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Exploring options for holding corporations accountable - DuPont and PFOA contamination

sunnyhart 1 / -  
Dec 18, 2021   #1

Exploring options for holding corporations accountable

Thesis: The United States government and its agencies must enforce systemic checks and balances as well as significant legal and financial ramifications in order to mitigate corporate negligence that harms the health and safety of the ecosystem and human life.

What I am looking to improve:

Organization of ideas

Sentence and paragraph flow

Am I maintaining a proper narration tone

Word choice

Feedback on any fluff- do all my sentences relate back to the thesis?


Wilbur Tennant, a once successful West Virginia farmer, faced a grave problem on his farm. The creek that flowed through his land and quenched his cattle, began to ooze an orange, foamy substance. Minnows, deer, and his cattle were dropping like flies around the creek. Within years, his herd of 200 cattle dwindled to none. Tennant believed this orange foam was to blame for the black teeth, discolored organs and bowed legs that his cattle began to display. The one factor that had changed between 200 cattle and none, was the plot of land the Tennant family sold to DuPont. The chemical company agreed not to use the former farm land for chemical waste ("The Devil We Know"); however, that promise was broken. DuPont had been dumping a chemical known as PFOA, the Teflon chemical, or C8 into the creek. The reach of C8 exposure is insurmountable, nearly 99.7% of people in developed countries around the world have C8 in their blood. The Teflon chemical spreads through water contamination, air pollution, or by using products that have been treated with stain-resistant or non-stick materials. C8 was invented by 3M in the early 1950s, known as the most slippery solid material invented. DuPont purchased C8 from 3M and began to manufacture products with great success, creating convenience in domestic spaces. 3M warned DuPont not to dump C8 into open water sources, although 3M did not yet know the dangers of doing so.

Since the inception of C8 in 1950, 3M conducted studies with rats and rabbits, searching for biological consequences of C8 exposure. Within a year, scientists at 3M had lab results to suggest that C8 builds up in the blood of rats (3M), meaning that this chemical is biopersistent; C8 has a long half-life, it does not break down in the sun or within the air, it remains in the blood for close to a decade. It was not until 1999 that Wilbur Tennant spoke up about the negligence at DuPont, approximately 50 years after the world was initially exposed to C8. DuPont and 3M at that point made billions a year manufacturing this "forever chemical" (Rich). It is possible that without the bravery of Tennant and his lawyer, Rob Billot, C8 would still be in use today. Billot previously represented chemical companies and had no experience suing them. He did, however, know how these companies work from the inside. During the discovery process of Tennant v. DuPont, Billot uncovered a wealth of information that would expose the negligence of 3M, DuPont, as well as the United States government agencies- the Food and Drug Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Within a capitalist society, companies are encouraged to consider profits over the health of their employees and consumers. Therefore, the United States government and its agencies must enforce systemic checks and balances as well as significant legal and financial ramifications in order to mitigate corporate negligence that harms the health and safety of the ecosystem and human life.

