'Dark Waters' movie criticized by W.Va. lawmakers

Published: Nov. 18, 2019 at 6:32 PM EST
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Update: 11/27/2019

West Virginia lawmakers are not impressed with a just-released movie dealing with the two-decades old C8 controversy.

As we've reported, the movie is about the effects of the chemical used by DuPont at its Wood County plant until a few years ago.

It's scheduled for local release the first week in December.

But local lawmakers we spoke to think previews they've seen of the movie "Dark Waters" show all-too-familiar stereotypes of West Virginia.

"They have a stereotyped look at us as the barefoot hillbillies," was a typical reaction from Wood County Republican delegate Vernon Criss, "and don't realize what we have to offer as a state."

Wood County representatives say they were aware of a letter signed by several lawmakers during the mid-November legislative interim meetings protesting the movie.

None of the local lawmakers, however, signed that letter.

Update: 11/20/2019

One of the local residents featured in the forthcoming movie "Dark Waters" was among the many plaintiffs in the local case filed against DuPont in 2001, over the effects of PFOA, or C8.

Joe Kiger recently watched a sneak preview of the film, due out in limited release Friday.

"It was just amazing to be there and to see what was going on and how they put this together," Kiger told us Wednesday. "It does bring out a lot; I think if people have any questions, it will answer a lot about what we've been up to the last 20 years and what it's taken to put this together."

The DuPont corporation issued this statement about the movie:

“Safety, health and protecting the planet are core values at DuPont. We are – and have always been – committed to upholding the highest standards for the wellbeing of our employees, our customers and the communities in which we operate. As a science-based company, DuPont is innovating in all facets of our business – in our policies and protocols as well as our products. Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees and the communities in which we operate.

“Although DuPont does not make the chemicals in question, we agree that further action needs to be taken," says the statement issued by company spokesman Dan Turner. "That’s why we are leading the industry by supporting federal legislation and science-based regulatory efforts to address these chemicals. We have also have announced a series of commitments around our limited use of PFAS, including the elimination the use of all PFAS-based firefighting foams from our facilities and granting royalty-free licenses to those seeking to use innovative PFAS remediation technologies."

“Unfortunately, while seeking to thrill and entertain, this movie misrepresents things that happened years ago, including our history, our values and science. In some cases, the film depicts wholly imagined events. We have always – and will continue to – work with those in the scientific, not-for-profit and policy communities who demonstrate a serious and sincere desire to improve our health, our communities and our planet.”

A major figure in the film is Wood County farmer Earl Tennant, who we first interviewed in 1995. Tennant, through Cincinnati-based attorney Robert Bilott, reached a settlement with DuPont leading to the 2001 lawsuit.

"He's the one and only," Attorney Harry Deitzler says about Tennant. "Without his insight and foresight into what was happening, I don't think anybody would have discovered it. As far as the attorneys and the other people involved, there were countless people."

Deitzler, also featured in the movie, was the attorney representing local residents in the case. That was settled in 2005, but led to the testing of 70,000 residents and a detailed study whose results outlined the effects of the chemical. Both Kiger and Deitzler say the testing and the research from the C8 Science Panel was a turning point in the case.

Deitzler says it was DuPont's corporate representatives, not the management of the local Washington Works plant where the chemical was used in manufacturing, with whom attorneys fought throughout the years of the litigation.


The C8 issue began years before most of us heard about the chemical-with farmer Earl Tennant's concern runoff from then-DuPont Washington Works was harming his livestock.

"I'm trying to find out, as farmers' cows are dying, why are they getting sick," Cincinnnati attorney Rob Bilott said, at the premiere of the forthcoming movie "Dark Waters". "And we end up finding out there's a massive contamination problem. And all of the years trying to bring that to light, and letting the public know what's going on."

Billott and others who were front and center in the legal cases against DuPont are featured in the film, set for limited release this Friday. It is scheduled to begin showing locally December 5th.

Years of legal battles led to a series of settlements with the manufacturer, in both local and federal litigation.

DuPont, however, has its defenders, including Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz, who was President of City Council when the case first got widespread attention.

"I've worked for three major industries in my work life, and I don't think anyone would intentionally do that, and I think DuPont has done everything in its power to make sure it's right," Lorentz recalled Monday. "And I felt sure of it then, and I feel sure of it now."

"It's probably the most challenging thing I've had to deal with," notes Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp.

Just a few years ago, the city of Vienna got filters installed by Chemours, DuPont's successor as owner of the Washington Works plant. That was after the U.S. EPA toughened standards for C8 concentration in water supplies.

"Once we realized we had a problem, they came on board and sent in their top people to help establish the filtration systems," Rapp says. "I think realizing we had a situation that required their immediate attention, it worked out real well."

Belpre was one of several communities in the mid-2000's where the same filtration system was installed. Both mayors say the water systems are regularly tested, and both continue to show non-detectable levels of C8.