Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer's Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont

Rating: โญโญโญ

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Overall Link to heading

An honest, direct and informative look into how an experienced lawyer approaches the day-to-day when fighting against a behemoth like DuPont. I found it intriguing, learnt a few things, but overall it was a bit too long and repetitive for my taste. I paused the book at 60% deciding I had taken away everything it could teach me, and would have much rather preferred watching a 5 episode Netflix special instead.

Everything one would expect in a lawsuit between faremers and DuPont is there, and I wouldn’t consider it eye-opening or surprising. However, a glimpse into how slow and painful things are is a good reminder of how much work is left to be done in our society.

This isn’t the type of book I usually pick up, and it confirmed my suspicions. I have a lot of respect for the author, but feel like the blinkst summary would’ve been more than enough.

Gory Beginnings Link to heading

The imagery of the first chapter is very vivid. The amount of detail that went into describing the field, the cow with cancer, the individuals involved and the lawyer’s mindset definitely set the tone for the rest of the book.

I was impressed by the author’s ability to build the rapport with the reader so they understand why he decided to write this book in the first place.th the reader

  • I’m about 10% into the book and the biggest Takeaway is that the author really shows what a mindset he had from being the defendants of these large companies and eventually want to hold a small guy challenged them and it seems like the challenge was his biggest motivation, in addition to seeing the suffering of the farmersnot too much to add just great insight to see someone hard-working, and some funny moments around the lack of fun for lack of better word that lawyers really get to have in their offices

Plaintiff vs Defense Lawyers Link to heading

I never knew the distinction between Plaintiff and Defense lawyers and this book gave a good distinction.

Plaintiff lawyers:

  • Represents the party that initiates the lawsuit
  • Gathers evidence and presents arguments how the defendant participated in wrongdoing
  • Goal: show the plaintiff should receive compensation or legal remedy

Defense lawyers:

  • Represents the party that is being sued
  • Refutes the case, challenges evidence and protects the interest of the defendant
  • Goal: dismiss the case brought about by the plaintiff

The great about the book was hearing the point of view of a large corp defense lawyer who transitioned to being a plaintiff lawyer for righteous reasons.

Defensive lawyers often have a good and reliable upfront cash flow, funded by large corporations, whereas plaintiff lawyers often work pro-bono with a contingency fee that could vary from 25% to 40% of the final settlement. It’s very much a high-risk high-reward type of business.

Chemistry & History Link to heading

PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) first started being developed by 3M in 1947 and was purchased by DuPont in 1951. Internally, DuPont nicknamed it C8.

PTFE, brand-named Teflon, was discovered by accident in 1938 by Roy Plunkett, a 27 year old engineer researching refrigerants. The following quote from Wikipedia captures the details:

On the morning of April 6, 1938, Jack Rebok, my assistant, selected one of the TFE cylinders that we had been using the previous day and set up the apparatus ready to go. When he opened the valve โ€” to let the TFE gas flow under its own pressure from the cylinder โ€” nothing happened…We were in a quandary. I couldn’t think of anything else to do under the circumstances, so we unscrewed the valve from the cylinder. By this time it was pretty clear that there wasn’t any gas left. I carefully tipped the cylinder upside down, and out came a whitish powder down onto the lab bench. We scraped around some with the wire inside the cylinder…to get some more of the powder. What I got out that way certainly didn’t add up, so I knew there must be more, inside. Finally…we decided to cut open the cylinder. When we did, we found more of the powder packed onto the bottom and lower sides of the cylinder.

This was a great reminder of how instrumental and early DuPont was in all chemistry related research at the time. It also made me think if these sort of “accidental” scientific discoveries still happen nowadays.

PFOA is often used in the development of PTFE, but was discontinued in the early 2000s due to its links to cancer and other health concerns when being exposed to humans and animals.

Teflon is used in non-stick pans due to its properties of being resistant to corrosion, having high heat resistance and low source friction. It works by having the carbon-fluorine polymer where the atoms stick tightly to each other, but not other food or substances.

DuPont vs Google: Don’t be evil? Link to heading

It was interesting to learn how much DuPont resembles large tech companies, such as Google, when it comes to prestige and perks for people who work in the industry.

Having worked for Google, and enjoying all the perks such as snacks & food, a reliable paycheck, health insurance, etc, I could understand.

Some of the anecdotes of DuPont employees resemble this idea of risking their health, but being oblivious to it. Not loving their job, but enjoying the lifestyle that comes with it. Understanding the tradeoffs, but accepting them. Not being happy day-to-day, but reminding oneself of the prestige that the title provides.

I remember when Google stopped using the “Don’t be evil” mantra. Though DuPont never had a similar explicit mantra, there was definitely a point in time when their values shifted from science and research for humankind, to maximizing profit for shareholders at all costs.