Attorney Robert Bilott delivered a powerful lesson in environmental contamination to Summit Academy Transition High School – Cincinnati students when he spoke with them recently. But that was just for starters. The Cincinnati attorney, whose compelling battle against DuPont inspired the 2019 Hollywood movie “Dark Waters,” shared equally profound messages about advocacy and justice.
Senior Donovan Davis described Bilott’s address as one that provided “younger individuals insight into the valiant effort of [Bilott’s] national crusade.” Meanwhile, Junior Celeena Scott defined Bilott as “a big hero to our nation [worthy of] a reward of respect and gratitude for helping people of this nation.”
When Intervention Specialist and Science Teacher Tre Davis reached out to the tenacious attorney-turned silver screen character, he never expected he would offer to speak to his environmental science students. At best, Davis was hoping for some useful literature about PFAS contamination. Bilott sued DuPont for dumping the dangerous chemical PFAS in Parkersburg, W.Va. for more than two decades. The chemical, used for coating cookware and other applications, is linked to health conditions such as thyroid disease and cancer.
Before Bilott’s virtual presentation, the students watched and reflected on the movie then drafted a series of thoughtful questions for the attorney …
Are you still involved in the lawsuit with DuPont?
How many boxes of files did you go through in your research?
What does bioaccumulation mean?
Does everyone have some form of chemical in their body?
Davis wanted students to walk away from the program not only with a greater understanding of science, but also their impact on our environment.
“I want students to know how they can stand up for themselves in the right way, to have a sense of awareness of themselves and their surroundings and to be their own advocates,” Davis said.
Davis reflected on his own experiences as a high school junior and later college student concerned with issues such as recycling, pollution reduction and environmental protection. As a junior at Girard College in Philadelphia, Davis started an environmental science club and recycling program focused on food waste reduction through composting. There, he found his voice and an understanding that he could make a positive difference. He wants the same for his Cincinnati Transition High School students.
“I hope our students make those kinds of connections, to not take everything for face value, but to take the initiative and look into issues,” he said.
Through presentations such as the one he delivered to Summit Academy students, Bilott said he tries to inform as many people as possible about contaminants. He also continues to serve those who are often under-represented.
Davis said Bilott set the standard for guest speakers in his science classroom. He added that the current virtual learning environment opens opportunities for welcoming additional influential speakers in the future.