Corporate Lawyer Rob Bilott Goes Rogue on DuPont

This article contains a detailed use case of steps necessary to stop a corporation from deliberately poisoning some of the children, adults and animals it may or may not be profitably poisoning.

The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

"…Bilott hunted through his files for other references to PFOA, which he learned was short for perfluorooctanoic acid. But there was nothing. He asked DuPont to share all documentation related to the substance; DuPont refused.

In the fall of 2000, Bilott requested a court order to force them. Against DuPont’s protests, the order was granted. Dozens of boxes containing thousands of unorganized documents began to arrive at Taft’s headquarters: private internal correspondence, medical and health reports and confidential studies conducted by DuPont scientists.

There were more than 110,000 pages in all, some half a century old. Bilott spent the next few months on the floor of his office, poring over the documents and arranging them in chronological order.

He stopped answering his office phone. When people called his secretary, she explained that he was in the office but had not been able to reach the phone in time, because he was trapped on all sides by boxes.

‘I started seeing a story,’ Bilott said. ‘I may have been the first one to actually go through them all. It became apparent what was going on: They had known for a long time that this stuff was bad.’

Bilott is given to understatement. (‘To say that Rob Bilott is understated,’ his colleague Edison Hill says, ‘is an understatement.’) The story that Bilott began to see, cross-legged on his office floor, was astounding in its breadth, specificity and sheer brazenness. ‘I was shocked,’ he said. That was another understatement.

Bilott could not believe the scale of incriminating material that DuPont had sent him. The company appeared not to realize what it had handed over. ‘It was one of those things where you can’t believe you’re reading what you’re reading,’ he said. 'That it’s actually been put in writing. It was the kind of stuff you always heard about happening but you never thought you’d see written down.’ …"

[Emphasis added.]


By Nathaniel Rich for


"They knew this stuff was harmful, and they put it in the water anyway. These were bad facts.’’

He had seen what the PFOA-tainted drinking water had done to cattle. What was it doing to the tens of thousands of people in the areas around Parkersburg who drank it daily from their taps? What did the insides of their heads look like? Were their internal organs green?

Bilott spent the following months drafting a public brief against DuPont. It was 972 pages long, including 136 attached exhibits. His colleagues call it ‘‘Rob’s Famous Letter.’’


I still find it baffling that anyone would think it a good idea to simply pipe their noxious chemical into a nearby stream or creek. Every time I go to the big box stores, I look at those long shelves of insect killer (bee spray, wasp spray, ant spray–there’s a chemical for every insect!) and wonder about the manufacturing process that created that stuff. What compounds are needed in the crafting, but not in the final product? And if it’s not needed, where is the stuff disposed?

Worst of all–did DuPont think nobody would ever find this out?


Is it a “good idea” or a product of fiduciarily imposed duties, insular decision-making, wishful groupthink, conflict of interest and, maybe, a little bit of greed?

That’s the question answered by the article in meticulous detail. It’s unputdownable … like Jonathan Harr.


Maybe @shaddack will respond whether the evidence gathered in the case supports the hasty conclusion that engineers and scientists are generally more unapologetically complicit than journalists and attorneys. :wink:

Even the helpful evidence from the researchers over the past few years would not have happened without extreme personal sacrifices by attorney Rob Billot.

And after he had sacrificed his career at Taft to the get the work done, people died waiting years for the research results.

. . . Okay, I’m partly kidding. Attorneys are more complicit because they should know better.


I predict you’ll get at least one comment about solder and another about how we can’t protect everyone.


Well, yeah. I mean, look what this guy had to go through and he had all of their documents detailing everything they knew when. And afterwards their initial fee was 2% of what the company made that year. Destroying the environment like this is literally just one of the additional costs for these guys, and they amortize it over the 40 years that they knew to make it a pittance compared to profits.


You know, we really can’t protect everyone.


I wonder if that’s because the scientists don’t deal with the plant engineers, so they likely don’t know where the bad stuff goes (of the stuff not used up in production)?

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Even engineers have mortgages.


I’m guessing that Rob Bilott had bills too. His health and family suffered. Plaintiffs died without seeing any relief.

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The engineers and scientists who gathered the internal data and proposed healthy levels are totes at fault, not the managers and executives who buried the material. It is TOTES the responsibility of the data-gathers to sacrifice their own families upon the altar of public health. They should have looked their husbands and/or wives in the eyes, kissed their kids goodbye, prepared to go public with the information and whispered “I do this for the good of all, and because I can’t stand coming home to a living room filled with worn socks and tinkertoys. Seriously. There’s a dirty diaper on the credenza. I mean that in an altruistic sense. I go now to a better place, one without healthcare and retirement benefits, but without chocolate smeared on the bedspread.”

Is that what you wanted them to do?


That’s what I wanted and expected the lawyers to do. We’re fortunate one of them did.

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I thought it was a good article, and I’m very glad (and slightly disturbed now that I’ve read it) that you posted it.

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I read through it last night, and I am walking around on my laminate flooring made with materials from Dupont while I am also gently poking my liver :slightly_smiling:

The part of the article that flabbergasted me was the conclusions the Vets came to–that it was all just bad husbandry.


THIS so much this is where it happens. I started my college education as an Engineering major and got to meet Roger Boisjoly as I was luck enough to be in an philosiphy/ethics class at the time he was giving a speech/presentation at the school and he gave our class a personal visit. He was a really awesome guy but he and the other engineers kept saying no way do not launch cause this is way outside of tested parameters. They were thinking it would explode right there on the pad and all thought they dodged things when it took off. I don’t know how I would feel having to watch that knowing what he knew. Management over ruled them because of budget/political pressure to launch.

ETA: And actually for all the engineers knew since they may not necessarily be on site at the manufacturing plant… They provided the data and said do X, management may have said okay to them and then did Y.


My rancher-without-a-ranch grandpa would have been :frowning: if some educated guys had said that about his cattle in public.

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That’s what managers and executives do.

That’s a reason it’s hard to be a professional at the tail end of an increasingly desperate era compelled to celebrate corporate culture.

That and student loan, mortgage payments — retirement.

After the recession, I suspect more professionals are feeling desperate and more suspicious about the prospect of 20 years of accruing equity and looking the other way is a devil’s bargain. And some don’t have 20 years . . . .

And . . . I don’t mean to pick on engineers. I have a family member who shares horror stories about conversations about basic safety with decision-makers before machines ship. Or conversations with sales staff about “lying” to other people.

(I think that) corporate hegemony is hard for professionals generally. :wink:


It makes perfect sense if all you care about is profitability at whatever cost. they cut costs wherever they can and the health and safety of the local community tends to be one of those places.


It probably has nothing to do with the job description and more to do with the individual and their ethics. Being a scientist, journalist, engineer or an attorney doesn’t make one more or less likely to collude with big business on cover ups, but being an asshole does.