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Excerpt from Our Stolen Future’s Chapter, “Fifty Ways to Lose Your Fertility.”

Humans have long used marijuana as a drug because the chemicals it contains act in the brain to alter mood and perception, creating a “high.” But as Hughes and others discovered, these chemicals do more than induce a pleasant mellowness; they interfere with reproduction in a variety of ways. The same compound that makes a pot smoker high also acts on the testicles to reduce the synthesis of testosterone and on the brain to suppress lutenizing hormone, a key hormone that cues ovulation in females and testosterone production in males. Studies have reported that marijuana feminized men who smoked it heavily.
Hughes’s work focused on the way that marijuana interferes with the hormone prolactin, which is produced in the brain and signals the breast to produce milk. Mother rats given marijuana produced no milk, and their pups died of starvation. Hughes later moved on to investigate the effects of plant estrogens on the endocrine system and the hormones that orchestrate reproduction, an area few scientists had explored.

For such a defensive strategy to work, he explains, the plant would logically target females rather than males because a predator’s reproduction is limited. by the number of fertile females. If, for example, a plant managed to impair the fertility of all the males save one, that single male can, nevertheless, fertilize an entire flock of females. But if only a single female is fertile, she can produce only one or two lambs. Plants containing estrogen mimics produce them according to a seasonal pattern that fits perfectly with this strategy. Clover packs the greatest concentrations of estrogenic compounds into the new growth in spring, and when a rabbit or a sheep injures it by munching on these tender shoots, the plant responds by producing even more estrogen at the site of injury, delivering an added dose to predators that continue grazing.

Mother Jones

Meet the Mom Who Helped Expose Flint’s Toxic Water Nightmare

 

LeeAnne Walters’ tap water tested at 27 times the EPA limit for lead. The city offered her a garden hose.

On a chilly evening last March in Flint, Michigan, LeeAnne Walters was getting ready for bed when she heard her daughter shriek from the bathroom of the family’s two-story clapboard house. She ran upstairs to find 18-year-old Kaylie standing in the shower, staring at a clump of long brown hair that had fallen from her head.

Walters, a 37-year-old mother of four, was alarmed but not surprised—the entire family was losing hair. There had been other strange maladies over the previous few months: The twins, three-year-old Gavin and Garrett, kept breaking out in rashes. Gavin had stopped growing. On several occasions, 14-year-old JD had suffered abdominal pains so severe that Walters took him to the hospital. At one point, all of LeeAnne’s own eyelashes fell out.

The family, as you have probably guessed, was suffering from the effects of lead in Flint’s water supply—contamination that will have long-term, irreversible neurological consequences on the city’s children. The exposure has quietly devastated Flint since April 2014, when, in an effort to cut costs, a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s water source from Detroit’s water system over to the Flint River.

Elected officials toasted the change with glasses of water, but some longtime residents were skeptical, particularly since Flint-based General Motors had once used the river as a dumping ground. “I thought it was one of those Onion articles,” said Rhonda Kelso, a 52-year-old Flint native. “We already knew the Flint River was toxic waste.”

The lead exposure persisted for 17 months, despite repeated complaints from residents of this majority-black city. It is in no small part thanks to Walters, a no-nonsense stay-at-home mom with a husband in the Navy, that the Flint situation is now a full-blown national scandal complete with a class-action lawsuit, a federal investigation, National Guard troops, and many people—including Bernie Sanders—calling for the resignation of Gov. Rick Snyder. “Without [Walters] we would be nowhere,” Mona Hanna-Attisha, the head of pediatrics at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, told me. “She’s the crux of all of this.”

It was the summer of 2014 when Walters first realized something was very wrong: Each time she bathed the three-year-olds, they would break out in tiny red bumps. Sometimes, when Gavin had soaked in the tub for a while, scaly red skin would form across his chest at the water line. That November, after brown water started flowing from her taps, Walters decided it was time to stock up on bottled water.

The family developed a routine: For toothbrushing, a gallon of water was left by the bathroom sink. Crates of water for drinking and cooking crowded the kitchen. The adults and teenagers showered whenever possible at friends’ houses outside Flint; when they had to do it at home, they flushed out the taps first and limited showers to five minutes. Gavin and Garrett got weekly baths in bottled water and sponge baths with baby wipes on the other days. Slowly, the acute symptoms began to wane.

In January 2015, Flint officials sent out a notice declaring that the city’s water contained high levels of trihalomethanes, the byproduct of a disinfectant used to treat the water. Over time, these chemicals can cause liver, kidney, and nervous system problems. The advisory warned that sick and elderly people might be at an increased risk, but it said the water was otherwise safe to drink. “That was when I went to my first city council meeting,” Walters told me.

She wasn’t the only one. Flint residents showed up in droves, many complaining of stinky, tainted water coming out of their taps. They cited symptoms ranging from hair loss and rashes to memory and vision loss.

The problem was exacerbated by a lack of alternatives. Flint is one of America’s poorest cities, with 41 percent of its residents living in poverty. Many couldn’t afford bottled water or make the trek to obtain it—the city of 100,000 only has one major grocery store, on the far side of town. Kelso, a stroke survivor who lives with her 12-year-old daughter, relied on relatives to take her on water runs outside the city. “Sometimes there’s no water,” she said. “People who can buy water, they buy it up.”

Throughout most of 2015, the city and state maintained there was nothing to worry about. “I want to assure everyone that the city is sensitive to the public’s concerns,” Dayne Walling, then Flint’s mayor, declared at a press conference that January. “The city water is safe to drink. My family and I drink it and use it every day.” Walters and others, dubbing themselves “water warriors,” began staging regular protests outside City Hall.

In February, at Walters’ urging, the city sent an employee to test the water coming from her taps. A few days later, she received a voice mail from the water department, warning her to keep her kids away from the water. “You know when somebody calls and you can just hear the panic in their voice? It was that,” Walters recalled. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s no safe level of lead in drinking water. The maximum concentration allowed by law is 15 parts per billion. The Walters’ tap water measured nearly 400 ppb.