The first time a government agency intercepted studies conducted by DuPont pertaining to C8, the Food and Drug Administration denied a petition to allow DuPont to profit off of C8 as a food wrapping material (FDA). In 1965 a DuPont scientist studied the effects of C8 on rats, and the results showed that exposure to C8 resulted in enlarged liver and kidney weight as well as enlarged spleen size (Wazeter). DuPont was responsible for providing a 90 day study to the FDA in order to get approval for C8 as a food packaging material, therefore DuPont was aware of the FDA's standards pertaining to the amount of a substance that results in a safe exposure level. However, DuPont tested the limits of the FDA by submitting this study for review. Internally, DuPont knew the dangers of C8 before the petition was rejected by the FDA. Additionally, scientists outside of DuPont laboratories were catching on to the toxicity of C8. A 1955 study conducted at Stanford University discovered that C8 binds to proteins in human blood. Therefore, the bio-persistent quality of C8 paired with the binding effect it has on human blood, means that the chemical will remain in human blood unless the blood is treated with an acidic solution in a situation where the C8 contamination was minimal (Nordby). However, the employees of DuPont were not receiving a minimal amount of C8 exposure. In fact, the employees of DuPont were found to have significantly rising levels of the chemical in the blood (Roach). As mentioned in a previous study by 3M, levels of C8 build up in the blood, and the biopersistence creates an inability to break down, leading to higher levels as exposure goes on. The employees working in the facilities that produced C8 were constantly subjected to contact with the chemical, workers reported that C8 would constantly spill and bubble over in the containers, creating splatter and dispersing C8 in the air ("The Devil We Know"). DuPont became privy to the fact that C8 was toxic to employees, and at one point removed the female employees to different departments. This decision came after a study revealed that exposure to C8 led to deformed fetuses when fed to rats. What the employees did not know is that DuPont was performing an experiment on them as well. DuPont cited rat studies as a reason for the department shift; however, 2 out of 8 female workers in the Parkersburg plant who gave birth had a baby with at least an eye deformity. One baby also had a nose deformity, resulting in only a single nostril. (Ludford and "The Devil We Know"). Both 3M and DuPont reassigned female workers within the same year, both promising to conduct further studies on the toxicity of C8. This announcement came three years after 3M declared C8 as toxic in their manual (3M Chemical Division). 3M and DuPont conducted enough studies to prove that C8 exposure was not safe and that the chemical is highly toxic, yet lied to their workers by hiding the truth that they already knew. The two chemical companies promised their employees a further look into C8 exposure, and promised the department move was for their best interest. This bad faith decision came too late, as the harms were already obvious to the toxicology department, and babies had been born with deformities. On top of that, both 3M and DuPont found high rates of both mortality as well as elevated cancer rates in employees that worked with C8 (Mandel and Walrath). Nothing was done about this discovery, and operations went on as normal in order to protect profits.

Furthermore, DuPont has internal scientists and researchers to perform checks and balances; however, the drive for profits blinds officials, who do not enable experts such as ecotoxicologist to do their jobs correctly. Employees at DuPont and 3M attempted to alert company officials about the dangers of C8 and the span of contamination. These scientists were met with hesitancy and no response. For example a scientist at 3M, Rich Purdy, wrote a resignation letter detailing the concerns he had about widespread C8 contamination. Purdy claims that ecotoxicologist at 3M requested the ability to test ecological risk relating to C8 for decades. Officials at 3M hesitated and the ecotoxicologist was unable to complete vital work. Officials at 3M did not want the ecotoxicologist to find out the environmental impact of C8; the negligence enabled profits to continue flourishing. These mistakes illustrate why corporations such as 3M and DuPont can not be trusted to perform internal checks and balances. Ultimately, the government must step in and provide third party insight for the safety and protection of citizens. Corporations are driven by profits, as the Teflon chemical was a highly profitable material from the start. These companies had a great hesitancy for decades when it came to halting the use of C8 despite knowing the risk. In order to enforce proper checks and balances that are not skewed by a drive for profits, the government needs to take responsibility when it comes to regulating chemicals by gaining access to internal studies. This process will allow unbiased scientists to look into the research that has been done, create similar studies and decide whether C8 exposure is harming the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for employees and consumers.

