Heard on the Hill

Mark Ruffalo hopes his ‘Dark Waters’ film leads to environmental ‘revolution’

The actor's new legal thriller is already generating Oscar buzz

Actor and producer Mark Ruffalo speaks during a press conference to discuss the ‘Fight Forever Chemicals’ campaign on Nov. 19. The campaign coincides with the release of his film “Dark Waters,” inspired by the story of Robert Bilott, a corporate defense attorney who discovers a community has been dangerously exposed for decades to deadly chemicals. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Mark Ruffalo wants a revolution.

“Are we a country that is going to be responsive to people and make sure that our people remain healthy?” star of the upcoming film “Dark Waters,” asked a crowd gathered Tuesday on Capitol Hill. “Or are we going to be responsible only to the bottom line of corporations and their greed? Because right now the people are losing.”

In “Dark Waters,” which opens in theaters on Nov. 22, the Academy Award nominee plays real-life Cincinnati lawyer Robert Bilott, who sued the DuPont chemical company for polluting a West Virginia community’s water supply. In 2017 DuPont agreed to pay more than $670 million to settle 3,550 damage claims related to the exposure.

The legal thriller, being described by some as “grim” and “urgent,” is generating Oscar buzz. Some Wall Street analysts even predict the film could become a major hit, to the point that it could scuttle a potential deal as DuPont looks to sell off some of its businesses.

Ruffalo, an outspoken liberal activist, made a point to “thank these native lands for having us here,” before addressing the crowd, something he says his “native brothers and sisters” taught him.

Then, striking a decidedly populist tone, the “Avengers” actor lit into “big corporations,” and a regulatory regime he believes favors businesses over communities. Washington should place “the people and our needs and our health before the health and the economic wealth of corporations,” he said.

Ruffalo, along with Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, called on the federal government to make several changes to the way it regulates PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of chemicals that are raising serious pollution and health concerns as communities around the country discover their water is contaminated with them.

The threat posed by PFAS, which are so slow to degrade they’ve been nicknamed “forever chemicals,” and safety concerns about their replacements have become a new national environmental crisis.

Kildee and Fitzpatrick, who lead the PFAS Task Force, are also pushing for legislation that would force the EPA to include PFAS in its toxic release inventory and publish a national standard for the amount of PFAS contamination allowed in drinking water.

Ruffalo was first introduced to Kildee when the actor visited Flint, Michigan, in the midst of its water contamination crisis. Ruffalo said he wants the movie to have an impact beyond water pollution awareness and also lead to a deeper understanding of the political process and how to change it.

“I hope this movie not only changes what happens with [chemicals], but changes our attitude about a system and changes our understanding of a system,” he said. “I hope that this movie changes PFAS but also raises another question about the system that we're living in, that’s betraying us every single day. And I hope that our representatives see that and become responsive to that.”

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