Foreign Press Association USA
Monday February 21st, 2021
Chemical Lawfare: Lessons From Carey Gillam & Robert Bilott's Battles to Expose Monsanto & DuPont
Ian Williams: Hello, everybody, and welcome. My name is Ian Williams and I'm the president of the Foreign Press Association in New York. And today we're very happy to have Carey Gillam and Robert Bilott with us. And it's timely because news, of both of their subjects, have appeared. Both are authors of recent books. Carey's book is coming out in a week's time. I think it is, isn't it? March the 2nd. The electronic version is horribly priced. It costs as much as the hardback. I've just been checking, but that's not your fault. I know authors have no control over this. Robert's book I just finished reading this weekend and it really reads - you might have missed your vacation Rob, but you wouldn't have had the material. It really does read like a John Grisham thriller. You're exploring the characters, the depth of it all and it really comes to where I was puzzled by the end of it from reading both of your stories. Carey has researched in particular, but not exclusively, Monsanto and Bayer, its current owner for their environmental devastation. And Robert Billot has been looking at DuPont and at the effects of the precursor chemicals for Teflon on the water supply. Both of these cases have been fought in the courts. And when I say fought, I mean, it really has been of First World War proportions. It's been a war of attrition with the chemical companies in both cases sending, you know, throwing everything they've got at these two individuals, I mean, at least the allies in World War One had backup. These two have been pretty much on their own out at the front, although Rob does compliment his firm for backing him through many years of times when they say, what have we done here as the costs mounted and the revenues didn't. So that's hence our title, which was Lawfare. This week Carey points out in her article in The Guardian, is the US government far from combating this devastation, is actually going on the side of Monsanto and trying to force the Mexicans to accept carcinogenic weedkillers as part of any type of trade deal. Rob Billot points out that the EPA, after its 17 years of warnings, still hasn't yet declared the fluorocarbons that he's identified and they're paying compensation for as a toxic substance to be regulated. So, one of the issues we would like you to look at is I think it's called regulatory capture, is when the people who are supposed to regulate this on a revolving door or hope to be on a revolving door with the companies concerned. So, if we could begin because, Carey what's the most topical, can you tell us what's happening with Roundup and Mexico at the moment?
Carey Gillam: Yes, as you said I had a story I wrote for The Guardian. I spent most of my career with Reuters, but I now work for a non-profit investigative research group doing Freedom of Information Act requests and writing for The Guardian and then just finished my second book. But a lot of my work since 1998, when Reuters assigned me to cover Monsanto and other agribusinesses, has been digging into the big world of agribusiness and food and farming. The story that I did most recently for The Guardian last week was one very similar to a story that's played out in many parts of the world, most recently a year or two ago in Thailand as well. Different countries that are looking to make decisions about what chemicals to allow, what pesticides and whether or not they want genetically engineered crops to be allowed in their countries. As the science is evolving, we're finding more human health harm associated with some of these pesticides, particularly glyphosate. Chlorpyrifos is another one and Thailand a couple of years ago was looking to ban this and we saw in investigative research and emails that came out that Monsanto and Bayer worked with the US government, pressuring the US government, essentially using the US government as a tool to pressure Thailand to abandon its ban on glyphosate. The story I did a couple a week ago with similar emails from our US Trade Representative's office and the EPA and other government agencies showed them working very closely with Bayer, Monsanto's owner to try to figure out how to override Mexico's autonomous decision that they wanted to ban glyphosate. The Mexican officials have said that they feel that the science is so substantial now showing health harm associated with glyphosate and they want to protect their people, protect their environment, protect their food security and sovereignty. And so, they've decided to ban glyphosate and certain genetically engineered crops from entering Mexico and the US government with Bayer and CropLife is doing its best to try to figure out how to pressure Mexico into abandoning that decision. So that was the story I did. And I have to say, when I first started writing it, I told the Guardian editor, you know, I don't even know if this is news anymore. Right? I mean, we just sort of expect that the government is going to be working hand in hand with these big companies. But then we decided that it's worthwhile to show that this is going on, to show that this is where our government largely is putting its efforts and its influence, not on the part of protecting people, but on the part of protecting corporate profits. So long answer to your question. That was what my story was about.
Ian Williams: It's a good one. It's well worth it, Rob, I mean, in your case, you paralleled your research for the litigation, for the class actions against DuPont with a parallel attempt to trap or not to trap, I think you probably felt, to urge the EPA to begin with state regulatory action. You know, you plied them with documents proving from discovery, with DuPont showing the damage and showing the DuPont knew the damage shown, that they were aware of and identified the damage. And then we come to this, the phrase that Carey used, 'the science'. And, you know, I've begun to wonder lately when I've seen the science invoked, it's often phrenology or alchemy or astrology. I think, you know, as people use it one way or the other and try to bludgeon it. And one of the things that it seems all the way through is that science is what you want it to be - if you're a company like DuPont, you can buy scientists, you can get papers placed. So, you have a flood of papers proving, you know, you could drink the chemicals straight out the top and it would be good for you. How did you combat the manipulating the science like this?