Walters began compulsively researching lead exposure. She learned, to her horror, that the element has a particularly dramatic effect on young children, with long-term symptoms that can include a lower IQ, shortened attention span, and increases in violence and antisocial behavior—not to mention effects on reproductive and other organs. Studies also have tied higher lead levels to significantly increased rates of crime and teen pregnancy. The neurological and behavioral effects, notes the World Health Organization, “are believed to be irreversible.”

Walters rushed to get her children tested, and the results confirmed her worst fears: All four kids had been exposed to lead, and Gavin, who already had immune system problems, had bona fide lead poisoning, which put him at far greater risk. “I was hysterical,” said Walters. “At first, it was self-blame. And then there’s that anger: How are they letting them do this?”

The city’s initial response was to hook up a garden hose to her neighbor’s house to provide water for her family—officials claimed that the problem probably had to do with the Walters’ own plumbing. Just days after Walters got the results of her children’s blood tests, Gov. Snyder’s office assured residents that “Flint’s water system is producing water that meets all state and federal standards.” (Representatives from the city and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality declined to comment for this story.)

Walters, who is trained as a medical assistant, began staying up late at night to go through reams of Flint water quality reports. She learned that Flint River water is more corrosive than Detroit tap water, and she wondered why Flint hadn’t applied standard chemicals—known as corrosion controls—to prevent the leaching of metal from its aging pipes into the water supply. This treatment is critical in a city such as Flint, where half of households are connected to a lead water line. She also didn’t understand why the city employee who tested her water ran the tap for several minutes before taking a sample. If something were building up in her pipes, wouldn’t flushing it out understate the results?

Frustrated with the city’s lackadaisical response, Walters called Miguel Del Toral, a manager at the EPA’s Midwest water division, last March. She explained that Flint didn’t appear to be using corrosion controls and that it was flushing pipes before conducting lead tests. She also emailed him water quality reports for the previous year. Del Toral was floored. “From a technical standpoint, there’s just no justification for the way Flint is conducting its tests,” he later told the American Civil Liberties Union. “Any credible scientist will tell you [the city’s] method is not the way to catch worst-case conditions.”

By contacting Del Toral, Walters unwittingly unleashed a chain of investigations. He introduced her to Marc Edwards, an expert in lead corrosion at Virginia Tech who instructed her to collect new samples from her house without pre-flushing the pipes. In those samples, Edwards found lead concentrations of 13,200 ppb—more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste. “At that point, you do not just have smoke, you have a three-alarm fire and should respond immediately,” he told the Detroit News.

Edwards put together a team to conduct field tests in Flint and to seek data from the city and the state. Del Toral, meanwhile, relayed his concerns to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, setting off a slow, bureaucratic back-and-forth between the state and the EPA. News that that the Virginia Tech team and the EPA were looking into the matter alarmed Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center. She began researching the blood lead levels of Flint’s youngest children before and after the change of water supply, comparing them with children living elsewhere in Genesee County.

The results from both investigations came back last September. Edwards’ tests suggested that one in six Flint homes had lead water levels exceeding the EPA’s safety threshold. Hanna-Attisha found that the rate of children younger than five with elevated lead concentrations in their blood had doubled—and in some areas, tripled—following the switch to Flint River water. The effect, she told CNN, would be analogous to “drinking through lead-painted straws.”

The day after Hanna-Attisha’s findings came out, the city released a lead advisory. State officials remained skeptical, insisting that the results were incorrect and that Flint’s water met federal standards. But by mid-October, after weeks of deliberations and lots of bad press, Gov. Snyder ordered that Flint’s water supply be switched back to the Detroit system. “It recently has become clear that our drinking-water program staff made a mistake while working with the city of Flint,” said Dan Wyant, the state’s Environmental Quality Director, who resigned not long after. “Simply stated, staff employed a federal protocol they believed was appropriate, and it was not.”

Earlier this month, Snyder deployed National Guard troops to work alongside Red Cross volunteers, delivering bottled water, water filters, and lead-testing kits to Flint residents—who still can’t drink from the tap thanks to the corroded lead pipes. On Saturday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Flint, entitling the city to federal disaster relief funds. Several residents, including Rhonda Kelso, have joined together in a class-action suit targeting city and state officials, including ex-Mayor Walling and Gov. Snyder. The US Attorney’s Office for Michigan’s Eastern District has launched its own investigation into the crisis.

The Walters no longer live in Flint—they moved to Virginia in October, partly in response to the contamination. But the water issue continues to consume LeeAnne, who regularly Skypes into meetings and fields calls with politicians and activists. She recently traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with EPA officials. Other Flint moms seek her out for advice; one telephoned after tests found that her 15-year-old daughter had the liver function of a 75-year-old. Walters won’t let her family drink Virginia tap water until she’s had it tested—or eat at a restaurant without reviewing its health reports in advance.

At five years old, Gavin weighs a mere 35 pounds to his twin brother’s 53.

The hardest thing, she says, is not knowing how the lead exposure will affect her kids in the long term. Gavin was the “party animal” of the twins, but lately he’s lost his appetite and sleeps more. At five, he weighs a mere 35 pounds to Garrett’s 53, and he mispronounces words that he could once handle. Garrett was recently diagnosed with ADHD. Both boys continue to ask, when handed a cup of water, whether it is “good water or bad water.”

When I asked Walters what she makes of all the national attention, she paused. “Everybody’s been asking, ‘How do you feel now that people are finally listening? Do you feel satisfied?'”

Then she was crying. “Every time I get a call from another mother whose child is sick,” she managed, “it doesn’t feel like a victory.”

Meet the mom who helped expose Flint’s toxic water nightmare

Bring Back Antitrust

Despite low inflation and some bargain prices, economic concentration and novel abuses of market power are pervasive in today’s economy—harming consumers, workers, and innovators. We need a new antitrust for a new predatory era.

