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Every scandal begins with a lie. But the truth will come out. And then comes the fallout and the outrage.
Scandals have shaped America since its founding. From business and politics to sports and society, we look on aghast as corruption, deceit and ambition bring down heroes and celebrities, politicians and moguls. And when the dust finally settles, we’re left to wonder: how did this happen? Where did they trip up, and who is to blame? From the creators of American History Tellers, Business Wars and Tides of History comes American Scandal, where we take you deep into the heart of America’s dark side to look at what drives someone to break the rules and what happens when they’re caught. Hosted by Lindsay Graham.
Tue, 02 Aug 2022 07:01
While we used many sources in creating this season, key elements of the story were drawn from the book Exposure by Robert Bilott. We highly recommend it. You can buy the book here: https://bit.ly/3yUa7y6
DuPont strikes back in court. As the battle intensifies, Robert Bilott faces a crisis that threatens his life.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondri app. Download the Wondri app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. It's August 2005 in Lubek, West Virginia. It's a hot summer day and darling Kiger is sweating as she rises from her flower garden. The sun is beating down on her shoulders and after hours of work down on the dirt, Kiger is feeling parched. So she heads inside and walks to the kitchen. She opens as a cabinet and reaches for a glass. Kiger begins filling it up with cold water straight from the tap. Kiger downs it in a single gulp. And then she does it again, fills a glass with tap on her and drinks it all. Kiger exhales in relief. She feels better and her thirst is quenched. But as she looks down at her empty glass, Kiger also marvels at just how much everything has finally changed. It was only a year ago that Kiger and her husband Joe were scared to drink the water that came out of the tap. They knew it was tainted. It was a problem that about 100,000 residents in the area were also dealing with. And it all stemmed from DuPont. The global company has a manufacturing plant that employs a lot of people in town. One of the products they produce is Teflon, the slippery substance that makes pans nonstick. And while Teflon might be good for making an omelette, it's caused an environmental disaster for the region. DuPont has been dumping a chemical called C8, which is used to make Teflon. And that chemical found its way out of unlined pits and contaminated the area's water supply. When they learned their drinking water was polluted, Kiger and her husband decided to fight. They teamed up with an attorney named Robert Belat. And together they launched a class action lawsuit against DuPont. It was a bruising fight. But in the end DuPont folded and agreed to a settlement. As part of that settlement, DuPont installed industrial filters to clean up its mess, making sure that residents had a clean supply of drinking water. That's part of what Kiger is celebrating today, the ability to work up a sweat in the garden and to feel safe quenching her thirst with a glass of water from the kitchen tap. But Kiger knows the work isn't done. DuPont has agreed to monitor people's health in order to see whether they've been affected by C8. But before the company takes that step, a team of scientists needs to prove that the chemical actually has the potential to damage human health. And in order to get accurate data, the researchers need blood samples from across the community proof that people have been exposed to C8. That's where Kiger fits in. She's been helping publicize this grassroots campaign, getting thousands of residents to donate blood. It's been exhausting work, but Kiger knows it's what she has to do. It's the only way to support the science and force DuPont to pay for all the damage it's caused. Kiger fills another glass of water and heads to the phone. She's tired from working in the sun, but she's still going to make a few more calls to some of her neighbors, and plead with them to do their part, and bring DuPont to justice. Kiger is walking across the kitchen when suddenly the phone rings. Hello. Hello. Hello. Is this Starling Kiger? Yes, who's calling? Well, I've heard a lot about you. You're the woman who's trying to kill DuPont. Uh, I'm sorry. Excuse me? Trying to run him into the ground. Because you're on some kind of crusade, right? Sir, I'm sorry. I'm not sure what this is about. I'm not trying to kill DuPont. We just want to clean up. Oh, I know what you think you're doing. But tell me, after you're done with all your lawsuits and they shut down the plant, what happens? Where am I going to go? Sir. That's where I work. It's my job. You're trying to shut them down. But who's going to put food on my table? You? That lawyer from Cincinnati? Kiger tries to compose her thoughts. This isn't the first time she's been heckled by one of her neighbors. DuPont employs a lot of people in the community. Many of them see the ongoing legal battle as a direct attack on their livelihoods. Sir, I want you to consider something. We can have jobs and we can have safe water. DuPont can still make Teflon. They just have to be more careful when getting rid of the chemicals. Uh, you go on and keep telling yourself that. But you know what? When I lose my job and I can't feed my family. Well, I guess I'll be seeing you and your husband around town. The caller hangs up and Kiger steps back feeling a little rattled. There have been a lot of heated discussions recently. And while most of it is just talk, Kiger also knows that when livelihoods are on the line, people do crazy things. It would be naive to dismiss a threat. At the same time, Kiger refuses to be cowed into submission. And she won't stop calling people, organizing her neighbors, raising awareness until DuPont is held accountable. So Kiger picks the phone back up and gets ready to make another call. She has more people to talk to, more residents who still need to donate blood and help build a case that will force DuPont to pay for what it's done. The American scandal is sponsored by the new audiobook, Killing the Legends, the 12th audiobook and the multi-million-selling killing series from Bill O'Reilly and Martin DuGard. Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Muhammad Ali. Three icons known everywhere in every nation across every culture. They had everything. Fame, money, the admiration of millions, but their lives spun out of control at the hands of those they most trusted. Killing the legends explores the lives, legacies, and tragic deaths of these three legends. Each experienced a men's success, then failures that forced them to change. 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Plus, earn even more with $5 worth of in-game rewards when you reach level 5. That's friends without the R. Best Fiends. In 2001, the corporate attorney Robert Ballot filed a class action lawsuit accusing the chemical company DuPont of polluting an entire region's drinking water. Ballot sued on behalf of about 70,000 people, and he argued that a chemical used to produce Teflon had turned the area's water into a hazard. DuPont fought back against the charges, but the attorney Ballot would soon uncover damning evidence, and with its back against the wall, DuPont folded, agreeing to a sweeping legal settlement. But the battle was far from over, and with pressure continuing to mount, Ballot began to reach a breaking point and one that would threaten his life. This is Episode 3. Six Diseases. It's the summer of 2005 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The attorney Robert Ballot rises from his desk and quickly throws on his suit jacket. He hurries out the door, and as he races through the office of his law firm, he straightens his tie and brushes back his dark hair. A minute later, Ballot arrives at a conference room, where the other partners of the firm have already gathered. Ballot takes a seat and glances around. There's a weird energy in the air, and Ballot isn't sure if he's being paranoid, but it feels like everyone's looking at him. Ballot chuckles to himself and shakes his head. This is just another regular meeting for the firm's partners, and Ballot was only about 30 seconds late. He hasn't done anything wrong. He's probably just still hyper-vigilant after so much fighting with DuPont. So Ballot leans back and tries to relax. He's going to sit through this meeting, get some updates from the other partners, and then get back to work. And as expected, when the meeting starts, the firm's partners review some routine topics, upcoming litigation, financial projections, snuffing out of the ordinary. But suddenly, the conversation comes to a stop, and Ballot's boss, Tom Turp, clears his throat and heads to the front of the room. With a dour expression, Turp summons Ballot to the front. Ballot's quins. He doesn't know what this is about, but Turp refuses to explain, and again, he waves his hand, ordering Ballot to the front. Ballot looks around. Now it's unmistakable. Everyone is staring at him. With his legs wobbly, Ballot rises, and approaches the front of the long conference table. From there, he gazes at a sea of inscrutable faces. People and suits and ties who aren't revealing a single emotion. Ballot realizes that something must be terribly wrong. He's made some kind of a gregious mistake, and he's about to find out the consequences. Ballot's boss approaches him. His lips still curled in a frown. I need to talk about something big, he says. Ballot shuts his eyes and waits for devastating news. But when he looks back at Turp, he finds his boss smiling, and suddenly all the other partners at the firm are smiling too. Before Ballot can say a word, his boss reaches into a drawer and pulls out a bright red frying pan. It's coated with Teflon, and it's engraved with a short commemoration. To rob Ballot on the occasion of the DuPont Teflon settlement, June 30th, 2005. Turp claps Ballot on the shoulder and gives him a hearty congratulations. The entire room breaks out in applause. Ballot's almost too stunned to smile. And sensing his shell shock, Turp says everyone is proud of him. His settlement with DuPont brought in the single largest fee in the history of the firm. He took on a giant, and he won. And despite the overwhelming odds, he's managed to help mobilize tens of thousands of people, residents who are now giving blood for the sake of science and holding DuPont's feet to the fire. Turp grins at Ballot and says it's remarkable. Everyone knew he was talented, but no one realized he was capable of such a victory, an ability to persist through seven long years, fighting with one of the biggest companies in the world. He should take a bow. Ballot's anxiety gives way to relief. He laughs and grabs a hold of the frying pan. And he thanks the partners for the trophy. It means a lot, he says. But what he doesn't say is that this was the first time he's felt like he belonged. He always worried his colleagues disapproved of his work. They thought he would hurt the firm, drive away clients. But now he can tell he's won their admiration. And that's something he wouldn't trade for