Rob Bilott: You know, that was one of the things that was the most eye-opening for me and I'll have to admit, I think I was fairly naive when I started this process. I had been involved in litigation, working with big chemical companies. And, you know, I had the assumption that if something was in a published peer reviewed journal, you know, that whole it's the science is the science, right? I mean, how can you have one side on the science or not? And then digging into the documents that we got through litigation with DuPont over the PFAS chemicals and seeing how the science was actually generated, how papers actually get published, how that process works, who does the peer review? You know, if you have a chemical say that maybe nobody else knows about other than you and your company and your scientists are then the ones who then are publishing anything about that chemical. And so, by the time people find out about it, all of the published peer reviewed papers are those which your company chose to publish. And then when somebody else tries to come out with a paper that maybe says something different and says 'no, that data was misinterpreted. And that's not what the study showed'. If somebody then tries to come out and publish that, the journals look for who's published in that before, you know, who's going to be the peer review and who do they go to? It's the people who published about that before who are unfortunately often the chemical companies, the same people. And so, somebody that comes out with this contrary view is automatically junk science, you know, misleading junk scientists that's coming out here contradicting the established science. And so, as I really started to understand and learn what was going on with a lot of this, particularly with these unregulated chemicals, that's what led us when we finally settled our case with DuPont over this PFOA chemical in West Virginia. That's what led us to realize we needed to find a way to make sure that the science was done outside of this system, outside of this very unfortunately skewed way in which science was being generated and published in the way regulations were being set is to have independent scientists be able to actually do the science and actually come out with their findings and announce them and present the results before you have all of these other folks who have already published start coming out and labeling it as junk science or what have you. So, we really set up a process to have independent scientists be able to actually do the science outside of this sort of tainted influence system. And it worked. We were able to get some of the biggest human health studies ever on a chemical done and confirmed by independent science, scientists who were able to confirm, yes, this chemical does in fact, is in fact linked with causing serious diseases, including cancers, and because of the way we were able to set that process up, regulators, scientists were able to then rely on that and realize this was independently generated information. Yet despite that, we still see to this day folks standing up and even to the US Congress making representations "that, well, we just don't... That that science really never, never existed. There just have never been any studies that link these chemicals with harm", you know, just rather mind-blowing, which is one of the reasons that led me to do the book, Exposure, to document, how this actually works, what we do actually know and how misleading this is, because there's an entire industry of folks that are paid to keep manufacturing out, to keep going out there and telling the press and telling the public "we just don't know enough yet. It's just uncertain." No matter how much science you have and how much independent science is confirming these health effects, these people will nevertheless get up and keep representing to the public "we just don't have that information. We don't know enough that there's not enough information to move forward and actually take action yet." And that's worked for the last 20, 30 years. As you said, despite all we know about these chemicals, we still don't have regulations at the federal level here in the United States because we still have folks taking the position "we just don't know enough. The science is still uncertain."
Ian Williams: Yeah, it's like micro plastics in the ocean. We don't know what caused that massive plastic lake in the middle of the Pacific. We'll have to wait until we find further studies. I was interested also in the personal toll, because I know what it's like to be out on a limb. And the character I've tried to model myself on, I think most reporters do, is the little boy who told the emperor that he had no clothes on. You know, in the mythology, of course, he's praised and everybody laughs at the emperor. In reality, I know the little boy gets beaten up by everybody for showing them up. And I think this often happens. I know Carey has been attacked for being a single-issue journalist, as if, you know, thousands of people dying of cancer related diseases was unworthy of their attention. You were attacked as an 'ambulance chaser' Rob as I could see, and that was almost proved true - as soon as you won the first case, the ambulance chasers did, the real ambulance chasers turned up. Up till then, you were beginning to contradict all of my views of lawyers. And then suddenly they reaffirmed it when they all end up at West Virginia to try and get the contingency cases after you prove the point. So, I mean, how do you take this personal? You know, it does take a lot of resilience to fight off when everybody else is telling you you're wrong and you know, you're the rational human beings looking at this. We think, you know, you do consider the fact that you might be wrong. It's only the Trumps. And sorry, I shouldn't get personal about this. It's only certain ex presidents’ who are convinced they've never done anything wrong. Most human beings have some reservations and wonder whether they've got it right. So, did you ever have any of those moments?
