DuPont, DuPont de Nemours Incorporated, has recently been brought back to the attention of the public through Mark Ruffalo’s historical film Dark Waters, which follows the story of attorney Robert Bilott and his decades-long legal battle against the major chemical company.
While some parts of the story have been dramatized for the audience, DuPont’s track record as a company is astonishing in the worst way.
After viewers learn the dark history of the chemical company, the viewers are left wondering how a company could even survive after so many environmental and humanitarian problems.
Is DuPont Still In Business?
Yes, DuPont is still in business, although it has struggled slightly to survive independently from time to time due to its poor public reputation.
On August 31st of 2017, E. I. Dupont de Nemours Company and the Dow Chemical Company merged as part of a $130 billion merger.
The goal of the merger was to combine two businesses that dabbled in three different chemical industries.
Now, the company has 130 brands under the DuPont umbrella, including Zytel, Vespel, GreenVista, Duolite, and BetaClean.
When you go to the company’s current About Us tab, you’ll read about the company’s goals towards keeping waters safe and how it wants to make the modern world more sustainable.
After decades of destroying the environment, DuPont has created a Sustainability Strategy.
Their environmentally-friendly strategy can be divided into three categories: innovation, adjusting operations, and a focus on humanity’s well-being.
DuPont wants to create ideas that help the problems that the planet and the people living on it are struggling with most.
It is also looking to change the way it operates to help improve the safety of its communities and employees.
DuPont also claims that it is putting a larger focus on the health concerns that arise in the communities it is located in and within its own company.
The company seems to be taking environmental concerns such as climate change and water stewardship much more seriously than they have in the past.
DuPont wants to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas it is releasing into the air and also begin to use more renewable energy in its fight against climate change.
This chemical company is now looking to better understand the effect that it has had on water sources and how it can help create cleaner water for the communities that it operates in.
Long History With Unlawful Air Pollution
In the 1970s, it was discovered that DuPont’s product, Freon, was destroying the ozone layer and leading to more people getting skin cancer.
Freon was commonly found in aerosol cans and refrigerants.
The chemical experts at DuPont were found to be downplaying the dangerous nature of chlorofluorocarbons such as Freon.
Despite finding out that its experts had been lying to consumers, DuPont didn’t want to stop creating the product because it would have to cut 700,000 employees from their jobs.
It wasn’t until a decade later that DuPont would be willing to admit that there was any problem with its product.
Freon would finally be phased out of production by 1988, but the company’s proposed replacements for Freon were just as bad as the original product.
That same year, DuPont was taken to court in Oklahoma for violating the Clean Air Act at one of its oil refineries.
The company was forced to pay a $250,000 civil penalty and would have to put $1.5 million on pollution controls for the troublesome facility.
In 2003, the company would once again break the Clean Air Act, but this time, it was for releasing airborne chemicals at its fluoro products plant in Kentucky.
Only two years later, DuPont would pay out $2.3 million for Clean Air Act charges in Tennessee after its Tennessee facility was found leaking refrigerants into the air.
In 2007, the company would have to pay $66 million in Clean Air Act penalties for facilities in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, and Louisiana.
In this same case, it would have to pay an additional $2 million for a chemical plant that the company ran for another company called Lucite.
For generations, DuPont would just pay off its mistakes rather than learn from them and continue to pollute the air without a care.
Struggling To Hide Chemical Spillages
DuPont has never been forthcoming about the mistakes that it has made as a company, often choosing to hide the mistakes that it made rather than warn the public.
This habit started in 1989 when evidence of its Savannah River nuclear weapons plant having serious structural flaws and health concerns was brought to the public eye.
Although the United States Energy Department tried to say that the company did make the problems known and that it was the government that kept the concerns secret, several former officials claim that they were never informed of such problems.
The plant was eventually handed over to Westinghouse later that year.
The 1990s were not looking much brighter for the company, which was now dealing with a Benlate spill.
Benlate was a popular fungicide at the time, but the spill was such an intense concentration and high amount that it ended up causing widespread plant damage in the farming town surrounding the chemical plant.
The company was hit with hundreds of lawsuits and was forced to pay $500 million in compensation.
DuPont continued to get lawsuits pertaining to the problem it had caused and decided to attempt to fight off the rest.
During these lawsuits, evidence that the company had known about the Benlate spill for years came to light.
Instead of costing the company less money than it had hoped, Dupont was forced to pay an additional $115 million for concealing evidence.
With the new evidence that had come to light, DuPont was responsible for more toxic chemical releases than any other company in the 1980s.
Despite all its legal struggles, the company had yet to learn its lesson.
In 2006, Dupont had to pay $1.6 million for the contamination of the wetlands surrounding their DuPont Newport Superfund Site.
Occupational Health And Safety Risks at Dupont
DuPont may have been dealing with environmental problems since the 1970s, but it had had problems with occupational health and safety since the 1920s.
Trouble began when eight employees died and hundreds of them were poisoned by tetraethyl lead, which was meant for gasoline.
In the 1970s, researchers found an alarmingly high number of DuPont employees with bladder cancer.
Since the 1930s, there was evidence that beta-naphthylamine caused cancer.
Despite the knowledge available to them for decades, DuPont went on to create beta-naphthylamine until 1955 with no care for the health of its workers.
The company then switched to creating benzidine, which is another chemical known for causing cancer.
DuPont often knew about problems at its workplace long before it was ever brought to court.
In 1987, there was a New Jersey Superior Court that found there were multiple officials and company doctors that deliberately tried to hide the medical records of six veteran maintenance workers who all had asbestos-related diseases that were linked to their working environment.