By David Dayen

In the late 1980s, Thomas Shaw of Little Elm, Texas, watched a news report about surging HIV and Hepatitis C contractions among health-care workers. When treating patients, nurses and hospital personnel would accidentally stick themselves with used needles.

Shaw had childhood friends suffering from AIDS, and he wanted to help. “I knew I couldn’t fix the biology side of it, but I could fix one part because I’m a mechanical engineer,” Shaw says. So he went to the nearest drugstore and bought a bunch of syringes. He spent years taking them apart until he finally came up with a way to solve the needle-stick epidemic.

Shaw’s syringe operated like a ballpoint pen: Once you fully depressed the needle into the patient, a ring would snap and retract the needle, allowing workers to safely pull out the implement. He called it VanishPoint. If disposed of after a single use, it would eliminate needle-stick entirely.

Shaw patented VanishPoint and formed a company, Retractable Technologies, in 1997. He got a Small Business Innovation Research grant, $650,000 from the National Institutes of Health, to manufacture his product and get it to market. But that’s when he learned about Becton, Dickinson & Co. (BD), which sells 80 percent of all syringes in America.

After 18 years in operation, after a federal law mandating that hospitals work to prevent needle-stick, and after two successful lawsuits resulting in BD paying more than $400 million for violating anti-monopoly statutes, Retractable Technologies made only $34 million in global sales last year. BD, with an inferior, more expensive product, sold $8.4 billion, the payouts to its competitor serving only as the cost of doing business. In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control estimated 380,000 needle-sticks at hospitals every year. Today, they estimate 385,000.

“You turn on the TV and watch politicians talk about unleashing the power of the free market, that’s absurd,” Shaw says. “The American public is being denied a free market, being denied competition.”

 

THE TIGHT GRIP OF incumbents on the medical-supply industry is far from exceptional. Much of what we buy comes from a deceptively concentrated market. This is all the more surprising, given the wave of competition unleashed by the Internet.

The unaware consumer walks into a supermarket and sees aisles brimming with a daunting array of choices. But the majority of products come from just ten manufacturers. You’re made dizzy by the sheer variety of toothpastes, for example, but 70 percent of sales go to just two companies: Proctor & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive.

One company, Luxottica, makes virtually every different brand of sunglasses in the world. They also own nearly all the eyeglass retail outlets, from LensCrafters to Pearle Vision to Sunglass Hut. Several years ago, Tyco bought up all its competitors and now makes practically every plastic hanger in America. You’d be excused for thinking you have many options for booking airline tickets and hotels online, but when the Expedia-Orbitz merger clears, there will only be two (Priceline is the other).

America gets its cable and Internet service mostly from four companies, after AT&T’s successful merger with DirecTV. There are only three big airlines, four if you count Southwest; four big commercial banks; and five big trade-book publishers, six before Random House merged with Penguin.

Even where you don’t discern market concentration, it lurks behind the scenes. “Underneath GM and Chrysler are the suppliers,” says the New America Foundation’s Barry Lynn, author of the book Cornered: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction. “There are different brands, but everyone’s using the same windshield wipers and the same alternator. With cat food there are like 100 different brands, but they’re all coming out of the same plant.”

This accelerated consolidation can be self-perpetuating, with incumbents discouraging competitors from getting a foothold, or buying them up as soon as they gain some market share. Market concentration has a powerful impact on the day-to-day lives of every American, not just because monopolists have pricing power. Monopolies can also stunt innovation, degrade quality of service, increase inequality, and concentrate political power.

This trend operates against a background of weakening antitrust enforcement. Some of the new techniques to defend market power were not anticipated by the authors of the major antitrust laws more than a century ago. Others would be all too familiar, such as squeezing and then buying out competitors, or creating tying arrangements to compel a consumer to buy one product as a condition of buying another. “We’re back to a little bit of the new Gilded Age,” says Allen Grunes, a former antitrust official at the Justice Department.

This hidden concentration and its negative effects on consumers may seem paradoxical. First, this is a low-inflation economy. So if monopolists are jacking up prices, why does this not show up in a higher consumer price index? Secondly, thanks in part to the Internet, some innovation does result in greater consumer choice and price discipline. Amazon, for instance, has forced booksellers to cut prices. Internet shopping generally increases consumer knowledge to shop for the best deals.

But in a segmented economy, monopoly pricing power and suppression of innovation in some sectors can co-exist with competitive markets elsewhere. As for low inflation, much of it reflects depressed wages, in some ways driven by market concentration. So the consumer is hit twice—once in the paycheck and again at the store. And the Internet, for all of its ability to facilitate shopping around, has facilitated platform monopolies or near-monopolies such as Amazon and Google, with other anti-competitive effects.

 

RETRACTABLE TECHNOLOGIES initially held talks with BD about licensing their VanishPoint syringe. But BD would not commit to actually using the technology, which would have required them to retool machinery. Thomas Shaw didn’t want to see VanishPoint die. But even after getting clinicians interested in using the syringe, he couldn’t get hospitals to buy it.

As a Washington Monthly story in 2010 on Retractable explained, most hospitals acquire supplies through group purchasing organizations (GPOs), coalitions of affiliated hospitals that buy in bulk at a discount. The vendors actually pay all the GPO’s administrative costs, as long as the hospitals buy entirely from the narrow group of vendors. Shaw discovered that BD had contracts through GPOs with a “90/10” requirement. If a hospital bought 100 syringes from BD last year, they had to buy 90 the next year to qualify for the discount. If the hospital failed to purchase 90 percent, they would lose the discounts and pay a penalty, a cost of millions of dollars. This contractual obligation fortified the monopoly.

Unable to sell his product, Shaw worked with nurses’ organizations to pass the Needlestick Safety and Prevention Act in November 2000. It revised rules from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, mandating hospitals to reduce their reliance on equipment that exposes workers to blood-borne pathogens. Committees within hospitals would have to “document annually consideration and implementation of appropriate commercially available and effective safer medical devices.” But hospitals still resisted Retractable’s syringe, wary of breaking the GPO contracts.