Carey Gillam: You want me to take it first? I mean, I think as a journalist. So, you mentioned I've been attacked as being a single-issue journalist. Maybe that would be probably the kindest attack, I would say. I mean, I've been attacked as being a foreign agent, working for Russia, trying to undermine our faith in our food system. I've been accused of being involved in extortion... These front groups that have been funded by Monsanto and others in the chemical industry have come after me. They're all sorts of articles out there about what a horrible person I am and a liar and a cheat and all sorts of other things. The company has tried to get me banned from working for The Guardian. When I was at Reuters, they came after me at Reuters trying to get me pulled from my beat. We have internal documents that came out through litigation, internal Monsanto documents. There's a spreadsheet, for instance, about how the Carey Gillam book project... how to tear down Carey Gillam's book and discredit it. This was before it even came out, my first book in 2017. They hired a consulting company in Washington DC. They engaged third parties and spent a lot of time and money and effort to try to discredit me while I was at Reuters and then after I left Reuters, so I feel the pressure. I have felt the pressure. I did go through some periods where I thought, gosh, is this all worth it? But to your point, this wasn't for me am I right or am I wrong ever? I mean, I don't think that any journalist I mean, what you're looking at is do I have my facts right? As I'm writing this particular story or this particular book or following this particular thread, what is true and what is not true? And it's very rarely black and white, I think there's often a lot of gray in there. For me, the black and white really was seen as has this company been lying to consumers? Yes. Has this company engaged in deceptive tactics in terms of the science and putting forth scientific papers and the research and engaging in ghostwriting? Yes, I mean, that is documented. Whether or not this particular chemical really causes cancer or doesn't cause cancer, I don't know. And I don't have a position. I'm not a scientist. That's not my job. My job is to lay out what the science says on both sides, what the experts say and what the company has done regarding the science. And so, a question that has nagged at me for so long is if the particular chemical glyphosate, for instance, was really, really safe and didn't cause cancer and there was no reason to think it would cause cancer, as Monsanto and Bayer have told us, why would they need to have engaged in so much deception for 40 years? You can look at it back through EPA archives, as I have done to the 1970s and you can see a very consistent strategy to override and influence the scientists within the EPA as it pertains to this chemical. So, I guess my work has not been limited to glyphosate and Monsanto, but in recent years, that is sort of what I've become identified with, I think largely because of my book Whitewash which came out in 2017. And just to wrap it up, you ask, how does it feel when people doubt you? When my book first came out, I did have a lot of other journalists and people saying, you know, I don't know if that book is true and I don't know if what you're writing about is true and you're saying you're exposing the science and Monsanto's deception and, you know, and then we have the litigation and all of the Roundup lawsuits and the trials and all these internal Monsanto documents came out and now people come to me, they go, “wow that was true, everything you've been writing about is true. How does that make you feel? Do you feel vindicated?” Well, no. I mean, I always knew it was true. You don't write it if it's not true. Right? I mean, you follow the facts. That's what you do. You don't take a position. This is not about a fight. This is about following the facts, being a good journalist.
Ian Williams: Rob in your particular case, you describe yourself, your company, your law firm did not usually deal with this type of business, it was usually on the other side, so they were going out on a limb. And you're describing how you ran up thousands upon thousands of billable hours and costs all on a wing and a prayer in the sense that your partners had faith and that you would deliver and were able to deliver the goods in the end. But even then, most newspapers wouldn't subsidize a couple of years investigation. From my experience they'd say after a couple of weeks, if you can't produce something, you're a dead loss go away. So, they must have a lot of faith in you to invest the firm's time in this case.
