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PFOA's: The world contamination caused by DuPont

Welcome back to MJ Aquablog! In the previous blogs I introduced you to what makes water (as a molecule) unique and how this uniqueness is a key to life as we know it. This blog is going to go to a different direction.

There are numerous chemical companies that pollute the Earth. There are also numerous ones that try to do their best to eliminate pollution. This blog will briefly describe an incident that happened to a company that belongs to the first rank – DuPont. DuPont was one of the pioneers in the field of perfluorinated hydrocarbons.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a perfluorinated molecule used as an industrial surfactant in various chemical processes. It was developed by company 3M in 1947 and then sold worldwide. Since 1951, DuPont company has started using it to produce Teflon. Teflon’s main feature is that nothing sticks to it. We can fry and bake on it and nothing gets stuck, it’s so easy to wash Teflon-coated materials, it changed our lives, unfortunately, way more than we thought.

3M created it and started using and selling it without a proper testing its effects on living organisms. Just that is a bit weird. They made a new chemical and without testing its effects on living organisms and environment, released it to the world. Both, 3M and DuPont did a lot of research during the following decades and the results were frankly quite horrifying - it was killing animals, giving them tumours, young-lings were born with deformities or blind but they didn’t tell anyone. They even used their own workers as lab rats without them knowing. For example, the workers were offered special cigarettes with Teflon inside, of course, they got sick and needed to be hospitalized but still, DuPont didn’t tell a thing.

It all started to surface in late 90’s, nearly 50 years since the beginning of PFOA's production!

DuPont bought a property nearby its plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia (US) for dumping “safe waste”, that’s at least what they claimed. Well, they were lying. DuPont used this property for dumping waste materials from production of Teflon. Soon, a local farmer Wilbur Tennant noticed that his cows are dying. The cows had tumours, blackened teeth and cloudy eyes. He also noticed that water in the local river had a weird white foam on the surface. He tried to notify authorities, yet no one listened. Luckily, lawyer Rob Bilott had his grandma living in this area and Tennant was able to reach him and give him all evidence he gathered thus far.

It took many years but they proved that DuPont knowingly caused a worldwide contamination due to releasing dangerous waste to the air, water and soil. The independent scientific panel studied almost 70 000 blood samples from people living around DuPont’s plant and clearly connected the PFOA contamination to kidney and testicular cancers, birth defects, damage to the immune system, heart and thyroid disease, complications during pregnancy and other serious illnesses and conditions.

You may ask, did DuPont get punished? Well, they did. They had to pay over 600 million dollars for settlements in over 3000 lawsuits (btw. the yearly income of DuPont was around 24 billion dollars). They never admitted doing something wrong and what’s worst, they still exist. Although, now they’re name is Chemours. They simply rebranded, it’s still the same company, producing the same stuff.

Luckily, governments and chemical companies around the world are aware of this problem and many are taking steps to avoid using PFOA’s and developing less harmful compounds but it’s always a slow process.

This kind of ignorance is what pisses me off in today’s world. DuPont’s example only shows how people tend to care more about profits than people and environment. These incidents are also one of the reasons we started with MJ Aquaholics. We’ll see what direction our project will exactly take but we care about drinking water quality and there are many small and big companies around the glove that do the same, it would be so satisfactory to reveal some in the future. However, there’s the frustrating part. It seems impossible to defeat these companies not even talking about taking them down. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We have to, together!

To learn more about the situation around DuPont you can either watch documentary The Devil We Know on Netflix or at least the movie Dark Waters. Or simply google “PFOA”, there is plenty of information.

Here are some links:

Next time, we’ll return to more general topic and that’ll be the drinking water – how we make it, clean it, its quality etc. See you then!

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