Attorney Who Exposed DuPont's Teflon Treachery Wins 'Alternative Nobel Prize'
WASHINGTON – Robert Bilott, the Ohio attorney who exposed DuPont's cover-up of the dangers of a cancer-causing Teflon chemical, is a 2017 laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the "alternative Nobel Prize."
The jury for the award, based in Stockholm, gave Bilott this year's award for “exposing a decades-long history of chemical pollution, winning long-sought justice for the victims, and setting a precedent for effective regulation on hazardous substances.”
“I hope that this honor helps spread awareness and recognition of the urgent need to take further steps to protect our drinking water, and the ability and power of local residents and communities to ensure that such steps are taken,” Bilott said in the organization's press release.
In 1998 Bilott was hired by a family in Parkersburg, W.Va., to investigate mysterious deaths of cattle who grazed downstream from DuPont's Washington Works plant. He uncovered documents that showed DuPont had polluted the drinking water of communities throughout the mid-Ohio River Valley with a compound used to make Teflon, known as C8 or PFOA.
That discovery led to revelations that an entire class of chemicals known as PFCs, used since the 1950s in hundreds of consumer products, polluted the blood of virtually all Americans, and that of people and animals worldwide. In 2006, under pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, DuPont, 3M and other U.S. chemical companies agreed to phase out PFOA.
Bilott brought a class-action suit against DuPont on behalf of 50,000 Parkersburg-area residents, which the company settled in 2005 for more than $300 million. A scientific panel funded by DuPont as part of the settlement linked PFOA to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disorders and other diseases. Subsequent research found that extremely low doses of PFOA and closely related PFCs can harm hormones and children's immune systems. PFCS pollute drinking water for at least 15 million Americans in 27 states, yet the EPA has not set a legal limit.
"Rob Bilott's been called DuPont's worst nightmare, but he's also an authentic American environmental hero," said Ken Cook, president of EWG, which was alerted to the dangers of PFCs by Bilott's work. EWG has since conducted a number of groundbreaking studies on these chemicals. "Without his bulldog determination, DuPont might still be covering up PFOA's health hazards. It's shameful that two decades after Rob brought this health threat to EPA's attention, the agency is still dragging its feet on setting a legally enforceable, health-protective standard."