Shaw went to the Federal Trade Commission in 2002, complaining about being locked out of the market. The FTC had jurisdiction to bust up monopolies, but took no action. Shaw also sued BD and several GPOs under the Sherman Antitrust Act. BD settled the case for $100 million in 2004. Retractable Technology took the money to survive as a viable business. But even after the settlement, nothing changed. The $100 million was the going rate for BD’s shareholders to maintain their monopoly, a pittance compared to its profits.

AMERICAN PROGRESSIVES have long had an ambivalent view of bigness. The split was evident in the presidential election of 1912. Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt’s idea was to allow some concentration to most efficiently distribute goods, but to let experts regulate those firms for the public benefit. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, and his adviser Louis Brandeis, saw concentrated power as dangerous, and held that monopolies that unduly restricted competition should be broken up.

The fuel for the Brandeis-Wilson perspective came from below. In the late 19th century, economic regulation was a function of the states, which were unable to deal with the rise of giant national trusts. The growth of railroad and telegraph monopolies restricted the channels for the flow of information and the transport of goods, raising prices in some cases and denying access to markets in others. Farmers, gouged by railroad tycoons and fearful of the trusts’ power, organized the Granger movement and others, fomenting a revolt against these practices and ultimately compelling national politicians to act.

The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, passed almost unanimously by Congress, gave the Justice Department (and later, via the Clayton Act, the Federal Trade Commission) authority to attempt to block anti-competitive mergers and price-fixing through the courts; the act authorized criminal penalties as well as civil remedies. But the Sherman Act authors made clear that “innocent monopolies” created by superior business practices could be tolerated as long as they did not suppress innovation and price competition. So even in the heyday of antitrust, the courts rejected the proposition that size per se was anti-competitive. Restraints of trade had to be demonstrated.

In Standard Oil v. United States, for example, the Supreme Court effectively modified the Sherman Act, saying that monopolistic restraint of trade was only objectionable if it was “unreasonable,” a determination to be made by the courts. The decision did break up Standard Oil, ending their Gilded Age dominance. However, U.S. Steel won its antitrust case in 1920, as did International Harvester in 1927, because they passed the reasonableness test.

Without a bit of monopoly power, pure competition would be mutually ruinous to necessary profits and innovation. The economist Joseph Schumpeter famously wrote, “Every grocer, every filling station, every manufacturer of gloves or shaving cream or handsaws has a small and precarious market of his own that he tries—must try—to keep by price strategy, quality strategy, ‘product differentiation’—and advertising.” This was what mid-century economists termed Monopolistic Competition—a balance between pure competition and some necessary market power.

Some cases, however, were deemed so potent that they required companies to be broken up. In United States v. Alcoa (1945), the Court referred the case to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that even though Alcoa didn’t pursue an industry monopoly, their acquisition of one through superior management could and did enable them to engage in monopolistic behavior. So they found Alcoa guilty of violating the Sherman Act, in a way that would never hold today. The 1953 case against United Shoe Machinery found the same thing. The 1966 proposed merger of Von’s and Shopping Bag grocery stores, which would have created market concentration of just 7.5 percent in the Los Angeles region, faced a court-ordered breakup. “During antitrust’s structural era, horizontal mergers were strongly presumed to harm competition,” wrote law professor Jon Baker of American University in 2013.

In general, the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division was fairly aggressive during the period between the 1930s and the 1960s, seeking to safeguard market competition while recognizing that scale could sometimes be pro-competitive. And then, a future failed Supreme Court nominee named Robert Bork took this nuance to an extreme, arguing that antitrust enforcement was actually bad for innovation and consumer well-being.

 

IN HIS 1978 BOOK The Antitrust Paradox, Bork, a devotee of University of Chicago economic theories, contended the Sherman Act was merely a “consumer welfare” prescription, not a presumption against market power (which generally can’t exist in Chicago theory). So if a merger made the resulting business more efficient, that merger should be approved. Scale, likewise, generally enhanced efficiency. In both cases, consumers would see the benefits in lower prices. If the incumbent abused its dominant position and raised prices beyond a market-clearing price, competitors (by definition) would invariably arise. The power of incumbency was assumed away. The “paradox” of his book’s title was that antitrust enforcement made consumers worse off.

Recent scholarship has shown Bork’s assumptions to be backward. John Kwoka, an economics professor at Northeastern University, collected retrospective data on 46 closely studied mergers, and found that 38 of them resulted in higher prices, with an overall average increase of 7.29 percent. In cases where the Justice Department imposed some sort of condition for accepting a merger, like divestiture of some product lines or bans on retaliation against rivals, the price increases were even higher, ranging from 7.68 percent to 16.01 percent. By this analysis, consumers don’t benefit at all from merger activity, as market power overwhelms whatever efficiency gains.

But Bork’s ideas found a ready ally when Ronald Reagan took the White House. In 1982, Bill Baxter, head of the Antitrust Division at the Justice Department, rewrote the guidelines the agency would use to examine mergers, incorporating many of Bork’s theories. The earlier 1968 guidelines, authored by Assistant Attorney General Donald Turner, looked skeptically upon mergers where the resulting company would control as little as 5 percent of an industry. Baxter’s rewrite incorporated supposed efficiency into the equation, and significantly increased thresholds for market concentration that would even trigger official scrutiny, much less litigation.

Changing the enforcement guidelines transformed antitrust policy without altering a comma of the law. What was once a political issue became a question for micro-economists, and corporations could always find one to assert massive efficiencies from any merger. Judges began to require a higher threshold for merger challenges as well as a presumption against abuse of market power, as the Bork intellectual theories infected the entire apparatus.

 

IN 2007, RETRACTABLE Technologies sued BD again. They claimed that BD marketed inferior “safety” syringes to comply with federal law. Their main safety syringe was a retrofit of BD’s old plastic one, which added a sheath that health-care workers would slide over the needle. This only created one more potential for a needle-stick during the sheathing.

