It was the dead cows on Wilbur Tennant’s farm that shaped most of Rob Bilott’s professional life. Tennant’s farm was located in Parkersburg, W. Va.; Bilott was—and remains—an environmental lawyer at the firm of Taft Stettinius & Hollister in Cincinnati. All had been well for Tennant until 1998, when half of his herd of 300 cows began to languish and die. The farmer and the lawyer never would have come together, but Bilott’s grandmother lived near Tennant, and a mutual friend suggested Tennant call her grandson for counsel.
Tennant had reason to suspect he needed the help of an environmental lawyer. His property was located up against a DuPont chemical plant, which was sending waste to an adjacent landfill; that, Tennant believed, was leaching contaminated water through a discharge pipe into the stream from which his cows drank. Bilott took the case, and in the summer of 1999, he filed the first ever lawsuit for damages resulting from the class of chemicals the plant was producing, known as PFAS (which DuPont was using to manufacture Teflon). Tennant and DuPont settled in 2001 for an undisclosed amount of money, but the case was just one in an avalanche of lawsuits that have come since.
JULY 12, 2023 7:00 AM EDT