How can corporations be held accountable in a legal perspective? Corporations are not tried in a court of law like individuals; however, companies are made up of individuals who create choices based on what is believed to best for the company. These decisions are often driven by the potential for profits, and deviation from that is punished. In a system where that punishment is mitigated by a third party government agency, employees are able to make decisions that benefit the greater good of society. In a corporate society where this idea is implemented, there can be another layer of protection; legal ramifications for employees who purposefully ignore potentially harmful situations that consumers and co-workers are subjected to. In the situation with 3M and DuPont, many employees who ignored the warning signs of toxicity in C8 are ultimately responsible for the many cancer cases and deaths that were a result of contamination. A citizen who harms another in a way that inhibits or ends their life is sent to prison. Why should the results of willful negligence be any different for those who commit harm under the protection of a corporation? Negligence within corporations enables contamination, and therefore harm, to continue. DuPont knew that C8 had contaminated the Ohio river, and they did not immediately alert the water companies or citizens. The Ohio river runs through many West Virginia towns, and three of those towns were found to be affected by the contamination ("C8 Sampling"). This could have been an opportunity for officials at DuPont to mitigate damage and begin cleaning up, or at least alert the water companies that sources from the Ohio River. DuPont did not act, and kept the information confidential. This information was seen by many officials who knew the risk of C8 exposure and each individual chose confidentiality for the benefit of the corporation. There must be legal accountability for employees who neglect to alert the proper authorities to ecosystemic contamination. Officials at 3M disregarded the concerns of their ecotoxicologist who conducted a study and discovered that C8 has a chance of harming sea animals at a probability rate over 100%. The researcher urged 3M officials to conduct an analysis of these results, and it was not made a priority. Furthermore, 3M was aware of the biomagnification of C8, meaning that the chemical had permeated the food chain in a big way; C8 was found in the blood of baby eagles, whose parents were sourcing food from remote lakes. C8 polluted the ecosystem thoroughly. However, 3M reported on that finding and left out details that implied biomagnification. 3M asked researchers to refrain from corresponding about C8 contamination because of possible lawsuits, as written concerns would be brought to light during a potential discovery process. Secondly, 3M asked employees to put research on standby so as to not upset investors of the company. This led to a halt in informed discussions between researchers pertaining to consequences of further contamination (Purdy). The entirety of the contamination was not committed by willing and negligent participants alone, a select few scientists knew the contamination was wrong. They were ignored by the willingly negligent, who must be held responsible. Preserving the interest of investors despite the obvious ecosystemic risk must be a punishable crime; thus providing proper legal ramifications as a deterrent to committing great harm to the ecosystem. If individuals within the corporation are held legally responsible, deterrents could inspire actions that protect the environment instead of profits. When the corporation alone is held responsible, the only legal consequence is a lawsuit. This results as a solely financial ramification, which has historically been insignificant in inspiring change within corporations.

The lawsuit against DuPont resulted in financial losses that had no comparison to the benefit the company saw from continuing contamination and profiting from Teflon products. In a capitalist society where profits are the priority, DuPont was driven to continue using C8 against all odds and scientific findings that illustrated reasons why Teflon was harmful. On average, DuPont profited approximately 25 billion a year; 1 billion out of 25 was due solely to the sales of Teflon products ("The Devil We Know"). This streak of monetary gains from Teflon related sales lasted over 65 years, and 15 of those years were after the public was aware of the contamination. DuPont and it's subsidiaries agreed to put forth 4 billion dollars total in order to pay for lawsuits, the fee charged by the Environmental Protection Agency, and any potential cost relating to the discontinued use of C8. To be exact, the amount of profits DuPont lost from Teflon sales alone was less than 6.15% of total earnings from Teflon products. Out of the legal fees, EPA ordered DuPont to pay 16.5 million, the largest fee in the history of the government agency. However, this contamination fiasco has become a potential for DuPont to not only regain their losses, but to potentially make millions more by cleaning their mess. In 2019, DuPont purchased a company that manufactures reverse-osmosis technology. This water filtration system is the only way that C8 can be filtered out of water. It is possible that DuPont and subsidiaries will receive government and tax-payer funding in order to clean the water that DuPont contaminated (Formuzis). To further profit from contaminating the ecosystem is a rather insidious move, however it is par for the course for a corporation. Ultimately, the losses DuPont experienced are paltry in comparison to the insurmountable gains. This reality encourages corporations to dismiss concerns for the health of their employees and the ecosystem in favor of capital interest. The United States government must enforce financial ramifications that surpass gains. There is no better way to punish a corporation than in a way they understand- with capital losses.

One aspect that often correlates to financial loss is a company's damaged reputation. If the public knows that a corporation is selling a product that can harm them, it is likely that sales for those products will decrease. That is unless, the EPA will speak on behalf of the company and promise to the public that the contaminated items are safe for use. This is what happened when DuPont's negligence and harmful products were discovered by the public. DuPont sent the EPA this urgent email:

"In our opinion, the only voice who can cut through the negative stories, is the voice of the EPA. We need the EPA to quickly (like first thing tomorrow) say the following:

Consumer products under the Teflon brand are safe. This includes the non-stick cookware in your kitchen, the stain resistant carpet in your family room, and the waterproof jackets in your [closet].