Retractable alleged that BD intentionally kept their substandard syringe on the market to drive down public perception of the VanishPoint. They also claimed that BD lied about the sharpness of their needles and the accuracy of their measurements of medicine.

After six years of legal wrangling, a jury ruled on the antitrust portions of the case, agreeing with Retractable that BD sought to monopolize the syringe market and made false statements to customers. A federal district court affirmed the jury’s verdict, awarding Retractable $340 million in damages and requiring BD to admit it lied to customers. The case is pending before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, but BD did send letters to its GPOs acknowledging the lies. One responded by canceling Retractable’s contract instead.

Instead of relenting after having two antitrust cases go against them, BD sought approval last fall at the FTC for a merger with medical supplier CareFusion. Retractable wrote to the FTC strongly objecting to the merger, highlighting the millions of health-care workers unnecessarily harmed by BD’s monopoly over syringes, the company’s admitted falsehoods, and the harm to competition from allowing the market to entrench further. The FTC never responded to the letter, and cleared BD’s merger.

SINCE THE REAGAN JUSTICE Department neutered antitrust enforcement, a posture substantially ratified by increasingly conservative courts, two new factors have reinforced the trend. The first is the rise of intensified merger and acquisition activity, driven less by economic efficiency than by the fact that M&A is a huge Wall Street profit center that fits with the desire of CEOs to run bigger empires that produce fatter paydays. Mergers and acquisitions activity is poised to hit a record this year, with $4.58 trillion in takeover announcements expected.

Obviously, more mergers mean more commissions for the Wall Street firms that shepherd the deals, as well as more opportunities to profit from trades. Investors are also demanding consolidation as a means to increase pricing power and to show growth. It’s easier to use market power to extract more from suppliers and consumers than to make a better product and increase sales volume. “From society’s perspective, it’s complicated. But from the inside, I always want to have a monopoly,” said billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel in London in May.

The preference for debt over equity in the tax code also incentivizes mergers, since borrowed money to acquire companies produces a tax break. In principle, antitrust enforcement provides a counterweight, but as merger activity has increased, antitrust has declined. Today, corporate America’s most innovative activity is financial engineering, rather than invention that enhances consumer welfare.

Despite all the buzz about the start-up culture, entrepreneurship has suffered from these barriers to competition. The New America Foundation found start-ups fell 53 percent between 1977 and 2010. This removes urgency from incumbents to invest, and makes the economy sluggish.

Merger activity, John Kwoka shows, typically leads to price increases, as companies controlling concentrated markets gouge consumers. You can see the consequences of oligopolistic pricing simply by looking at your cell phone or cable bill, sectors where dominant players still enjoy market power.

A second complicating factor is the rise of electronic commerce. In principle, this should be good for competition and consumer welfare. But here we need to introduce the lesser-known cousin of monopoly—monopsony, meaning market power exercised by a dominant seller, or in the case of the Internet, a dominant platform. A good illustration is the market power that Google enjoys over the division of advertising income. It piggybacks on expensive content generated by magazines, newspapers, and others in the media, and takes a large share of advertising revenues. There have been widespread complaints that Google uses its market power to take too big a cut of the advertising dollar at the expense of content originators. Senator John Sherman, author of the Sherman Act, never anticipated this abuse in 1890.

Digital platforms using market power gained by controlling access to their audiences is a variant on the venerable problem of common carriers that abuse their positions as choke points. As early as 1913, the U.S. government began treating AT&T as a regulated monopoly, and insisted that it provide connectivity with rival independent phone companies. Regulators have not asked the same of Google or Facebook. “We have one fantastic victory in recent times, net neutrality,” said Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation. “For some reason, the wise folks at DOJ and FTC are not able to see that Amazon is largely analogous to the cable problem, the broadband problem. You need a neutral platform.”

Courts have on occasion held that abuses of monopsony are antitrust violations. In the A&P case of 1949, the Supreme Court agreed that A&P was using its dominant economic position to demand discounts from suppliers that were not available to its competitors, thus denying a level playing field among supermarkets. But there have been no successful cases against Google or Amazon for abusing their dominant position as platforms. Late in the Clinton administration, the FTC issued a staff paper warning of the multiple potentials for abuses of market power in e-commerce. But in a follow-up report under George W. Bush, the FTC held that the Internet was only beneficial for consumer welfare. Platform monopsony should be a fertile area for FTC investigation, but President Obama’s FTC has been quiescent.

The rise of the Internet has been double-edged for market concentration. For example, Amazon is the dominant delivery outlet for books, willing and able to keep out publishers if they don’t conform to their standards. This produces bargains for consumers, but undermines supplier industries, in this case author royalties and publisher earnings. “The focus on consumers led people to think, if Amazon can get cheaper prices, who’s to complain, without realizing that monopsony power is squeezing authors,” says Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. “The consumer may get better prices, but not on the other side.”

Monopsony creates many spillover effects. Suppliers can cut corners on labor and environmental standards to keep their profit margins up amid the squeeze. Wages can drop. So even if inflation stays low, the public can suffer. In other words, while some monopolies and monopsonies generate “cheap” goods for Americans, antitrust policy should look beyond simply prices and efficiency to incorporate all of the consumer effects of market concentration. And they are legion.

 

THE CASE OF RETRACTABLE Technologies shows how monopolies can inhibit innovation, by preventing start-ups from getting products out. Monopolization also has a significant effect on quality of service. With reduced competitive pressures from the outside, businesses have no reason to upgrade services.

Concentrated markets magnify disruptions. On July 8, IT issues knocked out the New York Stock Exchange, and the computer system of United Airlines went down. Because the NYSE has competing exchanges, others picked up the trading slack and stock volume went virtually unchanged. Because there are only three other major airlines, and in many cases none that fly the same routes as United, the computer glitch grounded thousands of flights nationwide and caused bottlenecks and flight delays that lasted for days. There were no redundancies in the airline industry to step in.

n many sectors, such as health care, market concentration leads to more market concentration. Hospital consolidation was motivated in part by providers’ desire to increase their ability to bargain with insurance companies for better prices. In reaction, insurance companies also consolidated, each side seeking leverage over the other. Once Anthem completes their merger with Cigna, and Aetna merges with Humana, there will be a “Big Three” in health insurance (UnitedHealth is the other).

