In 1792, a young French royalist named Eleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours (whose first name ironically is derived from the Greek word for freedom) risked his life to defend the lives of two of the worst despots ever to rule over a country–King Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette. Five years later, a mob of hungry peasants and other Frenchmen tired of being exploited by a corrupt class of economic elites sacked the du Pont family residence. In 1799, the du Pont family fled France, barely escaping the guillotine. They arrived in the new nation of the United States, where Eleuthère founded a company that over 200 years later has come to represent the worst excesses of American “corporatocracy”– especially when it comes to toxic substances like asbestos as well as its disregard for the health of workers and communities. Today, Eleuthère’s company–DuPont Chemical–faces what some say amounts to a corporate death sentence.
“DuPont’s asbestos policies [between 1940 and 1970 were so malicious that the company’s right to exist should be taken away,” said plaintiff attorney Glen Morgan in his opening argument as he compared the DuPont Corporation to murderers who would be executed if found guilty. Morgan represents the family and estate of Willis Whisnat, Jr., who worked as a contractor at DuPont’s Sabine, Texas facility in 1966. During that brief stint, he was allegedly exposed to the asbestos fibers that caused Whisnat to contract mesothelioma. According to expert testimony from plaintiff witness Dr. Edward Holstein, Whisnat’s chest was “…riddled with bone-eating tumors” as a result of that exposure. The Whisnat family’s case is part of a huge class-action lawsuit against DuPont Chemical.
If the suit is successful, DuPont could wind up paying as much as $4.1 billion dollars–which would in essence force the company to liquidate itself out of existence. The plaintiffs argue that DuPont management was aware of asbestos dangers as early as 1940, but like Raybestos, Johns-Manville, and W.R. Grace, chose to conceal that information instead of instituting policies that would have protected workers’ health.