1998: Rob Bilott is a young lawyer specializing in helping big corporations stay on the right side of environmental laws and regulations. Then he gets a phone call from a West Virginia farmer named Earl Tennant, who is convinced the creek on his property is being poisoned by runoff from a neighboring DuPont landfill, causing his cattle and the surrounding wildlife to die in hideous ways. Earl hasn’t even been able to get a water sample tested by any state or federal regulatory agency or find a local lawyer willing to take the case. As soon as they hear the name DuPont—the area’s largest employer—they shut him down.
Once Rob sees the thick, foamy water that bubbles into the creek, the gruesome effects it seems to have on livestock, and the disturbing frequency of cancer and other health problems in the area, he’s persuaded to fight against the type of corporation his firm routinely represents. After intense legal wrangling, Rob ultimately gains access to hundreds of thousands of pages of DuPont documents, some of them fifty years old, that reveal the company has been holding onto decades of studies proving the harmful effects of a chemical called PFOA, used in making Teflon. PFOA is often called a “forever chemical,” because once in the environment, it does not break down or degrade for millions of years, contaminating the planet forever. The case of one farmer soon spawns a class action suit on behalf of seventy thousand residents—and the shocking realization that virtually every person on the planet has been exposed to PFOA and carries the chemical in his or her blood.
What emerges is a riveting legal drama “in the grand tradition of Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action” (Booklist, starred review) about malice and manipulation, the failings of environmental regulation; and one lawyer’s twenty-year struggle to expose the truth about this previously unknown—and still unregulated—chemical that we all have inside us.