Perhaps most critically, given the current political climate, monopolies drive inequality. Executives and Wall Street traders make astronomical incomes, while wages are squeezed. Post-merger price increases, from health care to cable TV service to airline tickets, translate into a decline in real wages. Big mergers also encourage reduction in actual wages, when consolidations produce layoffs and limit avenues for employment. And though high skills are supposedly a defense against wage cuts, cartel behavior by Silicon Valley firms to prevent raiding each other’s workers kept wages for coders and engineers low.

Suppliers to platform monopolies experience a price crunch across the spectrum, reducing their own profits and funneling them to the biggest firms, where they pass to executives. “High concentration in the PC platform market with Microsoft gives rise to the richest person in the country,” says Stiglitz. “Monopoly increases wealth at the top, and for average Americans real wages decrease.”

And in the Citizens United age, all this market power and collection of exorbitant monopoly profits can’t help but lead to the entrenchment of political power.

Senator Sherman did not anticipate the Internet, but he previewed this broader problem in 1890 when he warned of the “inequality of condition, of wealth, and of opportunity that has grown within a single generation out of the concentration of capital.” And in the Citizens United age, all this market power and collection of exorbitant monopoly profits can’t help but lead to the entrenchment of political power.

“Monopolies are as much political forces as they are economic ones,” says Zephyr Teachout, a former New York gubernatorial candidate and Fordham University law professor who now runs Mayday PAC, a federal political organization dedicated to public financing of elections. “I talk about fair elections as the rhythm of an open, free democracy, and decentralized economic power as the melody.”

 

THIS PAST JULY, RETRACTABLE Technologies wrote a 15-page letter to FTC commissioners, stressing how the agency “has sat on its hands while America’s dedicated health-care workers have had their hands pricked, stabbed and bloodied by needles that often carry deadly diseases.” The company reiterated the long history of anti-competitive practices by BD, including the two occasions where courts found them guilty of attempted monopolization. “Retractable Technologies would like to know just how much court-verified public harm a company has to commit before the FTC will be motivated to do its job,” the letter concluded.

In response, the FTC’s Health Care Division met with Shaw, Retractable’s CEO, in late August. Regulators admitted that American consumers pay more for health-care products than any country in the world, and Shaw offered that market concentration and the GPO hustle contributed to that. But the lack of resources and the need to expend so much effort on complex economic models to justify a case forces the FTC to choose its battles judiciously.

“They said, if you had a case where everything’s done, maybe we could get something done,” Shaw says. “Short of that, there’s nothing they can do. My problem with that as a taxpayer and inventor and manufacturer is, if they’re not coming to Little Elm and starting a business, why am I coming up here to do their job?”

AT THE OUTSET of the Obama administration, things looked promising for a resurgence of antitrust. George W. Bush’s Antitrust Division had been dismissive of antitrust, in a manner straight out of the pages of Robert Bork. Antitrust chief William Kolasky said in a speech in 2002, “All of us know that the rationale for most mergers is pro-competitive and that most mergers have no adverse effects on competition.” Bush’s FTC issued a report on Section 2 of the Sherman Act that was deferential to monopolies. The incoming Obama administration withdrew it.

Then, the new head of the Antitrust Division, Christine Varney, held joint hearings with the Department of Agriculture in five cities, with Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack attending. The field hearings looked at monopsony power—the concentration of agribusiness conglomerates, like Tyson, ratcheting down the rates they pay farmers for meat and poultry. “This was great, all these farmers, herders, everyone involved in the production of food, they’re up in arms,” says Maurice Stucke, antitrust law professor at the University of Tennessee. “DOJ itself said, the message is coming through.”

But when it came to actual enforcement, the administration largely took a pass. According to data collected by Northeastern University’s John Kwoka, from 2009 to 2011, for every merger that reduced competitors in a market to four or fewer, the administration made some investigation or challenge. But for mergers that left five or more competitors, they enforced none of them. Historically, a good chunk of those would have been challenged. “These are moderately concentrated industries, right on the cusp,” Kwoka says. “They took a pass on every one of them. It’s remarkable and a complete anomaly.”

Stucke points to a George’s Foods acquisition of a Tyson poultry processing plant in Harrisonburg, Virginia, that the Justice Department decided to challenge. Instead of blocking the acquisition, the Antitrust Division required minor capital improvements to the plant, including repairing the roof. “They settled on, it was like chicken feed,” Stucke says. “I can’t think of any other case where part of the remedy is to repair the plant’s roof.”

These conduct remedies are precisely the ones that Kwoka showed to be extremely ineffective in his retrospective studies. Yet they became a hallmark of Obama-era antitrust enforcement. The Comcast-NBC merger included a series of behavioral remedies. US Airways and American Airlines had to merely divest some slots at Reagan National and LaGuardia Airports. The LiveNation-Ticketmaster merger also included conditions, like divestitures and anti-retaliation provisions. Three years later, the merged company controlled more than 80 percent of the primary event-ticketing market.

It’s true that the administration faces hurdles from a judiciary that still adheres to the lessons of the Chicago school and places heavy burdens on the enforcement agencies. In Verizon v. Trinko (2004), Justice Antonin Scalia called charging monopoly prices “an important element of the free-market system,” and said that it must be protected “to safeguard the incentive to innovate.”

“One problem is that bad cases not brought by the government tend to make bad law,” says Allen Grunes, the former antitrust official, now in private practice. “The Supreme Court has been able to cherry-pick those cases to move things in a conservative direction.”