Rob Bilott: Yeah, and I think it's similar to what Carey mentioned, which is, you know, we focused on the facts and the data that we were seeing and the amount of information that I had seen in the documents from DuPont itself, looking at what I had actually gotten from their files and what their own scientists were saying was pretty convincing. And, you know, when we all sat down and looked at this, it was pretty clear there was a massive public health threat here that was being actively covered up and this information was being withheld. And so, it was the power of those facts and those documents and what the company itself and their own scientists were saying. And, you know, throughout this whole process, there was a there was a lot of resistance. There was a lot of pushback. There were a lot of difficult times throughout this entire process. But for me, it was knowing this, the truth's going to come out. These facts are going to be what people will eventually see. And that's what happened. It took a long time. It took decades to get this information out to the public and to the scientific community, to the regulators so that they could begin doing what they needed to do. And it was very difficult to get media and the press to even look at this issue because you had very large PR departments on the other side who were representing this, as you know, crazy plaintiff lawyers who were making up and scaring people about, you know, the well-established science that said there's no problem with this stuff. I mean, after all these products have been on the markets for decades and approved by the government agencies. How could there be a problem here? And, you know, I even mentioned in the book and you see this in the film Dark Waters, and they went to court to try to get a gag order to actually stop me from providing information about a public health threat to the EPA. And so, you know, in later years, we were able to actually see documents from third party consulting firms that were focused on how do we spin this narrative? How do we take control of the science here? How do we hire people to make sure that the plaintiffs' lawyers don't have access to these scientists? How do we make sure that whatever they come up with is labeled junk science? How do we get to the editorial boards of newspapers and to television stations and make sure that that our view and our talking points are understood and that this is all labeled junk science and made up and fear mongering, and it took a long time to get through that but what really started making the difference was having the actual documents be made available so people could see them themselves. When, for instance, the Environmental Working Group was able to start posting actual copies of some of these memos online where people could see them themselves and journalists could see them and actually start getting access to them. That's why I was trying to make sure as much of what we had that was nonconfidential, these documents showing the health threat were put into the court files were sent to the agencies for their public dockets so that they were accessible for people to report on. This, after all, was a health threat and we were trying to make that information available to folks. It took a long time because you had this counter counternarrative going on, which continues to this day, which, you know, we were fortunate as lawyers, we had the opportunity to actually finally lay all these facts out. We did that finally in jury trials beginning in 2015. And the jury's, you know, weeks of looking through all of this came back with verdicts saying, you know, that the company is responsible and acted with conscious disregard of the facts here. Yet even then, it was difficult for people to really understand how is this something that really affects us and to counter this narrative that had been going on for so long and even with the agencies that had been fed a certain line about what the science said on this, to finally start looking at this data and it's starting to happen, we're finally seeing it happen. But it really took some great journalists and some great folks in the media to start digging in, looking at these documents, looking at these facts and laying it out in a way that people could really understand the story. And Nathaniel Rich in his New York Times magazine article that kind of went through the chronology that was really a game changer for a lot of people who read it and said, "wow, how could this be happening in the United States? Nobody knows about it and nobody's been talking about it. Why is that?" That's what led to Mark Ruffalo wanting to do a film, because his view was "why is nobody talking about this? This is contamination of everyone in this country, everyone on the planet, yet nobody's talking about it." So how do we communicate to the public? How do we get that story out? And I think they did a great job with Dark Waters, the documentary The Devil We Know to put this very complex science law legal stuff into a story that people can understand, why it matters and why this is important.
Ian Williams: Interesting you mention that because Carey's got an NGO that's basically the right to know and you mentioned the Environmental Working Group... I mean, just how essential is the power of not for profits like this who are insulated from commercial pressures to some extent, who, you know, you can't get an advertiser say, "we will never advertise the Teflon cookware with you ever again if you run this story", how important is the not-for-profit sector in journalism just to get this stuff across? Well, Carrey since you're running one, tell us...
Carey Gillam: At Reuters there was a lot of pressure, now Reuters, we didn't you know, is a news outlet that doesn't rely on advertising necessarily. But the pressure came from the immediacy of working for a wire, you need to have big companies who want to give you breaking news and give you access to their executives and you're always walking a fine line because if you make a big company mad and that big company shuts Reuters out, but they let Bloomberg in, you lose your competitive edge. So, there is that element of you've got to do good reporting, but you have to try to keep the big companies happy to a certain degree, that there was that pressure. US Right To Know is the group I work for. We primarily just do Freedom of Information Act Requests, federal as well as against state agencies. And then we post those documents that we get for everyone to see. We share them with other journalists, with lawmakers, anyone who's interested in them for free, for the round of litigation, the glyphosate litigation we posted, thousands and thousands, I think of pages of these documents and it cost us quite a bit of money, you know, to access through the court system. But we put them all up for free. And we did that at one point when Monsanto was trying to, when they very first came out Monsanto, was trying to get them pulled back, trying to get them sealed. Monsanto wanted to subpoena my emails and the whole sort of thing. It was crazy. But yeah, I mean, I think to answer your question, we have a real role to play in putting these documents up where people can see them, because that seems to be, as Rob said, the only way to sort of get through the noise. You know, you can have people on all sides and you can have these very wealthy companies trying to manufacture doubt. But it's really difficult for them to deny their own words in documents where they're talking about deceiving and influencing and doing things that are not ethical and not in the best interest of the public.
Ian Williams: They do seem to be thoroughly shameless though nowadays. How do they sleep at night? In the words of John Lennon, wasn't it? How do you sleep at night? It's a question that could be asked to all of them. I mean, knowing what they're doing. Someone has asked, "what can the average person do to help support your important work? I'm presuming in the case of US Right To Know that you accept donations if they go to your website?
Carey Gillam: We accept donations. We don't accept donations from companies. But we do accept donations yes from individuals and non-profits.