Further, to date, there are no human health effects known to be caused by [C8]" (Stalnecker).
This email clearly conveys the close relationship that DuPont had with the EPA. The government agency responsible for protecting the environment is making statements in favor of a corporation that contaminated the ecosystem in an irreversible way. At this time, DuPont was internally aware of the true dangers of C8- such as higher rates of cancer and long term health effects (Brock). When the reputation of DuPont avoids scrutiny due to the EPA vouching for them, it is impossible for the company to be properly held accountable. In the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, DuPont had fortified the town. The local high school is sponsored by DuPont, and virtually everyone in the town was, or knew, someone who worked at the DuPont plant ("The Devil We Know"). Additionally, a Parkersburg native has the opinion that DuPont "owns the town," as in having a job at the chemical plant is one of the best careers available. Just as well, any trip to the local second hand stores results in many DuPont product sightings. "Thrift stores are littered with [DuPont] merchandise," which gives an idea about how prevalent DuPont jobs are (Kingsley). There is a parasocial relationship that the citizens of Parkersburg have with DuPont; they do not want to believe that a company they heavily rely on would betray them. The ethos of the EPA and DuPont worked together to persuade the community. Therefore, the reputation of DuPont remains intact despite the discovery of ecological neglect.

After exploring the ways chemical corporations can be held accountable after a mass pollution event, there is a lack of impactful options. DuPont and many employed officials were guilty of willful negligence. It is imperative that corporations and its representatives are faced with significant consequences in order to prevent contamination that occurs due to disregard for the safety of the ecosystem. An overwhelming amount of lives were lost due to the dispersal of carcinogens; some people are still fighting for their life today due to the actions of 3M and DuPont. An effective punishment for a corporation hurts them financially. However, the afflicted workers believe that is not enough. "There is no amount of money that they can offer me that's going to justify, this is a criminal offense" ("The Devil We Know"), a former DuPont employee laments. No amount of legal fees can make up for the destruction of communities and the environment; however, financial consequences are a way to ensure that corporations hesitate to make costly mistakes. Secondly, corporate officials ought to be held legally accountable for their actions. A chain of individuals made choices that affected the global ecosystem. The justice system needs to hold these individuals accountable to send a message that negligence will be punishable by law. Furthermore, government agencies such as the FDA and EPA must hold corporations accountable and maintain impartial relationships. The FDA could have investigated the use of C8 when they became aware and as a result many lives would be spared. Also, it would be imperative for the EPA to inquire about contamination accusations quickly. These government agencies are designed to protect the citizens, and in relation to DuPont's C8 water contamination, the agencies failed. The FDA and EPA were more concerned with protecting the legacy of corporations, and they succeeded. 3M and DuPont are still thriving companies today, despite public knowledge of the purposeful contamination. Neither reputation, financial status, or legal repercussions changed the way that these corporations operate today. In fact, DuPont has replaced C8 with a similar chemical to continue production. Chemically speaking, the compound differs to that of C8; however it is acting similarly in studies with rats. Scientists at 3M claim the new chemical has a similar environmental impact as well (Purdy). DuPont's replacement for C8, which is called Gen-X, has already been detected in waterways ("The Devil We Know"). In order to mitigate damage, government agencies must act quickly. It is imperative that the justice system works with governmental agencies to establish systematic checks and balances in order to catch early signs of damage to the ecosystem; as well as lay a foundation of significant legal ramifications for corporate individuals who perpetuate ecological negligence, and proper financial consequences to ensure that the corporation cannot survive another deliberate contamination.

Works Cited
Holt  Educational Consultant - / 14,956 4810  
Dec 18, 2021   #2
The hook will be more effective if told through a narration of historical events, without any reference citations. That is because the introduction only establishes the platform of the presentation.It should not be discussing any facts yet. So a simple narration, with a wrap up of the case or lawsuit outcome is necessary. You forgot to include that in your hook. The thesis statement can only be presented after the solid completion of your hook presentation. In this case, you left the reader hanging because you suddenly jumped to a worldwide reference from was a particular reference to the groundbreaking case. The facts of the case should follow only after the summarized case presentation.

The research is being presented from an obvious personal point of view. As a researcher, your job is to present the facts of the case, both pro and con, without showing any partiality to one side. It is obvious in this case that the research has taken a bias approach, which leads the rest of the presentation to be tainted with doubt. The reader cannot reach the end of this paper without being conscious of the fact that the writer has already judged the information, and will not allow the reader to come to his own informed conclusion.

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