But the administration’s decision to close four of the seven antitrust field offices (in Atlanta, Cleveland, Dallas, and Philadelphia) in 2012 was taken as a strong signal. These field offices did primarily criminal cases, such as conspiracies to rig municipal contracts or construction bids. Dozens of prosecutors lost their jobs. The shuttering of over half of the field offices damaged agency morale. “The remaining offices can’t cover the territory,” says Robert Connolly, chief of the field office in Philadelphia when it was closed. “I think there’s a sense that the Antitrust Division is not that interested in local and regional cases. … They want a case with headlines, a lot of zeroes.”

The administration has had a better record on mergers that created heavy market concentration, blocking proposed mergers such as AT&T with T-Mobile, and Comcast with Time Warner. More recently, enforcement agencies have been praised for investigating the airline industry for price collusion, suing to block General Electric’s sale of its appliance business to Electrolux, and stopping the merger of the nation’s two largest food distributors, Sysco and U.S. Foods.

In some sense, these successes represent a last frontier. “Many of our industries have simply hit the wall, with high levels of concentration allowed by 20 years of lax enforcement,” says Diana Moss, vice president of the American Antitrust Institute. “As a result, mergers in markets with two, three, or four rivals are almost always going to raise competitive concerns. … The next administration is looking at a pretty grim landscape.”

 

BD’S ANTI-COMPETITIVE behavior dates back to at least the Eisenhower administration. Back in 1960, the Justice Department cited BD for price-fixing violations of the Sherman Act. BD agreed to a consent decree, but the company took advantage of a quirk in the language of the order. The consent decree only committed BD to end their illegal practices for reusable glass syringes. So BD simply shifted to plastic disposable syringes, and engaged in the same behavior. In fact, the routine reuse of plastic syringes by replacing the needles exposed patients and health-care workers to equipment that could not be re-sterilized, facilitating the global AIDS and Hepatitis C outbreaks.

Despite 55 years of anti-competitive behavior, BD’s market monopoly remains in place. And tellingly, no other medical supply conglomerate has ever tried to enter the market. “Johnson & Johnson told us, they don’t sell Band-Aids and we don’t sell syringes,” says Thomas Shaw. The market split allows monopolies to maximize profits as long as they stay out of competition. The big guys don’t mess with one another’s markets, and the little guys can’t get in.

Shaw believes his plight will only change if the public wakes up to the perversion of the free market, which long ago ceased to miraculously guide toward the best solutions through open competition. In fact, the markets don’t self-correct. “There are a lot of invisible hands, most of them are in our pockets,” Shaw says.

In 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter gave a speech at the University of California, Berkeley, titled “What Happened to the Antitrust Movement?” He wondered why anti-monopoly sentiment ceased to become the subject of public agitation. “Once the United States had an antitrust movement without antitrust prosecutions,” Hofstadter said. “In our time, there have been antitrust prosecutions without an antitrust movement.”

Now we have lost both the movement and the prosecutions. When we talk about banks that are too big to fail, we’re talking about antitrust. When we talk about the high cost of health care, we’re talking about antitrust. So many of our key domestic issues are fundamentally questions about whether we should tolerate monopolies, or dismantle them. But this formulation—a centerpiece of public debate in the last robber-baron era between the 1880s and 1910s—has all but disappeared from popular discourse.

Can anti-monopoly sentiment be revived? When New York’s Working Families Party first recruited Zephyr Teachout to run for governor, she said she would only do it if she could talk about monopolies. “They polled it, and they were correct that nobody knew what I was talking about,” Teachout says. But when she eventually ran an insurgent campaign against incumbent Andrew Cuomo, she was determined to talk about it anyway.

“The minute you got past the sound-bite level, people responded to the concentration of power,” Teachout says. They did campaign events at places where people paid their cable bills, using the pending Comcast–Time Warner merger, eventually abandoned, as the hook. She engaged farmers in upstate New York about monopsony power, and discussed Amazon and big banks on the stump. And it resonated. After only one month of campaigning, Teachout won 35 percent of the vote, with particular strength in upstate counties where farming issues were prominent.

“The Tea Party talks to people and says, ‘You’re out of power because government is taking it away from you,’” Teachout says. “Far too often, Democrats say, ‘You’re wrong, you’re not out of power.’ That’s dissonant with our lived experience. You’re out of power … because your priorities don’t matter and JPMorgan’s do.”

Beyond Teachout, you can see through the haze the stirrings of a grassroots antitrust agenda. The greatest anti-monopoly victory of the modern age, the Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality rules, owed much to a smart, tech-savvy movement that leveraged big protest platforms. Web-native activists fought for the decentralized power of the Internet, without gatekeepers collecting tolls along the way. And they made the connection to things like the Comcast–Time Warner merger, which failed amid public outcry.

“After this existential threat to the Web, you see the same groups becoming interested in the deep history of anti-monopoly laws,” Teachout says. “It’s kind of an exciting intellectual moment, a fusion between old-school farmers who have been complaining for 30 years and new net-neutrality dreamers.”

Monopolists have long used technological advances to consolidate power, from Gilded Age tycoons leveraging control of railroads and telegraphs to Amazon using its first-mover status in e-commerce to squeeze book producers, or Google harvesting traffic to their market-leading search engine to serve ads. It’s easy to translate the need for a neutral platform for websites into the same need for book sales or car ride–sharing.

The European Union, in fact, did file formal antitrust charges against Google, accusing it of forcing search engine users into its own shopping platforms, and bundling Android phones with their own apps, to prevent competitors from performing the same functions. The FTC shut down its own investigation into Google over the same concerns in 2013. But an inadvertent disclosure revealed that the agency’s Bureau of Competition recommended bringing a lawsuit, arguing that Google’s conduct “has resulted—and will result—in real harm to consumers and to innovation in the online search and advertising markets.” The political leadership ignored the recommendation.

The next administration must show “leadership that has a certain intellectual curiosity,” says Maurice Stucke, pointing to the Google case as a missed opportunity. An alteration in posture would make enforcement far more vigorous, and bringing more cases will give litigators more experience and confidence to negotiate the judicial barriers. The American Antitrust Institute plans to create a transition document for the incoming administration, as they did for the Obama transition.

