It was the first time in probably 20 years that I watched a movie by myself. With the craziness of the holidays it was hard to line up a babysitter, so my wife stayed at home with the boys. I was nervous and scared as I entered the Regal South Glenn movie theatre near our house. My fear did not stem from the incredible movie I was about to watch, Dark Waters, or flying solo at the theatre. My fear was that I knew I was about to watch a movie showing one of the world’s largest corporations knowingly poisoning my family and community for decades.
I grew up in Parkersburg, WV. A community where people wave at each other as they drive past one another and leave their cars unlocked overnight. A community where everyone tends to know each other, and secrets spread quickly. It was unfortunately also the home of one of the most brazen corporate secrets in US history.
One of the area’s largest, most-coveted employers was DuPont. They paid their employees well and provided generous benefits. Many men and women without a college education could make six-figures and live well in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Or as the locals call it, “Cancer Valley.”
DuPont failed to disclose the contamination of public drinking water for more than two decades and concealed evidence that C-8 (a byproduct of Teflon) was harmful to human health. As part of the settlement, an independent science panel conducted studies and determined a “Probable Link” exists between exposure to C-8 among Class Members and the following Human Diseases:
- pregnancy-induced hypertension (including preeclampsia)
- kidney cancer
- testicular cancer
- thyroid disease
- ulcerative colitis
- high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia)
Dupont agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit in 2005 for upwards of 374 million. In addition, the company agreed to pay the EPA $16.5 million to settle charges against it.
It was strange watching the movie. Many of the scenes were filmed in my hometown, so everything was too familiar. I felt anger as I watched DuPont move women out of the Teflon division due to birth defects from C-8 instead of doing the right thing and stopping the use of C-8. Anger as I learned they not only dumped C-8; they also incinerated it in the smokestacks. My community was both drinking and inhaling this stuff! I cried and felt sadness for my family members that have died from cancer and other diseases. Were they related to C-8? Will I die someday from C-8?
As I left the movie, my mind was racing. Were the other moviegoers as affected as me? Why did DuPont and other human beings put profit over people’s lives? Why aren’t my friends and family in the Mid-Ohio Valley talking about this scandal and seeing this movie?
I’m often asked why I am passionate about Impact Investing and why IMPACTfolio uses ESG factors in all our investment decisions. Would the usage of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors with business/investment decisions have exposed and stopped DuPont? My family and community were permanently harmed by the shareholder-only mindset of doing “whatever it takes” to make a profit. Impact investors take all stakeholders into account when making business decisions. Stakeholders include shareholders, employees, communities, supply/distribution chains and the environment. The studies and real-world returns show that investing this way provides the same return (or better) with less risk. Why would I not invest this way with my personal money and our client’s money? I believe the more money that flows into stakeholder focused companies, the more likely we are to help stop the next avoidable tragedy.