the world. Turp claps Ballot on the shoulder again, and gestures for him to take his seat again. Ballot nods, and gripping the frying pan, he sits back down with a big grin. Soon the partners get back to regular business, accounting spreadsheets, and recent developments in government regulation. Ballot tries to focus. But he's having a hard time, and it's not just from the emotional whiplash. Because it's beginning to dull on him that there's another side to being successful. Ballot is now one of the star partners at the firm. People have sky high expectations of him, and his fight with DuPont isn't over. If he doesn't deliver, if he loses these final battles, he may once again become the firm's dark horse. It's May 16th, 2009, and about four years later. It's a Saturday afternoon, and Robert Ballot is busy working in his home office. He flips the page of a scientific study and tries to focus. But as he stares at a long list of data, his eyelids begin to flutter, the number's blur. Ballot shakes his head, trying to wake himself up. He has to focus. But as he begins reading again, he feels himself nodding off, getting distracted. Ballot sits up, and tries to rouse himself. This is hard. It's a weekend, and Ballot should be in the living room, spending time with his wife and kids. But as usual, the attorney has sequestered himself behind a closed office door, with a stack of legal documents and scientific studies. Ballot had hoped the work would have ended by now, after he negotiated a landmark settlement with DuPont, but he was just the beginning of the next phase. As part of the settlement, Ballot helped assemble a team of epidemiologists, scientists tasked with studying whether the chemical CA causes any issues for human health. If they find any links, anyone who's been harmed can sue DuPont for damages. But it's been years, and the panel still hasn't finished his final report. The progress has been maddeningly slow, and all along the way DuPont has been trying to undermine the scientific panel, casting doubt on the evidence. So Ballot has had to keep putting in extra hours. He's been spending all his free time reading scientific studies, trying to fight back against DuPont and its misleading assertions. The work never seems to end, and the truth is, when Ballot looks at himself in the mirror, he sees a man who's haggard and worn out. Though Ballot will admit that his fatigue is largely his own doing, communities across the country have reached out to the attorney. He's become somewhat of an expert in C8, and he's ended up taking on cases in half a dozen states. He can't just turn away when it seems clear that DuPont has harmed the community, especially with some of the emerging scientific research, revealing that C8 is showing up in babies blood across the country, and that the chemical could be responsible for thyroid disease, liver damage, and the host of other issues. But Ballot hasn't lost his passion for the cause. It's just a lot. As he sits working on yet another Saturday afternoon, part of Ballot wonders how much longer he can keep going at this breakneck pace, and whether this work might destroy him. Ballot flips the page of a memo when his phone rings. Hello. Hi, am I speaking with Robert Ballot? Hearing that voice stops Ballot in his tracks. It's Della Tennant, the sister-in-law of Earl Tennant, the farmer whose dying cows first set Ballot on a collision course with DuPont. Della, is that you? Yeah, and it's good to hear your voice. I'm calling because... Oh, geez. Della, what's wrong? I'm sorry. I called to tell you about Earl. Earl, what happened? He had a heart attack, and they couldn't save him. Ballot pinches his eyes shut as he processes the news. This isn't exactly a surprise. Earl's health had been declining for a while. Oh, Della, I'm so sorry. I had hoped Earl would live long enough that he'd get to see the report from the scientists, showing that he wasn't crazy after all. I don't think he needed the report. He knew the truth. Yeah, yeah, he did. He sure did. Ballot wipes his nose, feeling lost, and a haze. Oh, Della, this is devastating. I don't know if I ever told him this, but he was an inspiration. It was like the more people doubted him, the harder he fought. He never gave up. He was stubborn as a mule. He got that right. He kept me going, knowing he needed me. Oh. But now, you know, I've taken on so much, and I've had some losses in court. I'm tired. You want to give up? No, I don't want to give up. I don't. It's hard to keep going. Yeah. But you know what Earl would want you to do. He would tell you to keep fighting just like he did. Keep doing what's right. Don't give up. Yeah. Look, every time you're feeling bone-tired, why don't you think about Earl? Think about his cows. He's always going to be with you. He'll show you the way. Of course, you're right. And I'm sorry for your loss. I'm sorry for yours too. No, go out there. Don't give up. Lot nods slowly as he hangs up. He looks out again at the stack of court filings and journal articles, and with a rising wave of grief washing over him, lot doesn't know how he could possibly get back to work. But Dela tenend is right. Earl would have wanted Bela to keep going, to keep fighting to Punt, no matter how tired he got, or how dejected he might feel. Victory never comes to the faint of heart, and even if you're feeling bone-tired and worn thin, sometimes you just have to be stubborn as a mule. A year later, Sarah Barledge turns the steering wheel as she drives home from a long morning at church. In the backseat, her boys were making a ruckus, forcing around, getting each other into headlocks