Climate Corner: An Earth Day to celebrate

Apr 27, 2024

Callie Lyons

Earlier this month, we received unprecedented news regarding PFAS when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced enforceable drinking water limits on two forever chemicals — specifically PFOA (or C8) and PFOS. After decades of study and debate, the historic action effectively reduces allowable limits to the lowest detectable levels — impacting an estimated 100 million Americans whose water is contaminated with the industrial solvents.

The nation’s awareness of forever chemicals originated in the Mid-Ohio Valley with the Wood County, W.Va., class action lawsuit against DuPont over C8 contamination resulting from manufacturing processes at Washington Works. As a result of the class action settlement agreement, residents who participated in the C8 Health Project became an integral part of proving that exposure had a negative effect on human health and identifying health conditions linked to exposure. The information that came to light as a result of the C8 Health Project and interpreted by the C8 Science Panel was fundamental to all that followed — including the recent EPA action aimed at limiting exposure and thereby limiting harm for exposed communities.

“Above all, today’s momentous developments are a testament to the power of ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. It is only thanks to the dogged advocacy of people whose lives were upended by PFAS that the EPA is paying attention to these insidious substances,” said Mariah Blake, PFAS author and journalist.

The story of forever chemicals is known today only because of the people of the Mid-Ohio Valley who found themselves in the middle of a situation of global consequence long before anyone knew how big the problem really was.

Advocating in any small way against DuPont was never popular. For a long time prior to the class action, the voices of the rare few who suspected something was wrong with the water were drowned out by a more comfortable narrative. It wasn’t long ago that those individuals who dared raise the issue were labeled crazy or worse — and ignored or encouraged to relocate.

No one ever took up this fight because it seemed like a fun hobby or would advance their social standing. The individuals who did so were burdened by purpose. For the most part, the obligation to advocate for awareness and change came on unexpectedly and incidentally as they were going about their daily lives.

We know about C8 because world-class journalists like Mariah Blake and countless others have devoted their time and talents to telling the stories of people like Wilbur Tennant, Bucky Bailey, and Rob Bilott — and their long suffering families. We have seen them in movies like “The Devil We Know” and “Dark Waters.”

There are also unsung heroes like Robert Griffin, the manager of the Little Hocking Water Association, who wisely pushed for Ohio water systems to be tested at a time when only West Virginia water systems were being sampled — and regulatory agencies had to rely on industry labs to provide the results. Expanding the region to be tested ultimately revealed that the unconstrained contamination was far worse than expected.

Teams of people working for Brookmar united the community over one of the largest health studies ever conducted in order to learn as much as possible about the effects of exposure. They successfully enrolled nearly 70,000 Mid-Ohio Valley residents who contributed blood and medical histories to this pursuit of the truth.

Each and every one of these individuals contributed to the change we see today.

There are many other pathways to exposure that remain unaddressed, so the fight against forever chemicals is far from over. I encourage you to join forces with MOV Climate Action to take on this and many other pollution problems compromising our lives and futures.

Despite the challenges that remain, this Earth Day we have great cause for celebration. Congratulations to all who have reluctantly been part of this chemical saga. Here’s to a greener future for everyone because of you!


Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher and author who works for FITSNews. Her 2007 book Stain-Resistant, Nonstick, Waterproof and Lethal: the Hidden Dangers of C8 was the first to cover forever chemicals and their impact on communities — a story later told in the movie Dark Waters. Her investigative work has been featured in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth — a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.