Herrman & Herrman - April 2020

Something in the Water Why Rob Bilott Took on DuPont

Rob Bilott never should have agreed to represent Wilbur Tennant’s case.

Tennant’s farm and into the drinking water of every American.

The cattle farmer had presented evidence of the strange malady plaguing his cattle to lawyers, politicians, and veterinarians in Parkersburg, West Virginia, but no one took Tennant’s case seriously.

The letter mentioned a mysterious chemical called PFOA, and Bilott requested documentation from DuPont to find out more about it. However, the company refused, so Bilott

But when Bilott saw the evidence for himself, it was clear that something was wrong.

requested a court order. Soon, dozens of disorganized boxes filled with thousands of 50-year-old files arrived at Bilott’s firm.

The videos and photographs Tennant had collected showed cattle with patchy fur, growths and lesions, white slime coming from their mouths, and staggering gaits. Tennant told Bilott that the abnormal behavior and physical deformities had started after his brother Jim sold his property to DuPont, a chemical company with a big presence in Parkersburg. Jim’s property bordered on Wilbur’s, and a stream running from Jim’s property provided water for all the cattle and wildlife in the area. Since the sale, the stream had become frothy and discolored, and the animals that drank from it were sick, malformed, or dead, including 153 of Tennant’s 200 cows. When Bilott stumbled upon a letter from DuPont to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the real horror story began to emerge — one that went far beyond the boundaries of

He was worried he wouldn’t be able to find anything incriminating or even conclusive in the mess of documents, but soon, his time as an environmental lawyer helped him see the bigger picture. It became clear that DuPont had orchestrated a massive cover-up regarding their use of PFOA. PFOA is used in the manufacturing of Teflon, and the company had knowingly exposed workers and the Parkersburg water supply to it. Bilott filed a class-action suit as a medical monitoring claim on behalf of the people of Parkersburg, and, as of 2011, a probable link between PFOA and six health conditions, including two types of cancer, has been found. Because of the medical monitoring claim, plaintiffs can file personal injury lawsuits against DuPont. So far, 3,535 people have. If it weren’t for Bilott and Tennant, the public might have never known the dangers of PFOA.

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