The Case of Synthetic Constitutional Rights

April 2019
Fernanda Lugo

In 2012 Dupont chemical manufacturers lost a class action lawsuit against citizens in West Virginia, where an unknown amount of a carcinogenic chemical called C8 was being leaked into waterways as untreated chemical waste. The conclusion of a health report from a third party stated that the chemical exposure was linked to cancer cases, especially testicular and pancreatic, as well as ulcerative colitis, colon cancer and thyroid diseases. The cumulative sum of over 3,500 lawsuits costed the Dupont company 16 million dollars. The company, which specializes in perfluorinated chemicals used in Teflon pans, anti-stick and water repellent materials, makes 25 billion dollars revenue each year.

The #TossTheTeflon campaign, well represented in the documentary “The Devil We Know”, is an example of a growing movement to raise awareness and re-regulate many of the over 80,000 untested chemicals that are found in household items from cleaning supplies to furniture and clothing materials. While skeptics will say “well of course there’s chemicals, we’re all made out of atoms!”, this story isn’t about shading all chemical engineering or using pseudoscience to scare people back to a “natural” existence… This is the story of PCBs, BPA, Dioxin, Glyphosate, surfactants, PFOS, C8, Perfluorinated compounds, diethylstilbestrol, rBGH, and many other pesticides and herbicides that have been conclusively linked to endocrine disruption, increased cancer risk, teratogenicity inflammation and immune dysfunction and metabolic diseases. The healthcare costs of these persistent pollutants add up to well over $300 Billion Per Year. Phthalates and endocrine disruptive compounds affect fertility and development, while the others mentioned have molecular links to disrupting cell differentiation and increased risk cancer and abnormal cell growth. 

Toxicologists and specialists of environmental health have paid close attention to the industrial development of new compounds although there isn’t much they can do. Government agencies are captive of corporate interests and if the industry claims something is safe, then it therefore is. You may be surprised to learn that the FDA, USDA, and EPA do not conduct any toxicology tests of their own, but rather simply review data submitted by the company along with the product proposal. Oftentimes the companies such as Dupont, Monsanto and other chemical developers conduct only superficial testing and may hide results of the toxicology of their compounds. 

The Dupont company and the US EPA had a sort of “revolving door” scenario, where key positions in the regulatory agency of EPA also at some point on their curriculum served the industry in question. Michael McCabe served as communicator for the C8 issues in 2003, was deputy administrator for the EPA until 2001. William Reilly, who led the EPA from 1989 to 1993, sat on DuPont’s board of directors. Although the EPA as an agency had the authority to regulate Teflon and C8 waste under the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Clean Water Act, the people who ran EPA at the time clearly had other interests. 

Why was Dupont not held accountable besides the civil lawsuits costs, which clearly were a minimal price portion of the real harm they left in Virginia and close to factory locations? The answer lies closely tied to the precedents set by cases of corporate rule. The influence of corporate rule on our environmental regulations and in turn our country’s citizens’ and waterways’ health is continuing to grow, despite the awareness of the revolving door. If corporations can continue to amass wealth through sales and products, as well as by claiming fewer costs in taxes and by evading lawsuits they can therefore continue to use wealth as speech. Money needed to win campaigns for new politicians costs a pretty penny in favors owed. Additionally, using the revolving door and masking issues with vast PR campaigns can ultimately harm the way regulatory agencies function.

Denouncing corporate rule is a good start, but for a single solution to end the influence of corporations like Dupont on our environmental health join forces with the Move to Amend Coalition that’s tackling the core issue: corporate personhood and it's control of our governance. See the website at and sign the petition at: