“The Devil We Know” Was Not The Devil I Expected


The Netflix documentary, "The Devil We Know," exposes DuPont for unethical buisness practices. (Facebook)

By Andrew Posadas

Socially and culturally relevant documentaries always catch my eye. Fortunately, Netflix offers an abundance of documentaries that captivate audiences with their eye-opening perspectives. This past weekend, I came across “The Devil We Know” while browsing through Netflix.

My first thought was, “Which devil are they talking about?” I was instantly intrigued. The documentary, directed by Stephanie Soechtig, focuses on the conglomerate company DuPont, which had its headquarters in Parkersburg, West Virginia. In 1945, the company began manufacturing Teflon, a non-stick coating intended to ease cooking life for households nationwide. Families, tired of scrubbing food remnants from the bottom of their pots and pans, turned to Teflon products, which in addition to being non-stick were also oil and water repellant.

Sounds like a happy ending, right? Wrong. What consumers did not know was that one of the chemicals used in manufacturing Teflon products had potential health risks to those in contact with the compound. To make matters worse, DuPont knew of the chemical’s harmful effects, yet continued to make and sell Teflon products anyway. DuPont made it crystal clear they valued profit over people.

Throughout the documentary, different residents from the town of Parkersburg share stories about the effects the chemical compound C-8 has had on them. Farmer Wilbur Tennant sold a piece of his farmland to DuPont in 1997. In good faith, DuPont assured Tennant that the newly-acquired land was to be used for non-hazardous waste.

Instead, streams near Tennant’s farms were infested with Teflon waste disposal. A farmer in the documentary included videos highlighting the adverse effects this had on nearby ecosystems. Many animals who used the streams as their mainssource of water fell victim to the hazard consequences of C-8.

Sue Bailey, who worked in DuPont’s Parkersburg factory the entire time she was pregnant with her son Bucky, was one of the many workers who pumped waste discharge from Teflon production back into the Ohio River. Her suspicions of health risks from prolonged exposure to these chemicals would be confirmed with the birth of her son, Bucky, who was born with facial defects.

What may frustrate you the most about this documentary is the complete lack of accountability. One of the stronger themes throughout the doc is DuPont’s abuse of power in attempting to cover up the truth about C-8. DuPont admitted in the mid-1980s that they were liable for any health-related damages dating back as far as 1952. Did they decide to discontinue any further Teflon production? Absolutely not.

You’ll be flabbergasted after seeing how DuPont was able to lead the entire town of Parkersburg astray for so long and how they used the money profited off of dangerous chemicals to help build schools and churches for the people they were slowing poisoning. They were a company powerful enough to influence U.S. government agencies on their behalf.

DuPont’s negligence rears its ugly head consistently throughout the documentary. The most damning example comes a year after the company found itself in a class-action lawsuit. In a meeting, DuPont officials admitted that while C-8 exposure did have adverse effects on people, finding a safer alternative was too expensive. Officials concluded they were better off continuing to manufacture with C-8, referring to it in the meeting as “the devil we know.”

The reality is C-8 compounds have been present in more than just kitchenware. They’ve also been used in some clothing items for water repellant purposes, added to cleaning materials like Clorox and even applied inside the Statue of Liberty to help with rust.

Ultimately, this story goes deeper than the residents of West Virginia and Ohio. Millions of people have bought Teflon products in the U.S., Europe and Asia from 1945 to 2015. I’ll leave you with the most shocking statistic I saw in “The Devil You Know:” 99 percent of all Americans have C-8 coursing through their bloodstream as of today.

Who would’ve thought the Devil came in the form of a fluorine chemical?