Environmental Justice for Appalachian Ohio: The Poor are Paying the Price for Corporate Greed

Thousands of people living along the Ohio River in my native Appalachian Ohio have been poisoned by DuPont and other chemical companies. In the case of DuPont, the company knew for 50 years that PFOA/C8, a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon, causes cancer and severe health problems in humans and wildlife. Countless employees and residents near the company’s Washington Works facility suffered painful deaths, birth defects, and major medical complications while the company remained silent. Even area farmers watched helplessly as their livestock developed deformities, foamed at the mouth, went blind, grew full of cancerous tumors, and ultimately died, with no understanding of what was happening.

The company guarded its bottom line ahead of the health and welfare of thousands of area families, including employees who worked hard to make DuPont profitable. What happened near Washington Works is a tragic moral failure of corporate leaders and government regulators alike. This situation should serve as a powerful reminder of why regulations and their enforcement matter and how we should never allow good people to be exploited for financial gain. The pain and suffering felt by entire communities shakes me to my core because I grew up there and I know that towns like mine were easy targets for exploitation. DuPont and companies like them believed they could seize upon economic hardship to cut corners and dump toxins into the area’s water supply.

This situation isn’t dissimilar to what we are now seeing with President Trump rolling back environmental restrictions on the dumping of coal mining waste into rivers and streams in Appalachia. The President is creating false hope that he can revive the coal industry and create jobs while doing real harm to people in one of the most vulnerable and economically fragile regions of our country.

National Geographic has release this powerful documentary about the PFOA/C8 crisis near Washington Works and its human impact. It’s based in part on my friend Callie Lyons’s dogged journalism that has been central to her life for more than a decade. Please check this out — it was enough to bring me to tears. Also, never forget just how much people are suffering in this country. They’re sometimes in remote parts of the country where many of my friends have never been and never care to see, but all of us, especially us progressives, need to care as much about exploitation of the rural poor just as we do those who are being mistreated elsewhere in our country.