and punching each other in the shoulder. Barledge shakes her head. She never expected she'd have three boys. But then again, there's been a lot of surprises at this point in her life. Pateet in fit, with dark hair that reaches her shoulders, Barledge used to be a practicing attorney just like her husband, Robert Ballot. And years ago she felt okay giving up her own career. He meant she could stay home and raise her children. But life took a series of unexpected turns, beginning with that cattle farmer and his poison creek. Barledge had encouraged her husband to do the right thing, to go after Dupont. But as she was being honest, Barledge didn't ever think the cases would be so entirely consuming. Barledge rounds a bend approaching the house. As she pulls into the garage, the boy suddenly bursts out of the car, pushing and shoving. Barledge shakes her head. That's boys for you. After this long morning, she can't wait to draw a bath and let Robert be the parent for the rest of the afternoon. Barledge gathers her purse and steps out of the car. But when she enters the house, she notices the boy standing in the kitchen, completely still. Her eldest son then turns and looks at her, his eyes wide with fear. Barledge feels her adrenaline suddenly kick in. She races past her boys, her stomach and her throat. It's her husband, Robert. He's sitting at the kitchen table shaking, babbling, trying to talk but not making any sense. His eyes look glazed over, and he's sitting with one sock barely on his left foot, the other hanging in his hand. Barledge immediately thinks her husband must be having a stroke. She snaps into action, ordering the boys to go downstairs. And she races to the kitchen, grabs the phone and dials their neighbor, a doctor. The man says he'll be right over. Barledge hangs up and returns to her husband. His eyes look helpless and afraid. Barledge doesn't know what's about to happen, not to her husband or their family. Whether these might be their final moments together. But what Barledge does know is that from this point forward, things are never going to be the same. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together. And we'd love for you to join us. Generation Y is one of the longest running true crime podcasts out there, and we are still at it, unraveling a new case every week. We break down infamous cases like the Evil Genius Bank robbery, and lesser known cases like the case of Kimberly Rico. Did she actually kill her husband after they took part in a murder mystery game? We cover every angle, breaking down theories, diving deep into forensic evidence, and interviewing those close to the case. And with over 450 episodes, there's a little something for every true crime listener. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or every listen to podcasts, or you can listen ad-free by joining Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. American scandal is sponsored by Audible. After watching the last episode of a spy thriller TV series, I was in the mood for more secrets, lies and double crosses, and it occurred to me. I don't have to wait for the next season, not at all. Ever heard of John LaCarrie, Robert Ludlam, Graham Green? So many spy novels, and by listening to them on Audible, I get to enjoy the dark alleys and dead drops doing chores in the car, even at the gym. And like all Audible members, I get one credit every month good for any of the many classics, bestsellers, and new releases regardless of price to keep forever. Like the Night Manager by John LaCarrie. Listen with me. Let Audible help you discover new ways to laugh, be inspired, or be entertained. New members can try it free for 30 days. Visit Audible.com slash AS, or text AS to 500-500-500. That's Audible.com slash AS, or text AS to 500-500 to try Audible free for 30 days. Audible.com slash AS. American scandal is sponsored by BetterHelp Online Therapy. This is controversial for some, but I'm convinced mind-body dualism is not a thing. What is that? The notion that your physical body and your thoughts are somehow different. I've got to hunch they're the same thing, or at least very connected. We've known for years, for instance, that a healthy body leads to a healthy brain. And so exercise and eating right can be a great way to keep your thoughts on the healthy side of things too. But the opposite is true as well. Keep your mind healthy and your body follows. You'll feel less tired, less achy, less hurt. And of course, one way to keep your mind healthy is therapy. And BetterHelp Online Therapy is easy and effective. BetterHelp is customized online therapy that offers video, phone, and even live chat sessions with your therapist so you don't have to see anyone on camera if you don't want to. It's much more affordable than in-person therapy, and you can be matched with a therapist in under 48 hours. American scandal listeners get 10% off their first month at BetterHelp.com slash AS. It's BetterHELP.com slash AS. It's May 2010 in a hospital near Cincinnati. Sarah Barledge places a dollar in a vending machine and watches as a paper cup drops onto a small metal grate. The machine wears and groans. And after a few seconds, a stream of hot coffee begins to spray into the cup. Barledge picks it up and takes a sip. It's bitter and tastes burnt. What beggars can't be choosers, especially in a hospital cafeteria. Barledge finishes the coffee and tosses the cup. And as she makes her way back through the hospital, she tries to keep her eyes focused on the ground. She doesn't need any more reminders of sickness and human frailty, not after the last few days. When Barledge discovered her