Ian Williams: Good. Rob, this was in the end funded by the company itself, somewhat reluctantly, of course, but it relied upon the firm itself, investing a tremendous amount of time and capitol in the hope that there would eventually be a payoff of some kind, and obviously you didn't do it in the hopes of the payoff. I'm stricken in your book by, the image of the original family... and the devastation that caused them and his indignation, it wasn't just the money, it was the vindication. These people were killing him and lying to him at the same time. And he knew that and was righteously angry but when nobody else seems to be angry.
Rob Bilott: You know, it was fortunate that a lot of things had to align the right way for the story with the PFOS chemicals to have ever made its way out into the public. One of those fortunate stars aligning was my being at the firm I was at, at that particular point in time. Our firm was able to take this case on and we were a big enough firm with enough resources to be able to last, to weather the storm here. A lot of a lot of these cases, particularly those when representing, you know, an individual who's got a contamination problem like this. A lot of these types of cases are typically handled by smaller firms or even solo practitioners, you know, people that are on their own on a contingency fee, which means, you know, you're only going to get paid if you win. So, in cases like this, you know, and having been on both sides, you know, and I talk about this in the book, you know, that the dynamics of how this litigation often plays out, you know, a lot of times it's "how long can we stretch this case out? How expensive can we make it" in hopes that the other side eventually folds and just says, "you know, we just can't invest any more resources it's time to move on." You know, in this case, we were lucky that we had a large law firm that was funding and investing in paying the costs. And these were not inconsequential expenses for experts in epidemiology and toxicology and analytical chemists and, you know, you name it, and years and years going by. It was incredibly fortunate that our firm was able to do that and stuck by it, particularly even during the massive economic meltdown in 2008 to 2011 timeframe, when we're waiting to see whether the science panel would be able to come out and confirm the science here, the whole economy was imploding. I'm sure that there were a lot of firms that maybe wouldn't have been able to stick it out. I think it was it was fortunate. And, you know, I'm hoping that when folks see this story that other firms in our situation recognize that there's incredible value to doing this to being able to help people in these kinds of situations that otherwise may not have them able to do it, with other types of firms.
Ian Williams: What about looking at it from the other side, for both of you, you must have studied the psychology of your opponents, these people. They did a conscious calculation but they must have been aware of the huge costs if they got it wrong and the fact that the way they got it wrong, as you know, you managed to do it Rob, you did the 'gotcha moments' where you produced the documents that they'd asked for in the courtroom, you know, "there is no evidence", which must have been a tremendously orgasmic moment. But what were they thinking? They knew they were lying; they knew they were dissimulating; they knew their lying and the dissimulation was going to exacerbate the damages, was going to get punitive damages, you know, way beyond if they sort of settled and said, "OK, we'll put a filter on the water plant and stop this stuff getting in there…” why? I don't presume they're like the Joker from Batman sitting there plotting malice on the world. What motivated them?
Rob Bilott: Well, you know, there have actually been some articles written and I think the researchers were at Harvard University of Chicago that looked at the decision-making process in this particular case in the DuPont PFOA case. You know, why was this decision made and was this economically rational, given the outcome here? You know, and if you look at the costs and the penalties and the damages that were ultimately paid versus the amount of profit that was made during the years when this was being fought, was this in the end an economically rational decision to have made? And it is very troubling when you look at that process. And in fact, the documents were there and we laid them out to the jury, including and we mentioned this in the book, the 1984 memo, where there's a meeting in Wilmington, Delaware, where they're looking at the fact the stuff is in the water. It's "we've got some bad toxicology data, gee but we're probably going to have to be gearing up more and more production, which is going to increase our emissions. But we've got this potential alternative we could switch to..", the decision made to keep on using it and actually increase the emissions. Yeah, those are the kinds of facts that were presented to the jury that resulted in the punitive damage awards. And we even had the attorney emails where the attorneys for the company were saying, you know, we have the threat of punitive damages based on this fact pattern here. Yet nevertheless, they went forward. And again, you know, the researchers who looked at this and I'm drawing a blank on the name of the paper, but, you know, looked at the fact that in the end, even the once the U.S. EPA, even after they sued them and they ended up paying a 16 million dollar fine, you know, with some environmental projects, part of that process...
Ian Williams: That was one of the key points, that's the type of consent decrees which you mentioned frequently in there, a sweetheart deal with the regulators.
Rob Bilott: Right.
Ian Williams: Your agency gets the money; we go away and everything will be happy.
Rob Bilott: Well, even if you couple that with even the hundreds of millions of dollars paid in settlements, but if you look at how many years that took, you know, where you're talking about in the meantime, you had decades of billions of dollars of profits. So, in the end, you know, whether that was a rational economic decision and if that's the case, what do you do to change that so that that that incentive is not there to make decisions like this in the future? So, I'm glad to see that that is sparking a lot of discussion right now.
