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St. Bonaventure film screening and panel discussion to focus on dangers of ‘forever compounds’

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ST. BONAVENTURE — A public screening of the film “Dark Waters” at St. Bonaventure University on Tuesday, Oct. 19, followed by a forum with scientific and legal experts, will draw attention to health risks associated with a group of man-made chemicals that have been detected in food, soil, drinking water and even breast milk. 

Presented by the School of Arts and Sciences at St. Bonaventure in collaboration with the university’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, the program begins with a showing of the film in the Quick Center’s Rigas Family Theater at 4:30 p.m., followed by a half-hour panel discussion. 

The program is open to the public and free of charge but seats are limited. Those planning to attend should register at www.sbu.edu/dark-waters.  

Dr. Scott Simpson, associate professor of chemistry at St. Bonaventure, was awarded a research grant from the National Science Foundation in 2019 to investigate these so-called “forever compounds,” known by scientists as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). Through the collaborative research effort of scientists at St. Bonaventure and at the State University of New York at Buffalo, identification of emerging PFAS is underway in an attempt to determine how long these compounds stay in the environment and aid in the assessment of potential health risks. 

“There is evidence to show that PFAS exposure can lead to adverse health outcomes in humans,” said Simpson. “The Environmental Protection Agency has established health advisories for two of these compounds. However, more than 5,000 different PFASs are potentially released from the multiple formulations produced throughout the U.S.” 

“Dark Waters,” a 2019 PG-13 legal thriller starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman, tells the story of a years-long legal battle waged by attorney Robert Bilott against the DuPont chemical corporation after unexplained cattle deaths in West Virginia. DuPont eventually settled more than 3,500 disease cases for $671 million. 

Bilott will be among the four panelists on the forum following the film. He will participate via teleconferencing technology, joining the three others who will be on Rigas Theater stage. 

An internationally recognized litigator, advocate and author, Bilott represents a diverse range of clients on a wide variety of matters involving federal, state and local environmental laws. To date, he has secured benefits in excess of $1 billion for clients adversely impacted by PFAS contamination. In 2017, he received the International Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” for his decades of work on PFAS cases. 

He will be joined on the panel by Simpson, who has authored 28 peer-reviewed research articles. Simpson is also a member of St. Bonaventure’s Consortium for the Study of Pregnancy and Prenatal Development, where his research is focused on identifying environmental contaminants that may negatively impact developing fetuses. 

A third panelist is Dr. Diana S. Aga, the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo. Aga, who leads a team that studies how a wide range of chemicals affect the environment, was awarded the 2017 American Chemical Society Schoellkopf Medal in recognition of her work in environmental chemistry. 

Completing the panel is Rebecca Dickman, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry and research assistant at the University at Buffalo. Dickman earned her bachelor of science in environmental geosciences at UB, conducting research in hydrology and water quality assessment.  

More thorough biographies of the panelists are available at the event webpage, www.sbu.edu/dark-waters

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