husband Robert Belond in a vegetative state, she was sure he'd had a stroke. An ambulance soon arrived and when the paramedics wheeled him away, Belondge was shaking and seemed trapped in his own body. It only got worse when he reached the emergency room. Belondge was shaking violently and his arm and legs started banging up and down uncontrollably. The doctors had to strap him down to the table. It was terrifying. But then, the shaking stopped and the worst symptoms suddenly disappeared. Since then, Belondge has continued to get better. The doctors have been running a battery of tests, looking to understand what's happened to him. But those answers never come quickly enough and Barledge has lost her patience. She wants to know what's wrong with her husband. No matter what excuse the doctors give, she's going to keep pestering them and arguing until they give her something meaningful. Barledge walks through the hospital wing where Belondge is sleeping and stops a nurse. She says she needs to speak with her husband's doctor. The nurse apologizes. She says Belondge's doctor is busy at the moment. If Barledge checks back later, he should be free. But later is good enough. So Barledge tells the nurse that she has to speak with the doctor and it has to be now. The nurse glances around and sighs and gives a nod. She'll go fetch the doctor. A few minutes pass and as Barledge stands waiting, the image is flashed again through her mind. The look of terror on her children's faces. Her husband sitting at the table by himself, a shell of a human being. Barledge never wants to experience that kind of fear again. So when the doctor approaches with a clipboard in hand, Barledge begins hammering him with questions. What have they learned? What did the EKG, the MRI show? Did Robert have a stroke? Is he going to be okay? The doctor offers a sympathetic smile and tells Barledge that this is a difficult case. They've looked at the tests and it's proving hard to come up with any definitive answers. Barledge's cheeks flush with anger. She asks again what they know and what they don't know about her husband's strange condition. It looked like a stroke. The doctor shakes his head. From what they can see, it was not a stroke. And it wasn't a heart attack. They can keep her husband in the hospital for monitoring. But for now, all they can say is that it was a strange flare-up of something. Her husband is probably going to be fine. Barledge can't believe what she's hearing. Doctors always do this. They minimize people's concerns and dismiss everything that seems so obvious. But at this point, Barledge knows there's no use trying to argue. The doctor isn't going to give her a clear picture. So she asks what's next. The doctor nods and says her husband should stay a couple more days. And as soon as he can, he should schedule some appointments with specialists. But when he's ready, he can go home and get back to work. Barledge almost can't believe this preposterous suggestion. Going back to work. With this, she wants answers now. But before she can demand them, the nurse returns and tells the doctor he's needed by another patient. The doctor nods and excuses himself. And once again, Barledge is left alone in a hospital corridor. All along, Barledge has had the feeling that Balot caused his own collapse. That he's been working too hard and for too long. And while he's now clear to go back to work, Barledge knows she needs to have a talk with her husband. There's no way he can go on like this. At some point, he must slow down. He cannot risk his own life. A month later, Robert Balot wipes his mouth with an napkin and rises from the dining room table. Dinner's done and it's time to wash the dishes and clean up while his kids take care of their homework. Balot heads to the kitchen and hits the faucet. As he waits for the water to heat up, he turns to his wife, Sarah, who's quietly scraping leftovers into a container. Balot keeps waiting for Sarah to look up and smile. But when she finishes scraping the food, she drops the plate on the counter and walks away. It's almost like she's avoiding eye contact. Balot's soap, sponge, and hot water and shakes his head. The tension between him and his wife is palpable. And it's been like this for days. Balot feels immensely grateful that his wife has been so caring and loving, all throughout this strange incident with his health. But it's clear that her patients is wearing thin. A lot announced he was going to return to work, only a few days after leaving the hospital. And that seemed to be her breaking point. But things don't have to remain so typical. Balot knows a little bit of cheer. It goes a long way. When Sarah steps back into the kitchen, Balot sits down the sponge with his smile. You know, I read something funny today. Sarah opens a cabinet and puts away the salt. But she doesn't book back at Balot. Honey? What? Not in the mood to laugh. No, I don't want to hear any jokes. It wasn't a joke. I just... All right. You want to talk? Not really. Come on. We can't go on like this. Sarah turns from the cupboard with a look of fury. Oh, we can't go on like this. We, us. Because I'm doing something wrong. No, that's not what I'm saying. What are you saying? Look. Things are obviously challenging right now. Yeah? And why do you think that is? I know you're concerned about my health. Of course I'm concerned about your health. I'm concerned about you. I'm concerned about our family. I'm concerned our kids don't have a father because it refuses to stop working and take care of himself. Sarah, the doctors didn't find anything wrong with me. Are you kidding? I found you