John D. Kimmerle Kenmore, New York
26-year DuPont employee and shareholder activist, age 54
(photo by Rhea Anna)
"I'm a machine operator and an executive board member of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical, and Energy Workers International. A year ago I was at a union meeting and first heard about the chemical perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA] that DuPont uses to manufacture Teflon. People were talking about illnesses at the plants where PFOA is produced, how it has polluted the waters and land.
"I then joined DuPont Shareholders for Fair Value. We drafted a resolution that was voted on at the annual meeting last April, asking the company to divulge the hidden costs of PFOA—legal fees, lobbying fees, lawsuit judgments. We also wanted the company to tell its shareholders what it knew about the health and environmental risks of this chemical, which it's been using for years.
"Being a stockholder myself, I was concerned about how this information might affect my shares. But the consumer, the worker, and the environment are important too. I don't want DuPont to go bankrupt, but I'm concerned about whether there are people this company may have harmed. I want the company to do right.
"There's a fear of retaliation for speaking out, but it's worth the risk. We had 9 percent vote yes on our resolution! The measure may not have passed, but it raised awareness about the issue. Because of the resolution and media coverage, people found out that DuPont recently settled a class-action lawsuit, agreeing to pay $85 million to residents in Ohio and West Virginia whose drinking water had been contaminated by PFOA.
"Maybe this resolution will encourage DuPont to change its ways, look more closely at the chemicals and materials it is using." —interview by Marilyn Berlin Snell
For more on shareholder activism, see "Shareholders at the Wheel," page 29.
FAMILY VALUES: An industry study found PFOA in the blood of 96 percent of 598 children tested in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
ON THE WEB The EPA has filed a federal lawsuit charging that DuPont hid information on the health risks associated with PFOA. Visit ewg.org/reports/pfcworld/es.php for more details and dupont.com (search "PFOA") for the company's response.