DuPont and Corporate Social Responsibility — Rhetoric vs. Reality

DuPont is proud of its "publicly established environmental goals," but the company has also faced lawsuits over allegations of contamination, and it's associated with 103 Superfund sites.

DuPont's 2010 sustainability report begins with a message from CEO Ellen Kullman touting the firm's track record as "one of the first companies to publicly establish environmental goals" some 20 years ago. During that same time frame, the company has been embroiled in federal investigations and lawsuits in several states over allegations that it contaminated air, water and soil over the course of decades. The Environmental Protection Agency has named the company in association with 103 Superfund sites.


The Rhetoric:
Slogan: "The miracles of science."

The Reality:
Dirty Miracles: In its 209-year existence, DuPont has been enormously successful in turning research and development into new products. It has been less successful at controlling pollution from its plants. In January, a Harrison County, W.Va., judge approved a settlement in which DuPont agreed to pay about $150 million in cleanup and litigation costs and provide medical testing for residents living near its former zinc smelter in Spelter, W.Va. That was the latest chapter in a long-running lawsuit brought by the town, where an estimated 8,500 residents were exposed to carcinogens from the company's smelter over more than three decades. In 2007, jurors awarded nearly $400 million in damages, ruling that DuPont was responsible for the impacts of carcinogens such as lead, zinc, cadmium and arsenic emitted from a zinc smelter the company shuttered more than half a century earlier. The state's Supreme Court remanded parts of the case for retrial, but the settlement made retrial unnecessary and wiped out the jury's 2007 award.

In Pompton Lakes, N.J., DuPont faces similar legal challenges and public outrage over a munitions plant closed in 1994. In 2008, DuPont and state environmental protection officials announced that chemicals linked to kidney cancer and other ailments had migrated from the factory property, sending toxic vapors into hundreds of nearby homes. In 2005, the company's joint venture with Dow Chemical Co., DuPont Dow Elastomers LLC, pleaded guilty and paid an $84 million criminal fine for participating in an international price-fixing cartel. The product: synthetic rubber used to make tires, shoes, furniture and other products.

Click here to return to the main story.

Click here to return to the main story.


The Rhetoric:
"... to be the world's most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere."

The Reality:
The company's seed subsidiary, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., faces allegations of misconduct brought by 20 migrant workers who sued last year, claiming the company failed to pay minimum wage for seasonal farm work, made illegal deductions from their paychecks and had them live in dilapidated and overcrowded hotel rooms. In 2002, the EPA named Pioneer in a case involving the alleged mishandling of genetically modified corn grown for seed in Hawaii.


The Rhetoric:
In the company's 2010 sustainability report, Linda J. Fisher, DuPont's vice president of DuPont Safety, Health & Environment and chief sustainability officer, says company executives "actively participated" with lawmakers in Washington on amendments to the country's pre-eminent chemical safety law, the Toxic Substances Control Act, "to ensure a strengthened, science-based regulatory system that protects public health and safety."

The Reality:
The 12-page sustainability report makes no mention of ongoing lawsuits over drinking-water contamination in several states that federal regulators have linked to DuPont's use of ammonium perfluorooctanoate, also known as C8. In 2005, DuPont agreed to pay $16.5 million to the EPA to settle charges that the company, for more than 20 years, covered up information about health risks associated with C8, a synthetic chemical used to make Teflon and other nonstick products. As usual with consent decrees, DuPont was not required to admit liability, and the company maintains that C8 is safe. Although scientists continue to study its impact, C8 has been linked to everything from cancer, and immune and nervous system problems to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. A study published in September 2010 by researchers at West Virginia University found that children and teens exposed to high amounts of C8 appear more likely to have elevated cholesterol levels. Around the world, researchers have found low levels of C8 in people's bloodstreams, presumably transmitted though contact with "nonstick" coatings on cookware, clothing and furniture, though Consumer Reports concluded in a 2007 study that risks are low for nonstick pan users. People living near the plants that manufacture C8 are considered at greatest risk. Drinking water in the vicinity of DuPont's Washington Works plant near Parkersburg, W.Va., has tested positive for C8, and area residents have higher-than-usual levels of the chemical in their bloodstreams. After C8 was found in municipal wells in Lubeck, W.Va., and Little Hocking, Ohio, the EPA ordered DuPont in 2002 to supply clean drinking water to those communities. Under an agreement with the EPA, DuPont and seven other manufacturers have pledged to phase out C8.


The Rhetoric:
"Sustainable growth — increasing shareholder and societal value while reducing our environmental footprint along the value chains in which we operate."

The Reality:
At a manufacturing plant operated by DuPont in Belle, W. Va., the company allegedly upgraded equipment without getting required permits or adding pollution controls mandated by federal law. The EPA fined the company and the plant's owner, Lucite International Inc., $2 million as part of a consent decree in April 2009. In July 2007, DuPont settled a similar Justice Department investigation by agreeing to pay more than $4 million in fines and to spend at least $66 million to reduce sulfuric acid production at plants in Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. In the last 10 years, the company has settled nine other cases of alleged violations of clean air, clean water and other environmental laws, according to the EPA website.


The Rhetoric:
On its website, the company features environmental restorations under way in New Johnsonville, Tenn., and at its Washington Works West Virginia plant. A similar project in Deepwater, N.J., is also featured.

The Reality:
DuPont agreed to spend millions of dollars on the Tennessee and West Virginia environmental projects as part of consent decrees with the Department of Justice and the EPA. In January 2010, the EPA and the U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey put the company on notice that they planned to take enforcement action to address alleged environmental violations at the Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J. In March 2011, DuPont Co. agreed to pay $8.3 million, settling lawsuits over C8 pollution in New Jersey water supplies. A month earlier, the EPA proposed making it mandatory for water utilities to test drinking water for 28 contaminants, including C8.

Sign up for the free e-newsletter.

"Like" Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add news to your site.