They knew something was wrong when the cows started dying.
The Tennant family kept around 200 cattle on their farm in West Virginia. But the animals began to get sick after the DuPont chemical company turned a nearby plot of farmland into a private landfill.
The case against DuPont, which was settled in 2000, would reveal that the company had been using the property to dispose of sludge containing a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (often shortened to PFOA or C8), which was used in manufacturing Teflon. This chemical was entering the water supply.
The massive health study that followed, involving 69,000 people, would link the chemical to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pregnancy complications, and ulcerative colitis.
The lawsuit was one of the first concerning a class of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). And these chemicals haven’t gone away, says Phil Brown, who directs Northeastern’s Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute.