The Devil We Know' documentary about PFOA may be a film Granite Staters should see

By KIMBERLY HOUGHTON Union Leader Correspondent

Feb 24, 2019

Since the documentary “The Devil We Know” hit Netflix last month, the film’s promotional website has crashed several times because Americans are desperate to gain more knowledge about a family of chemicals affecting communities nationwide, the film’s producer said.

“This is not about one chemical,” said Kristin Lazure last week, a producer with Atlas Films. “It is really about a system that is broken. PFAS chemicals need stricter regulations.” PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, includes man-made chemicals such as GenX and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, the chemical found in Teflon.

“The Devil We Know” is a documentary exploring the coverup from DuPont and others that knew about the risks associated with PFOA.

The film follows a West Virginia community and its families struggling to cope with water contamination and health problems believed to be associated with PFOA, while also exposing those who knew about its dangers years before it became public.

In 2005, DuPont was fined $16.5 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in connection with the West Virginia Teflon plant settlement. The company was accused of withholding health safety data on toxins linked to the nonstick coating, according to media reports.

“When we were making the film, we knew citizens in Hoosick Falls (N.Y.) and Merrimack were taking on the contamination issue, but heartened to see the grass-roots uprising is spreading. I definitely think it is,” said Lazure.

Southern New Hampshire is dealing with an influx of PFOA contamination, which was first discovered nearly three years ago at faucets inside the Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics plant in Merrimack.

Now, “The Devil We Know” is being aired in communities throughout the Granite State — screenings that started last week in Merrimack, Keene, Hampton and Exeter.

Hosted by the Conservation Law Foundation and the New Hampshire Safe Water Alliance, the free film screenings are designed to raise awareness about the dangers posed by PFAS contamination in water supplies, and how people can take action to make the state’s drinking water cleaner and safer.

“This crosses a political divide,” said Lazure, adding it is a hard topic to tackle when there is very little oversight on certain chemicals readily being used by Americans and easily available on store shelves.

Lazure, along with director Stephanie Soechtig and others, worked on the documentary for about two years before its release, following families exposed to the contamination and airing video depositions of Dupont executives.

“Since the film went on Netflix, we have been inundated with emails and personal stories of people ... with health effects that science panels have linked to the chemical,” she said.

“I think the (Environmental Protection Agency) can be doing more, and right now they are seeing some movement,” said Lazure. “But my understanding, as a consumer of the news and having done the film, the (regulatory) standard they are suggesting is still too high for most people, and it is still a lot of talk and no action.”

Attorney Rob Bilott, the lawyer who leads a lawsuit against DuPont, is seen in a still image from the documentary “The Devil We Know,” which is now being screened throughout New Hampshire.

Atlas Films

The community screenings of “The Devil We Know” are important, according to Lazure, who said they help engage the conversation and provide critical information to consumers.

PFAS has been used in products such as nonstick cookware, food wrappers, water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics, carpets, firefighting foams and more. The colorless, odorless chemical has been linked to a variety of health problems such as testicular cancer, liver problems, thyroid disease, fertility issues and high blood pressure.

In New Hampshire, the film screenings will continue into March. Each screening will be followed by a panel discussion with local experts and activists, according to a release from the Conservation Law Foundation.

The events are co-sponsored by the New Hampshire League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Free public screenings of “The Devil We Know” are scheduled for:

Monday, Feb. 25, 5:30 p.m. at the Portsmouth Public Library.

Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord.

Wednesday, Feb. 27, 5:30 p.m. at the First Congregational Church in Wakefield.

Thursday, Feb. 28, 6 p.m. at the Plaistow Public Library.

Wednesday, March 6, 6 p.m. at the Conway Public Library.

Sunday, March 10, 4:30 p.m. at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre.

Thursday, March 14, 6 p.m. at the Howe Library in Hanover.

Wednesday, March 27, 6 p.m. at the Newington Town Offices.

Mindi Messmer