Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver generally alternates between ruining your night by exposing issues both immediate and obvious (the looming threat from a white supremacist authoritarian cult led by a twice-impeached former reality show host and a racist fish stick heir), and just workaday insidious (ransomware, product integration, gross meats). Regardless, as Oliver put it on Sunday, you can count on HBO’s That Thing You Like Is Bad, With Saddy Longlegs (Last Week Tonight’s proposed original title) to send you off into the Monday work week with a little cloud of necessary but unwanted knowledge darkening your day.
This Sunday, it was the indisputable fact that your nonstick pans are killing you. Well, that’s too glib. What Oliver really wants you to know is that an entire class of thousands of chemicals called PFAs (or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that coats everything from teflon pans to stain- and water-proofed clothing, to fast food packaging (at places like Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Starbucks) has been definitively linked to cancer, thyroid disorders, hypertension in pregnant people, ulcerative colitis, vaccine ineffectiveness, and lots more. Oh, and that the company chiefly responsible for the proliferation of non-stickiness in the world, DuPont, has known about these things for more than half a century and, due to toothless EPA enforcement and cartoonish capitalist villainy, has left the world’s people aswim in a hazardous chemical stew known colloquially to scientists as “devil’s piss.”
So, yeah, you are, as Oliver noted, “soaked in the devil’s piss right now, and not in a remotely hot way.” Sending us down the tainted sluiceway that is DuPont’s legacy of putting its bottom line way, way above such petty concerns as whether dumping uncountable amounts accumulating toxic chemicals into public waterways will straight-up murder people, Oliver showed how deeply we’re all in the nonstick pee. Oliver presented evidence of workers at PFA plants dying off at disproportionate rates, entire towns forced to sue because PFA-laden water has their kids testing at 100 times the already-alarming national average of PFAs in their blood, and people forced to rig up massive water filtration units (one lady calls hers “Megatron”) just so their tap water is slightly less cancer-y. (That last one courtesy of Wolverine Shoes, whose vaunted waterproofing brings with it a watershed-poisoning magic coating of the devil’s urine.)
Oliver wound up his segment with his traditional how-tos for those of us interested in, perhaps, not ingesting quite so much negligently manufactured and dumped non-stick death-juice. There’s a website that shows the level of PFAs in your town’s water, and Oliver suggests pressuring PFA-loving companies (in addition to the ones mentioned, add Patagonia, North Face, and Lululemon to your call list) to halt manufacture of PFA-coated products. But Oliver knows that what’s really going to fix any problem is Danny DeVito scaring the hell out of you, so Oliver enlisted the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia star to star in a commercial aping the style of a 1994 DuPont commercial that touted the miracle of PFAs. (Decades after DuPont knew full well that PFAs were a public health hazard.)
In the black-and-white, artily edited style of that long-ago corporate PR blitz, DeVito’s Cosby sweater-clad not-scientist extols the “DuPont magic” of PFA’s. “Teflon is not one thing,” brags DeVito, “It’s disease, sickness, and it’s fuckin’ everywhere!” Reminding viewers of PFAs’ ubiquity, DeVito’s proud PFA papa boasted, “The same chemicals that are in me, are in you, and even in your child,” before exclaiming (with some reverb for added Frank Reynolds terror-emphasis), “I put something in your child!”