story. Ohio River Valley manufacturers employ hundreds of thousands of hard-working men and women who are committed to the environment in which they live. In the weeks ahead, we intend to expose Dark Waters’ troubling agenda and communicate the truth about the communities and job creators that are targeted.”
DuPont said safety, health and protecting the planet are core values to the company.
“We are – and have always been – committed to upholding the highest standards for the wellbeing of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate,” the company spokesman told The Record. “As a science-based company, DuPont is innovating in all facets of our business – in our policies and protocols as well as our products. Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate.
“Although DuPont does not make the chemicals in question, we have announced a series of commitments around our limited use of PFAS, and are leading industry in supporting federal legislation and science-based regulatory efforts to address these chemicals. This includes eliminating the use of all PFOA/PFOS-based firefighting foams from our facilities and granting royalty-free licenses to those seeking to use innovative PFAS remediation technologies. At every level, we are committed to acting for the greater good.”