looking like a vegetable, like someone who had a stroke. And you refuse to see a specialist. They said I was fine. I don't have time to run around with a bunch of neurologists or cardiologists or what. I've got too much work. That's the problem. That's the problem right there. You need to cut back. You don't have time to take care of yourself. Stop taking more cases. Stop taking more work. The lot pauses. He has something to admit to his wife. He can sense that she already knows. You're not telling me something. No, it's nothing. Rob, you asked me to talk, so talk. Well, my boss asked me to take on another case. Oh, what is this? A joke? A cruel joke? You haven't told a single person at your law firm what happened. You almost died. And because of that, they think everything's fine. You can just keep doing more. I didn't almost die. And look, I don't understand. You were the one who encouraged me to do all this work in the first place. You told me to do what's right. No, I've always supported you. And I meant what I said then. But how long has it been? Like 12 years since you started this thing with Earl Tennant and DuPont? I meant what I said then. But I mean what I say now. You need to cut back. You're threatening the family. Sarah, I'm not threatening anything. If anything, I'm teaching our kids an important lesson that you find something worth fighting for and you do it. You don't give up. Nah. Even if it means sacrificing the people you love, the sacrifice is temporary. We are almost at the end. We got a settlement. And that was good. But there are thousands of people who need medicine, who deserve money, DuPont ruined their lives. If I don't keep fighting, they won't get what they deserve. Those people need me. Sarah looks down at the floor shaking her head. All right, you keep going. But we need you too. That's got to count. For what feels like an eternity, the lot in his wife stand in the kitchen in silence. The lot had been hoping to cheer her up, but now he barely can even look her in the eyes. So the lot turns and finishes washing a dish. After drawing his hands, he steps forward to his wife, who's staring at the ground. He feels distant. And he knows she feels the same way. It has been a hard few years. But he meant what he said, he's not going to sacrifice the family. The lot wraps his wife in a tight embrace. It makes a promise. He's going to finish this work fighting DuPont. He's going to see it to the end. And then he'll be back. He'll have Saturdays again with her and the kids. And he's going to see a doctor, because he's not going to let DuPont take another life. It's the spring of 2012, about two years later. In his office in Cincinnati, Robert Belat takes a seat in front of a telephone. Takes deep breath and dials a number. A minute later, he's connected to a conference call. On the line are attorneys and other executives from DuPont. No one's saying a word, but they don't need to. Everyone on the call knows this is the moment they've been waiting for. Four years, a panel of scientists has studied whether exposure to the chemical C8 causes disease in humans. They've analyzed blood from tens of thousands of residents. And today, they're about to announce the final results of the study. If the scientists have found that C8 causes harm, DuPont will be forced to own up and pay a lot of money to monitor people's medical conditions. The finding could also lead to thousands of personal injury lawsuits from people who can now prove that DuPont's pollution harmed their health. But it could also go the other way. The epidemiologist may find no link between the chemical and disease. In that case, DuPont will be able to wash its hands of any further responsibility. Blot takes a deep breath. The class action settlement was a big victory, but that was years ago. In many ways, it comes down to this. This call, the culmination of over a decade of hard work. There's a crackle on the phone line, and Blot's heart skips a beat when one of the scientists introduces himself. And he says he knows everyone is eager for answers, so we'll get right to it. The scientific panel uncovered probable links between exposure to C8 and six diseases. Those ailments include kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and dangerously high blood pressure among pregnant women. The scientist pauses, letting the announcements sink in. And in that moment of silence, Blot nearly begins to cry. Some of the world's leading researchers spent years pouring over a mountain of data, and their finding was unequivocal. DuPont's pollution causes cancer. Blot smiles, and wipes away it here. It's never good news to hear that people have been put in harm's way. But it is a relief to know the culprit will be held accountable. Blot knows that of course DuPont will almost certainly challenge the findings. They'll employ their army of lawyers in an effort to save themselves tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. But it would be no use. The chemical company is going to have to pay. And soon residents are going to get the justice. They've always demanded. Hello, I'm Florence Given, the best-selling author of the book, Women Don't Are You Pretty and Girlcrush? And this is my podcast exactly. Join me as I connect with fascinating guests from authors, cultural commentators, doctors, thought leaders to psychologists, celebrities, and comedians. And guess what? We're back to do it all again in season two with the likes of the holistic psychologist, Victoria Skohn and Iona David, to name a few. Season two of exactly podcast out now, wherever you get your podcasts. The End The End The End The End