That same year, DuPont had to pay $11,100 as part of a settlement of OSHA charges for similar recordkeeping problems at plants in Dallas, Texas, and Niagara Falls, New York.
In 1999, they would once again get hit with OSHA charges for not keeping proper records.
In this case, DuPont had failed to record more than 100 different injuries and illnesses that had occurred at their Seaford location in Delaware.
Only four years prior, DuPont had agreed to pay $1.6 in OSHA charges regarding an explosion and fire that occurred at a refinery in Louisiana and killed an employee.
In 2010, an employee was killed when a hose ruptured and released a large quantity of phosgene gas.
Only a year later, dangerous conditions led to the death of one of its welders.
Discrimination Against Employees And Applicants
DuPont has a history of not caring for its employees’ well-being, but it also has a history of favoring certain types of employees and excluding other potential employees based on things that they have no control over.
The company has gone to some inexcusable lengths in order to find the perfect employees for its needs and remove employees it longer saw as functional.
In the 1980s, some New York Times articles by Richard Severo were released about the poor practices of multiple chemical companies with DuPont being at the center of all the corporate controversy.
One way that DuPont chose who it was going to hire was through genetic screening.
Many of the most popular chemical companies had begun testing employees to determine which ones might have a genetic makeup that would make them more susceptible to different toxic chemicals and carcinogens.
Out of all the companies that Severo researched, DuPont was the only company to give blood tests to black job applicants in an attempt to see which of them were carriers of the trait that causes sickle-cell anemia.
In 2004, DuPont discriminated against a disabled employee Laura Barrios.
Barrios had a physical disability that affected her ability to walk.
The company claimed that her disability got in the way of her duties and feared that her disability would make it too difficult for her to leave in case of an emergency.
After the court assessed Barrios’s physical capabilities, it saw that she would have little to no problem getting out of the building.
If it had been such a concern for the company at the time, it could have taken a look at its workplace and made adjustments to make it easier for employees like Barrios to get around.
Barrios was awarded $591,000 for the bias case.
Its Attempt To Spread Around The World
During the 1980s, DuPont was looking to spread around the globe and wanted to create a plant in Goa, India.
DuPont’s history of chemical dumping and spilling had made the company infamous, and the local community of Goa wanted nothing to do with the chemical company, fearing for the health of the community and its environment.
Although DuPont had heard about the strong opposition that the local community had, it began working on the foundation of the plant anyway.
By the 1990s, protesters were showing up to the plant site in swarms that made it difficult for construction to continue smoothly.
The plant was going to produce synthetic nylon and had cost the company $217 million to create.
Despite India’s hesitancy to allow foreign companies to build factories in the country, DuPont was able to get the plant started with the help of local company Thapar.
The Goa Foundation had filed a writ that stated that the Goa council had gone against the Land Acquisition Act, which stated that land was only allowed to be purchased the way that DuPont went about it for public use.
The company had not gotten the necessary legal clearance required for starting a business in the area.
By January 23rd of 1995, tensions between law enforcement and the local activists were becoming higher.
One day, a local police officer opened fire on the protesting group and left one protester named Nilesh Naik dead and multiple others injured.
Despite DuPont claiming that they were “shaken up” by the problem, it had no plans to stop its Goa expansion at the time.
Eventually, DuPont and Thapar were given so much trouble from the Goans that the company decided it would be best to move its operations to Tamil Nadu, but it was faced with opposition there, too.
Having A Movie Based On One Of Its Scandals
One of the biggest reasons that people are looking back at DuPont as a company is the new Netflix movie Dark Waters, which stars Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott.
Bilott fought against the chemical company for years, despite once working for the company through his law firm.
While some details are in the movie for entertainment purposes only, the story of the movie is mostly true.
The only difference between Mark Ruffalo’s performance as Robert Bilott and the real Robert Bilott is that Bilott has never been known to enjoy a celebratory Mai Tai or alcohol in general.
DuPont really did purchase 66 acres of land from Jim Tennant after he came down with a mysterious illness from working at the chemical company for so long.
It then used that plot of land for chemical dumping and silently tested for perfluorooctanoic acid, despite knowing what it could do to the human body.
Nearly a decade before the company would deny any culpability and blame the Tennant family for their health problems, the company found evidence that the chemical dumping could have a serious effect on the Tennant family, their livestock, and the local water source.
Robert Bilott was inspired to go against his former employer in court when Wilbur Tennant refused to take the financial compensation for his silence.
Tennant was much more concerned about his local community and loved ones being poisoned than any financial loss or gain.
Although Dark Waters portrays Bilott’s law firm as being angry with the idea of him going up against a former client, the firm was actually quite proud of his work despite not always believing that he would come out on top in the cases.
Calmer Waters For DuPont
In the digital age, it has become much easier to hold companies like DuPont accountable for their actions.
Many companies like Dupont keep in mind how easy it is for information to spread around the internet and have chosen to be more ethical and transparent to avoid completely ruining their images any further.
DuPont may have a history of polluting the air and waters surrounding its factories, it has begun to see the errors in its ways and is looking to change how it does business.
Like most modern companies, it has pledged to create a diverse and inclusive workforce.
The company has recently won awards for being named one of the Best Places to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality, one of America’s Top Corporations for Women’s Business Enterprise, and was named to Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index of 2020.
Dupont seems to be finally learning from the mistakes it had been making for decades.
Whether it is just to appear better in the public eye or if it truly wants to make amends, DuPont isn’t the same company it was when Dark Waters took place.