Ian Williams: Carey have you got something on this? Because I was wondering about short-termism in the course of this. Were the people making this decision sort of confident that they would be putting their stock bonuses and dividends in their back pocket and they would be off the scene by the time that the glyphosates hit the fan sort of thing? Was it a rational personal economic decision? Because one of the things about corporate law, the idea that corporates have all the benefits of personhood, misses the fact that you don't often get corporations sent to jail or executed or anything else but this happens to people. Corporations don't go to jail and their executives seem to have complete impunity from the consequences of their decisions.
Carey Gillam: Yes, I think that that is one of the fundamental changes probably that's needed, I think, in a situation where you have documented evidence the company knew that it was putting out a product that could be harmful to people that could cause cancer or other health problems, and they chose to do it any way, they did this economic analysis and "we're going to make more money and we'll pay out". Those people should go to jail, there should be personal accountability for these executives of these big companies, I believe. And maybe we'll start to see a change. I don't know. And in terms of Monsanto, people ask me that all the time, "why, why would they do this?" I think it's the same question for DuPont. It's the same question for the tobacco industry and the opioid industry and Takata airbags. I mean, you could ask this of any situation where a harmful product has been allowed or been pushed out onto the market and the company has done it knowing that it can be harmful. And you've seen it over and over and over and over and over and over again. It's certainly not a news story. So, what is the psychology behind that? I don't know. Now, I think companies, their duty, these executives, their fiduciary duty is to their shareholders and it's to make money and et cetera, et cetera. And there's the pressure, double digit EPS growth. So, we're a country that values wealth and we're oriented toward greed is good and we want to see these profit gains and that's played out through our lawmaking system and our regulatory system. And, you know, it doesn't bode well for public health. And we need fundamental change if we're going to stop this cycle. It's not just DuPont, not just Monsanto. It's across many, many, many large industries.
Ian Williams: There's another aspect for both of you where big tobacco seems to have set... incidentally, I remember going to Philip Morris before they saw the light and came to the big settlement, and at least they had the courage of their convictions. Every room had ashtrays. They all smoked. I mean, your guys didn't go around drinking Roundup did they? The Philip Morris people smoked. I sort of perversely admire them for the strength of their convictions. But what about the corporate results? I mean, Philip Morris realized they were on a hiding to nothing and persuaded the other big tobacco companies. So, there were a lot of corporate mergers and shuffles that were getting the most sort of litigation, the vulnerable companies hived off. They were moving international. They were resetting the board game to make sure that the litigation costs would fall upon one particular piece. And the rest, with a leap and a bound would get their stock bonuses, their huge increase in shareholder value, as the phrase came round about that time. Both Monsanto and DuPont engaged in this type of corporate maneuvers, didn't they?
Carey Gillam: They certainly did. And with Monsanto, you know, I mean, it's perfect timing. And it was actually just brilliant on the part of Hugh Grant and these people who were running Monsanto as the science was building, showing the harm associated with glyphosate, bread and butter product for them, tied intricately to their genetically engineered crop portfolio, which the crops are all designed to tolerate glyphosate. And they use this and have sold and distributed marketed glyphosate and genetically engineered crops as a package deal for decades. I believe they saw the writing on the wall and it was a really good time to sell the company to Bayer, get out, get their golden parachutes and their tens of millions of dollars in their pockets and walk away. And the sale to Bayer closed at the very beginning of the very first round of trials in June.
Ian Williams: Hadn't Bayer heard about due diligence?
Carey Gillam: Well, you know, as I'm sure as many of your Foreign Press Association members know, there are lawsuits brought by investors against Bayer right now asking that very question, "what were you thinking?". The evidence was there and Bayer now is holding $11 billion dollars is what they've agreed to pay out and they're looking to maybe pay out a few billion more. And we still have Roundup trials scheduled for this year. We have masses of rounds of litigation in Australia, that's supposed to go to trial this summer. So, yeah, I think those Monsanto executives are pretty darn smart when they got out.
Rob Bilott: You know, we saw something very similar, right, as the very first trials were beginning for the folks in West Virginia and Ohio that were drinking the PFOA from DuPont, a part of the Teflon manufacturing. And, you know, DuPont and Teflon were sort of synonymous and that was their signature product. Well, right before these trials and right before the first verdict finally came out, DuPont spun off the entire Teflon business into a completely new company called Chemours so that when the trial verdict came out, you know, the first thing we hear from DuPont is, well, that wasn't us. That's this other company now, over here. And then what was left of DuPont? Then we had this game going where what was left of DuPont then merges with Dow Chemical, forms a new company, now splits into three new companies, one of which is using the DuPont name, but really isn't related to the old DuPont so that the public is confused when they now see this DuPont entity making representations about wanting to regulate chemicals and do all of this. Yet, meanwhile, all of the assets are being basically liquidated. And so, there are lawsuits right now as well over that. And in fact, Chemours sued DuPont, claiming that they had been set up to fail and they just entered into a four-billion-dollar deal where they were deciding who was going to pay the first four billion in liabilities that might be coming their way as the litigation is now spreading all over the country, all over the world, over these chemicals and things like firefighting foams where you've got hundreds of cases now popping up. So, you see the assets are all being shifted away while all this is happening and it's just remarkable. So now you see claims being filed all over the country alleging that that was all, you know, fraudulent transfer of assets just to try to shield them from these liabilities that are now coming.
