In the legal thriller Dark Waters, Mark Ruffalo stars as corporate attorney Robert Bilott, who takes on DuPont after linking mysterious contamination in Parkersburg, West Virginia, to PFAS (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances). Ruffalo developed and produced the Todd Haynes-directed film based on a true story, and while it hit theaters in 2019, he has not abandoned the cause of eliminating the harmful chemicals.
On April 13, Ruffalo joined Michigan U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (a Democrat) and Fred Upton (a Republican) and Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber on a virtual press conference to show his support for bipartisan legislation that aims to protect Americans from PFAS, often called “forever chemicals.”
The PFAS Action Act of 2021 is designed to create a national drinking water standard for select PFAS chemicals, designates PFAS as hazardous substances and allows the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated sites, among other initiatives. An identical bill made its way to lawmakers in 2020 and despite passing in the House, it stalled in the Senate.
“Let’s be very clear, PFAS is an urgent public health and environmental threat, and the number of contamination sites nationwide is growing at an alarming rate, including our military bases,” Dingell said on the Zoom call. “The PFAS Action Act is a sweeping and comprehensive legislative package, which has strong bipartisan support to address the PFAS crisis in the United States. It’s time that these chemicals are properly addressed to protect the American people from the hazardous substances we know these forever chemicals are.”
Per the lawmakers, more than 320 military sites have PFAS contamination and more than 200 million U.S. residents could be drinking contaminated water, which is known to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental issues, and weakened immune systems. “What’s amazing to me is that the EPA has known about the risks posed by PFAS for decades, and done nothing to regulate the discharges under federal laws, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act or the Safe Drinking Water Act,” Ruffalo said. “Sounding the alarm on this is important, but it’s not enough. We need to finally act. Who’s going to pay? If we don’t act, it’s us. It’s the real people. People who live in frontline communities, real people who are paying the price in the form of higher health care costs and water bills. The kids are going to pay and they’re going to pay for the rest of their lives.”
Dingell, a longtime proponent of PFAS clean-up, praised Ruffalo for his part in the efforts, saying that his film Dark Waters helped raise the profile of the dangers of PFAS. “People would look at us like we were crazy,” she said before the heightened profile thanks to the film. “His movie was not fiction, his movie was real.”
A version of this story first appeared in the April 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.