They didn’t turn green or gain super strength, but House Republicans were plenty outraged over the Democratic decision to call a hearing Tuesday featuring Incredible Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo showcasing his latest movie.
The actor and activist who co-stars in the Marvel “Avengers” movies held publicity events at the Capitol before testifying before the House Oversight environment subcommittee on PFAS, the hotly debated chemical compound at the center of Mr. Ruffalo’s film “Dark Waters,” which opens Friday.
“[T]he majority has called as their star witness an actor — that’s right, an actor — an actor with no medical, no scientific or research expertise, except for a few scenes as Dr. Bruce Banner,” said Rep. Fred Keller, Pennsylvania Republican. “An actor that has a record of anti-business activism.”
Democrats, meanwhile, praised Mr. Ruffalo for drawing attention to the risks posed by PFAS, the name for a family of roughly 5,000 chemicals used in everything from non-stick, water-resistant products like Teflon and Gortex to medical equipment and firefighting foam.
“Thank you for doing this because, to borrow from one of your previous films, it’s important to shine a spotlight on these issues,” said subcommittee chairman Harley Rouda. “The fact that you have a podium and a microphone and a platform to be able to do that is important for this incredibly difficult issue affecting so many Americans.”
Given that the panel has already held three PFAS hearings this year, the last one on Sept. 10 — which featured the Cincinnati attorney played by Mr. Ruffalo in the movie — ranking member James Comer asked whether House Democrats sought to “assist the promotion of a movie that may include — may include — false narratives.”
“Today we have the actor who is portraying that same plaintiff’s attorney,” said Mr. Comer. “I am a firm believer in the broad authority of congressional oversight, but I become very concerned when Congress uses its investigative tools in ways that can interfere with or give the appearance of interfering with ongoing litigation.”
The movie debuts amid the 20-year-old debate over PFAS now playing out in the courts, Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency.
In February, the EPA released its PFAS Action Plan, while DuPont and 3M have been sued by several states over the cost of cleaning up waterways, as well as by trial attorneys on behalf of clients alleging health harms from exposure to not readily degradable PFOA and PFOS, dubbed “forever chemicals.”
Mr. Ruffalo described his work on PFAS as something of a sacrifice — “I’d rather be with my family” — but that he wanted to use his fame to draw attention to what he described as “one of the greatest corporate environmental crimes in history.”
“I have been gifted with this outsized media coverage, celebrity, and I can decide, well, I can do that to do car commercials and make a lot more money,” he said, but that “I feel like from this blessing that I’ve been given that I want to give people the voice that don’t have a voice. That’s really what I’m doing here today.”
Even so, the movie has already drawn backlash over a scene showing a girl with black teeth. West Virginia Majority Leader Amy Summers recently tweeted she was “tired of these ridiculous stereotypes of bad teeth but I can’t say I’m surprised.”
Mr. Ruffalo testified that in “mass quantities,” PFAS-infused fluoride can darken teeth, while Rep. Bob Gibbs, Ohio Republican, pointed to a British study released in February showing no association between tooth decay and PFAS.
“I’m not sure if Mr. Ruffalo is looking for an Academy Award for his performance in the upcoming movie or his performance in this hearing,” said Mr. Keller, noting that Congress is already considering bipartisan legislation aimed at tackling the PFAS problem.
Republicans also charged majority Democrats with hypocrisy for touting the expertise of Mr. Ruffalo after raising objections at a Nov. 14 abortion hearing to a pro-life witness, conservative pundit Allie Stuckey, over her lack of scientific credentials.
“This week, the majority is trying once again trying to inappropriately use this subcommittee to sway public opinion and rush to try and regulate an industry where more research is required, research that should be done by scientists and subject-matter experts,” Mr. Keller said.
Mr. Rouda, who noted that the EPA is scheduled to release proposed regulations by the end of the year, apologized to the co-star of “Avengers: Endgame” for the GOP jabs.
“Mr. Ruffalo, my apologies for the questioning of your legitimate reasons for being here,” Mr. Rouda said. “I note that you are an author, a podcast host, a commentator that has worked very hard on behalf of these issues.”
Added Rep. Dan Kildee, Michigan Democrat: “Let’s not be afraid of a movie. We should be afraid of the story that movie tells.”
“I know it’s fun, and maybe sport for some on the other side to want to attack anyone who’s in the business of telling these important stories,” Mr. Kildee said. “But I will tell you one thing, as a guy who represents a community that was poisoned and overlooked, I’ll take help from anyone who will step up and help tell this story to the American people.”
“Dark Waters,” which also stars Anne Hathaway, was “inspired by” the story of attorney Rob Bilott’s fight against DuPont and Chemours Co., culminating in a $671 million class-action settlement in 2017 over PFAS run-off into Ohio and West Virginia water supplies.
Mr. Bilott, author of “Exposure,” a book about the legal battle, appeared Tuesday with the actor at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
“We have a major election coming up where this is on the ballot,” said Mr. Ruffalo at the press event. “And it’s time for us to have a revolution of heart and spirit and look out for each other. And for our government to look out for us.”