Ian Williams: You anticipated that didn't you in your settlement, you managed to keep DuPont on the hook for the Teflon division.
Rob Bilott: Well, fortunately for at least the folks that we settled for in West Virginia and Ohio, those class members, we've got an agreement in writing that DuPont will remain responsible for that. But unfortunately for the other folks across the country that are now dealing with this and have to try to chase those assets now, it'll be interesting to see what arguments come their way.
Ian Williams: Complicated ones, I'm sure. Simon Locke says, "can you share more about the complicity of media and other organizations who've been used to propagate the company's false narratives and have been willing to accept financing from these companies?" I think that one's addressed to you Carey.
Carrey Gillam: I could speak really only to my experience at Reuters and the influence that I alluded to this earlier, mentioned it earlier. There is a hard situation where you're in a competitive environment and you need access to the executives at very big, powerful, influential companies in order to break news and write competitive stories and have access and be invited in, you know, to sit at the table with the CEO of Monsanto, as I was many times. And if you're writing stories that they don't like, you know, they wield that tool, you know, 2013, 2014 I was writing a story about this group that is funded by the agrichemical companies and they were putting out information about genetically engineered crop adoption around the world. And I put one comment at the end of my story that was criticism from a group saying that "this data is flawed in this way because..." and it was at the very end and I asked the group for comment on it, "do you want to counter this in any way?" and when the story came out, they said, "that's it, you'll never see the report again. You'll never have access to our CEO again, that's it, you wrote a story we didn't like and too bad". What you see, it really depends on the backbone of the editor and I guess the reporter. You know, for many years at Reuters, I had an editor who said, "you know what? As long as the story is right, we don't care if they don't like it, the facts need to be there, it needs to be relevant and timely and factual." You know, I got a bad editor there for a couple of years. It was brand new to Reuters and he was very worried about upsetting Monsanto and ask me not to write about glyphosate at all and said, "let's just stop writing about any scientific studies about glyphosate at all." I thought that was outrageous.
Ian Williams: And Reuters has the luxury to sort of to do that. If you're the Parkersburg Gazette or whatever out in West Virginia, you're really much further out on a limb, aren't you?
Carey Gillam: I think so. I mean, I think if you're relying on advertisers and, you know, you need this money. Yeah. I mean, the pressure that comes to bear is both direct and indirect. I mean, there are also situations that's happening frequently like Bayer right now, and many other companies fund educational workshops and seminars for journalists and the idea is to "teach journalists how to write about their industry and to write about their products." And its very sort of, you know, nonchalant and very casual. And "we're not telling you what to write. we're just sponsoring this educational program to help media." and as media funding and advertising drops and newspapers are in decline, there's more and more need for funding of good journalism and it is coming in large part from corporations and that is a real danger, I think, because these corporations are not giving the money without strings attached, so that's something that journalists need to be wary of.
Ian Williams: And of course, you're getting close to home that it's Nostra culpa. Our own organization was approached by Bayer and offered money in return for favorable coverage. And when we turned it down, our former executive director seen his opportunities and took him. He ran off and his organization was funded by Bayer. So, there are opportunities out there. Anyone who's unscrupulous and listening, this is your road to fortune, write something nice about Bayer or Monsanto or DuPont and who knows, grants will come your way. But don't be rude about them, otherwise you might get cut off at the source.
Carey Gillam: That's a problem. That's definitely a problem. And that's why I think that in large part you're seeing a rise of a lot of nonprofit journalism out there. You see The Intercept, for example and The Guardian. I mean, they are great examples of publications that take donations, rely on them. Unfortunately, corporations are trying to get in there a little bit. But and I wanted to give it, Rob, we didn't mention it but I got to give a shout out because I just think the story that you have told in Dark Waters and Exposure and The New York Times piece was so moving. But if anybody out there is not familiar with the PFOS story and the extent of the deception and the magnitude of the harm to the global population, read Sharon Lerner's series in The Intercept. I think that will clear it all up for you and will scare the daylights out of you.