The End The End It's November 13, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio. Robert Belot walks up the stairs with tan courthouse and checks his watch. He's early, but that's OK. Because he's about to head into a hearing that could decide the fate of thousands of lives. There's never harm in playing it safe and getting to court a few minutes ahead of schedule. Belot enters the building and walks down a hallway with polished floors. And when he steps inside a courtroom, he pauses to gaze at the granite walls and the American flag standing beside the judge's bench. There's something noble about courtrooms, a place where justice is served. And Belot knows that today, if he makes a strong case, court is going to do what's just and right. The issue shouldn't be hard to argue. Three years ago, a panel of scientists issued its final report, establishing links between exposure to the chemical C8 and diseases such as cancer. DuPont is obligated to accept the findings of the report. That was one of the core stipulations of the class action settlement from about a decade ago. But somehow, DuPont worked up the gall to challenge that agreement. An agreement they co-authored. And the chemical company is trying to cast out on the science itself. There's no question why DuPont is launching this attack. The scientific findings obligate DuPont to monitor people's medical conditions. And with proof that DuPont harmed people's health, companies about to face personal injury lawsuits. So DuPont launched a Hail Mary, a desperate bid to save itself some money. If they're successful, they could undo a decade of work and cheat residents out of medical care. And while that possibility has Belot feeling anxious, he's come prepared to fight. Soon, people begin to file into the courtroom, including the attorneys for DuPont. And when the judge takes his seat on the bench, he wraps his gaville and looks out at the court. Mr. Belot, representing plaintiffs, please. Let's hear what you have to say. Your honor, the DuPont Corporation co-authored an agreement with plaintiffs. Under the class action settlement, researchers would study whether the chemical C8 harmed people's health. If these scientists demonstrated the chemical was, in fact, harmful, then DuPont would have an obligation. The company would pay to monitor residents' health and if they grew ill, they could sue DuPont for damages. Now, the scientists did their work. They found that exposure to C8 causes cancer. And yet, DuPont is trying to wiggle its way out of abiding to its own agreement. This must not be allowed. The judge frowns as he considers the argument. Let me back up here. Council for DuPont is challenging the idea of general causation. Whether one can really prove that, you know, someone drank contaminated water and therefore DuPont is responsible if that person came down with a disease. Your honor, that is their argument. But here's the thing. All parties agreed to a specific process. The scientists did exactly what they were supposed to do. And in the end, the issue is that their finding was just inconvenient for DuPont. All right. So you're saying DuPont has no grounds to challenge the process or the company's responsibilities. DuPont hired the architecture. They signed off on the blueprints. They paid for construction. But in the end, they're just not happy with the house that got built. OK. I understand. Let's hear from Council for DuPont. The judge turns and squins at Damon Mace, the attorney representing DuPont. It's an unusual sight. Mace is flushed with embarrassment because he seems to have forgotten to wear his suit jacket over his shirt and tie. Well, Mr. Mace, this is an unusual look for an attorney in court. I am sorry for this breach of decorum. I made a mistake, Your Honor. No apology necessary, but you have to admit it's a bit humerus. Maybe not for you, but for the rest of us. Bela Chuckles under his breath. There's no official uniform for court. But DuPont's attorney isn't scoring himself any points by showing up in shirt sleeves. In any case, Mr. Mace, please, let's have your response. Well, of course. Under the agreement, the science has to show a link between exposure to C8, and I'm quoting here, a particular human disease among class members. Now, we are discussing which residents have been harmed and who DuPont must cover under the agreement. And the key term the court will recognize is among. The lot stares incredulous. Is this attorney staking his argument on the meaning of a preposition? Now, Your Honor, in Webster's Dictionary, the word among is listed as... Mr. Mace, I'm no Webster's Dictionary, but I don't think anyone in this court has trouble parsing the word among. Now, I'm looking at the settlement, and it makes something very clear. Once the science panel came to its conclusions, DuPont would be obligated to the members of the class. So, I'm bringing this to a close. I'm sure I have a decision soon. And with that, the judge ends the hearing and rises from the bench. The lot glances at DuPont's attorney and tries to suppress a smile. There's no doubt how the judge is going to rule. He's not going to let DuPont get away with such a deceptive legal argument. He has no patience for it. And that means the scientific findings will remain in effect. And soon, DuPont is going to face a day of reckoning, a thousand of people take the company back to court. It's September 15th, 2015, and Robert Belat takes a seat in a federal courthouse in Columbus, Ohio. It's the same courthouse where he faced off against DuPont's attorney, Damon Mace, a lawyer who tried to undo a class action settlement based on