Papantonio and the Devil
By Duwayne Escobedo | inweekly
When DuPont first introduced products to American consumers under its Teflon trademark in 1946, it decided to use a man-made chemical extremely toxic to humans.
Developing a safe chemical would cost too much, so a company document advised it would be better to stick to “the devil we know.”
Mike Papantonio, a prominent trial lawyer, said DuPont files over the years linked cancer to perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, commonly known as C8.
“Well, God didn’t make C8. DuPont made C8, and the only place you get C8 is from a manufacturing process,” Papantonio said in an interview with Inweekly. “DuPont for so long was trying to tell this story that there’s no issue here.”
“The Devil We Know” documentary has earned accolades from at least a dozen film festivals across the globe for chronicling one of the biggest environmental scandals of our time. It has been shown to cause cancer, organ failure, birth defects and other illnesses. Both the Sundance and Sun Valley film festivals lauded the film by Stephanie Soechtig as one of the top documentaries released this year.
Papantonio said the filmmakers approached him when they realized just how big the disaster had
become, especially in the Ohio River Valley. Thanks to Teflon’s popularity, nearly everyone on Earth has
had some exposure to the toxic chemical.
“These people that were actually seeing how the case was unfolding said, ‘This needs to be a documentary,’ and so they approached me,” Papantonio said. “They saw the facts of the first trial, and I think everybody that saw those documents, they were just flabbergasted by the conduct and the callousness of DuPont.”
At first, Teflon applications were projected as endless, benefiting aerospace, electronics and other industry. It did end up in many consumer products, too, such as microwave popcorn bags, waterproof clothing, nonstick cookware, food packaging, carpets and many other items. Even worse, it leaked into public drinking water from DuPont’s C8 plant in Parkersburg, W. Va., which had used the chemical since the 1950s.
“Gee, there’s no science on this. Therefore, everything must be OK,” Papantonio said. “That is the
typical water facility and water district kind of reaction.”
Levin Papantonio participated in the $671 million cash settlement in February 2017 to about 3,550 personal injury claims involving the widespread leak of Teflon. The litigation was consolidated in federal court in Columbus, Ohio.
Of course, both DuPont and its subsidiary, The Chemours Company, denied any wrongdoing.
In separate lawsuits, the law firm’s C8 team earned a $12.5 million judgment from DuPont for cancer patient Kenneth Vigneron—the largest punitive award yet in the multidistrict litigation involving the hazardous chemical.
Additionally, testicular cancer patient David Freeman earned $5.1 million in compensatory damages in
July 2016. Carla Bartlett, who suffered kidney cancer, was awarded $1.6 million in October 2015.
The giant chemical company and regulators agreed to phase out C8 in 2003 and finally ended its use in 2014 in the United States. This past month, the United Nations issued a ban that would take effect in 181 countries in 2019.
In DuPont’s own files, document after document reveals a risk of cancer with C8. Documents noted the chemical is “highly toxic”; “statistically significant excess of cancers”; “C8 could be affecting DNA”; and “long-term human health effects.”
At one point, it became so bad that women who worked around C8 in the West Virginia plant were removed because birth defects were such a problem. But new management took over and put the women right back to work, said Papantonio, who has tried environmental cases for 35 years.
But for 50 years, DuPont managed to cover up the health risks associated with Teflon.
“There was no potential risk to women,” said Dr. Bruce Karrh, a DuPont medical director in 2001, in “The Devil We Know.” “There was a potential risk to the fetus.”
In part, Papantonio blamed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for giving DuPont free reign. The documentary quoted Mike McCabe, a former deputy administrator, looking down at the stand as he confirmed DuPont told EPA regulators to report “products sold under the Teflon brand are safe,” and the agency complied.
“DuPont is a lawless company,” he said. “This is a sociopathic company, and I don’t mean that lightly in any way.”
He added, “I’ve been going to war with EPA virtually in every case because they won’t do their job. They’re owned by industry, and we don’t recognize that.”
How to View
“The Devil We Know” is now available nationwide on iTunes and other digital platforms.
Groups can also hold their own screenings. Visit the website to learn more, thedevilweknow.com.
Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen conducted the interview with trial attorney Mike Papantonio of Levin Papantonio.