Rob Bilott: Absolutely, she did a fantastic job and like you say unfortunately even still with PFOS it's incredibly difficult to get anybody in sort of the 'mainstream' media to talk about it. You know, even when the film Dark Waters came out, it's as if it never happened. It was incredibly difficult to get people to even mention that the film was there, let alone the book Exposure but yet, when you see it go overseas, you know, it's like the film was nominated to be one of the top movies of the year in France. Yet in the United States, you know, nobody will mention it. It's as if it never happened. So, you have the sort of unspoken, you know, it's just not discussed and it's just not reported on, you know, despite the fact you've got chemicals, these man-made toxins in everyone's blood, babies being born with it, and they decrease our immune system, they could impair our immune system and potentially decrease the effectiveness of vaccines while this pandemic's going on. In the CDC, in ATSDR, even announcing they're looking at that link, yet you know, for the general public, the major media doesn't mention it at all, to this day. And it's incredibly frustrating to figure out what does it take to break through that and to have that story. Even if you've got a feature film, you have to get people to even acknowledge it's there. It's almost like they're, you can't necessarily show exactly what's happening, but you see the end result. It's just not discussed. We just don't talk about it. And that's what's happened. And, you know, and I'm glad to see at least a little more discussion is beginning, things like today, having these events. But it's just remarkable to think, you know, after all these years, we're still having to break through and still having to try to get people to talk about this.
Ian Williams: I remember a conference, something like this with Tom Brokaw, and he was preening about how the American press had brought up the savings, brought up the financial scandals. And I said, well, they all stayed quiet right the way through the savings and loan scandal. And he said, you know, you're right. The problem there was nobody brought it up on The Hill. I said it's your job to bring it up and bring it up to the attention of the people on The Hill. The people on The Hill have got their hands in the till, why would they bring it up? It's your job, the big major network, to go and search this out. I never got an answer to that one. And, you know, that is the point is that they report news if somebody else makes it news. How do we make this news? How do we get the indignation? I mean, do we get lots of people infested with the chemicals going and storming Capitol Hill? Will that make it, you think? It's rhetorical question, by the way.
Rob Bilott: I have to say I am optimistic, cautiously optimistic that we're seeing a change here because we are seeing legislation being proposed on The Hill for the first time, you know, to try to address these chemicals. We are seeing groups demanding that something be done and governors from different states and state senators and US senators and folks that are finally saying, hey, you know, enough, we've got to do something here. And we've seen a lot of momentum building. Now, I'm hoping that that continues and you know, that we see something actually happen. So, I think we're starting to break through. At least we're seeing people discuss it now in D.C., as if you know and actually mentioned this as a priority for the new administration coming in, which is remarkable to have this, you know, elevated to that level. But I just hope we don't lose that momentum and that this continues and that people keep discussing this.
Ian Williams: Carrey, do you want to come in? We're on the homestretch.
Carey Gillam: I would agree, I mean, for all the reporters out there who might be watching this, you know, do your job, like take up these hard issues, I encourage you to. And, you know, it's a daunting it's not easy. It's a lot of document chasing and work and science and educating yourself. It’s hard work but I think it's really important work. If you have access to these officials and press conferences and things, ask these questions, you know, hold them accountable, make these issues front and center. Because, again, as Rob pointed out, these contaminants, these chemicals PFOS and glyphosate and Chlorpyrifos and all of these other contaminants are having really harmful impacts on human health around the world. It’s sort of behind the scenes and it's not particularly obvious, but it is happening. And to me, that's you know, it's an incredibly important thing to cover. We should be covering it. It's a lot more important than Ted Cruz going to Mexico are not going to Mexico for crying out loud. I mean, do the hard work that's good for the world.
Ian Williams: Can we blame PFOS for his peculiar facial hair? That's a totally gratuitous aside. Look, I really have to thank you both. One of the horrifying things I woke up with in the middle of last night I thought it's sort of its Déjà vu all over again, mercury, asbestos, lead tetraethyl. All of these things, that many of which I've personally been exposed to my working life. I used move train wagons of lead tetraethyl not realizing it was the equivalent of a plutonium load about to go off. As I said, I've dealt with weedkillers. So, I mean, it's frightening that this is affecting whole generations and we're not shouting about it. So, thank you two for shouting about it, from the Foreign Press Association. Thank you for listening and we hope everybody out there gets geed up, fired and catalyzed into exposing more of this. And you don't even have to do your own exposure, you just have to expose in your media what it is that's already out there. The information, the Carey and Rob Bilott have put out there is enough to make a headline, is enough to make a feature. It's not beyond any editorial capacity to alert people to what's going on and to galvanize them into doing something about it. I'll get down off the pulpit now and say once again, thank you very much. Keep in touch with the Foreign Press Association. Do follow what we're doing, we're trying our best, unfunded by chemical companies to get the word across. Do get in touch. Do join. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Bye.