THE DEVIL WE KNOW

Disposable Pawns

(Director Stephanie Soechtig’s latest film, The Devil We Know, is available across all digital platforms beginning October 16.)

From director Stephanie Soechtig, who specializes in hard-hitting investigative documentaries like Tapped and Fed Up, comes another such piece, this one on the horrific actions of the chemical giant DuPont, which never hesitated to poison thousands of people in the Ohio River Valley over many years. The title comes from a line in one of the company’s initially top-secret documents (later revealed in a lawsuit) where the executives discuss how the toxic substance pouring out of their factory into the local water supply is at least a known evil; better to deal with something (they think) they can control, in other words. Except they couldn’t. And now, not only are the residents of Parkersburg, West Virginia – and environs – permanently infected with Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA), also known as C8 (a proven carcinogen), but so are, according to this film, 99% of the rest of humanity (to say nothing of the other fauna and flora of our world). Great. If you’re not outraged (and scared), you ought to be.

What are you willing to put up with for the sake of convenience? Heard that Smartphones and/or Bluetooth headsets may cause cancer? Surely that’s just a rumor. After all, how could something so addictively lovely be bad for you? Now flash back to the 1940s, when the miracle substance known as Teflon first began to gain traction as a commercially viable coating to cooking pans. Who could imagine then that something so wonderful would ever prove harmful? Well, coming at you from the same generation that developed Chlorofluorocarbons and thereby almost depleted our ozone layer was another dangerous chemical that, once studied (after years of industry resistance), would turn out to be less than the blessing it had, at first, seemed. For without proper regulation, companies like DuPont can not only contaminate their work areas, but also dump C8 in nearby waterways (the EPA‘s collusion with DuPont and lack of adequate response is a disturbing subplot to the main narrative). The fact that local livestock is dying out and local people are coming down with serious illnesses, or being born with significant deformities, is less important than the profit motive. America the beautiful, meet corporate greed.

With great cinematic precision, Soechtig and her team follow a diverse cast of characters, from Bucky Bailey (born with only one nostril and one eye much lower than the other) to Ken Wamsley (now short one colon after an operation to save his life) to Joe Kiger (a teacher who takes action after learning of DuPont’s heartless inaction) to Rob Bilott (a lawyer who leads a lawsuit against the company) and many more. Together, they form the voices of resistance to the indifference of our nation’s wealthy class. They show that we do not have to accept our fate as disposable pawns in a chess game out of our control. This doesn’t change the fact that PFOAs are now present in the world, and in us, forever – one chemist mentions their “biopersistence,” meaning they never go away – but at least we can strike back. Or not. DuPont’s spinoff subsidiary Chemours now has a replacement for C8, called “GenX,” which is no better. How much do you love your non-stick pan? Is it to die for? Watch The Devil We Know and decide for yourself.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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