a slippery interpretation of the word among. Thankfully, the judge didn't buy that argument. And the terms of the settlement remained in place. The science was considered valid, and residents whose health had been harmed could finally sue DuPont for damages. That's why Belat is back in court. Around 3,500 people came forward, revealing that they'd been diagnosed with one of the six diseases tied to the chemical C8. And with proof that DuPont was responsible for their illnesses, these residents have launched a series of personal injury lawsuits. It's a large group of people, and a huge legal task to process that many claims. So their cases have been brought together into a single trial. Belat is one of several attorneys representing the residents using individual stories to argue the case for the entire group. A collection of people that includes Carla Bartlett. The 59-year-old is sitting beside Belat, looking anxious. She has short blonde hair and glasses, and walks with a cane. And although he can't see it, Belat knows Bartlett has a scar, stretching from her stomach to her back. It's where a surgeon had to cut her open and remove a tumor from her kidney. Belat smiles at Bartlett and reassures her not to worry. They have a strong case. When all of this is said and done, DuPont is going to be held accountable for giving her cancer. She spent years drinking polluted water. There's no way the jury will let DuPont off the hook. Bartlett nods. And resting her hand on Belat's arm, she thanks the attorney for all his help. She trusts him. And while it'd be good to get some money, ultimately, she just wants DuPont to be held responsible. What happened to her and her neighbors? Blot nods. After 17 years fighting DuPont, he wants the same thing. And while he's had a lot of victories, this is the last step, forcing the company to compensate people who have gotten sick from polluted water. Belat looks over as the jury files into the room. The judge takes his seat next and then calls the trial to order. Belat rises ready to make his opening statement. He didn't sleep much last night, but it doesn't matter. He's full of adrenaline and he's been waiting for this moment for years. As he approaches a podium, Belat reaches into his breast pocket and takes out his notes. But looking over at the jury, he realizes he doesn't need notes. He knows this story like the back of his hand. So Belat just begins to speak. He tells the story of a cattle farmer in West Virginia, a story of non-stick pans and a company with a dark secret. A story about communities who lost a basic human right and the people whose health has suffered. It's a tragic story. But Belat says, even when there's tragedy, there's always the opportunity for redemption, the possibility of fairness, the chance for everyday people to assert that they matter and for a jury to make sure that justice is served. In 2017, DuPont agreed to pay $670 million to settle personal injury lawsuits, claims resulting from the company's pollution of drinking water. In the aftermath of Robert Belat's legal work, C-8 received increased attention from the federal government. And as of the spring of 2022, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to regulate the chemical in an effort to protect Americans drinking water. But despite those efforts, C-8 remains widespread. With its presence in a wide variety of products, researchers now estimate that some 99% of Americans have the chemical in their bloodstream. Robert Belat is still a partner at his law firm. And although he finished his work for Earl Tennant and the residents around West Virginia, Belat has not given up the larger fight. Today, he's still battling chemical companies that pollute the environment and holding them accountable. From Wondry, this is episode three of the DuPont Chemical Cover-Up from American Scandal. In our next episode, I sit down with Robert Belat to talk about the dangers of so-called forever chemicals. We'll discuss what researchers now know about these widespread pollutants. And we'll look at the steps the government is taking to protect our health. If you like our show, please give us a five-star rating and leave a review and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like, American History Tellers and Business Movers. You can follow on Apple podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening right now. Or you can listen to new episodes early and ad-free by subscribing to Wondry Plus in Apple Podcasts or in the Wondry app. You'll also find some links and offers from our sponsors in the episode notes. Supporting them helps us keep offering our shows for free. Another way you can support the show is by filling out a small survey at Wondry.com slash survey to tell us what topics we might come next. You can also find us and me on Twitter. Follow me at Lindsay A. Graham. Lindsay with an A, Middle Initially, and thank you. While we use many sources in creating this season, key elements of the story were drawn from the book Exposure by Robert Ballot. We highly recommend it. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American Scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsay Graham for Airship. Audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barrett's, music by Lindsay Graham. This episode is written by Anna Williams, edited by Christina Malsberger. Our senior producer is Gabe Rivett, executive producers, Marcelle Stephanie Gens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and Marsha Louis for Wondry. Antoni Kazákovova for the end of 2018 and her temperament. Aleksha Domóki and Francesa Gruney's stim K. Pol편 Ambiki Kظ