But at a time of political disempowerment, teaching about the dangers of monopolies and how we have the laws on the books to fight them, and creating upward pressure to do it, offers great potential for a paradigm shift. Connecting Senator Elizabeth Warren’s fight against a rigged financial system and Al Franken’s fight against media concentration can spark broader political energy.

You could see this potential in Washington, D.C., where in August, the city’s Public Service Commission rejected a merger between energy firms Exelon and Pepco, citing “more active participation by parties and interested persons than any other proceeding in the Commission’s more than a century of operations.” Activists argued a giant Exelon conglomerate would fail to devote resources to the city’s clean-energy goals, connecting anti-monopolization with fighting climate change.

There are a lot of reasons for runaway monopolies: an intellectual hijacking by Chicago-school conservative economists, the over-financialization of the economy, a failure of federal antitrust enforcement. But perhaps the biggest reason is that antitrust policy has become divorced from politics, confined to specialized lawyers and mathematicians instead of citizens and activists. Without grassroots momentum, politicians and enforcement agencies can safely ignore the issue. That’s the challenge for a small band of academics, think-tank fellows, and activists: to make monopolies a vital issue again, connecting with the severe economic anxiety Americans feel.

“In 2016, I hope that there’s 20 candidates running on an anti-monopoly platform, making it the heart of their campaign,” Teachout says. “It’s important to not believe that our current pathological capitalism is the only kind you can have. We can have a version of capitalism that’s not this concentrated.”

Bring Back Antitrust

 

 

Potential Health Risks to DOD FIRING-RANGE PERSONNEL from Recurrent Lead Exposure

Committee on Potential Health Risks from Recurrent
Lead Exposure of DOD Firing Range Personnel

Committee on Toxicology

Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology

Division on Earth and Life Studies

NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES

THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS

Washington, D.C.

 

“…High risk of heart disease, kidney damage, and dementia.”

“A review of the epidemiologic and toxicologic data allowed the committee to conclude that there is overwhelming evidence that the OSHA standard provides inadequate protection for DOD firing-range personnel and for any other worker populations covered by the general industry standard. Specifically, the premise that maintaining BLLs under 40 μg/dL for a working lifetime will protect workers adequately is not valid; by inference, the OSHA PEL and action level are also inadequate for protecting firing-range workers. The committee found sufficient evidence to infer causal relationships between BLLs under 40 μg/dL and adverse neurologic, hematopoietic, renal, reproductive, and cardio-vascular effects. The committee also found compelling evidence of developmental effects in offspring exposed to lead in utero and during breastfeeding, and this raises additional concerns about exposures of women of childbearing age….

Despite changes in military tactics and technology, proficiency in the handling of weapons remains a cornerstone in the training of the modern combat soldier. Modern military forces are trained on one or more small arms, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns. Many of the projectiles used in military small arms contain lead. Exposure to lead during weapons training on firing ranges therefore is an important occupational-health concern.

Lead is a ubiquitous metal in the environment, and its adverse effects on human health are well documented. The nervous system is an important target of lead toxicity, which causes adverse cognitive, mood, and psychiatric effects in the central nervous system of adults; causes various peripheral nervous system effects; and has been linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Lead exposure also causes anemia, nephrotoxicity, a variety of adverse reproductive and developmental effects, small increases in blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension particularly in middle-aged and older people, and various effects in other organ systems, including joint pain and gastrointestinal pain (ATSDR 2007; EPA 2012; NTP 2012).”

___________________

1After the committee completed its evaluation and released the prepublication draft of this report, the Army submitted data on BLLs for Department of the Army civilian personnel working at shoot houses. The Army’s submission can be obtained by contacting the National Research Council’s Public Access Records Office at (202) 334-3543 or paro@nas.edu.”

 

• Characterization of exposure on firing ranges. The committee focused its attention on airborne lead exposures that are most likely to occur on DOD firing ranges. Measurements and evaluations conducted at DOD ranges were used primarily and were supplemented with information on other types of firing ranges.

 http://www.nap.edu/read/18249/chapter/2#4

Potential Health Risks to DOD FIRING-RANGE PERSONNEL from Recurrent Lead Exposure

 

 

 

 

The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

By NATHANIEL RICHJAN. 6, 2016

Just months before Rob Bilott made partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, he received a call on his direct line from a cattle farmer. The farmer, Wilbur Tennant of Parkersburg, W.Va., said that his cows were dying left and right. He believed that the DuPont chemical company, which until recently operated a site in Parkersburg that is more than 35 times the size of the Pentagon, was responsible. Tennant had tried to seek help locally, he said, but DuPont just about owned the entire town. He had been spurned not only by Parkersburg’s lawyers but also by its politicians, journalists, doctors and veterinarians. The farmer was angry and spoke in a heavy Appalachian accent. Bilott struggled to make sense of everything he was saying. He might have hung up had Tennant not blurted out the name of Bilott’s grandmother, Alma Holland White.

White had lived in Vienna, a northern suburb of Parkersburg, and as a child, Bilott often visited her in the summers. In 1973 she brought him to the cattle farm belonging to the Tennants’ neighbors, the Grahams, with whom White was friendly. Bilott spent the weekend riding horses, milking cows and watching Secretariat win the Triple Crown on TV. He was 7 years old. The visit to the Grahams’ farm was one of his happiest childhood memories.

When the Grahams heard in 1998 that Wilbur Tennant was looking for legal help, they remembered Bilott, White’s grandson, who had grown up to become an environmental lawyer. They did not understand, however, that Bilott was not the right kind of environmental lawyer. He did not represent plaintiffs or private citizens. Like the other 200 lawyers at Taft, a firm founded in 1885 and tied historically to the family of President William Howard Taft, Bilott worked almost exclusively for large corporate clients. His specialty was defending chemical companies. Several times, Bilott had even worked on cases with DuPont lawyers. Nevertheless, as a favor to his grandmother, he agreed to meet the farmer. ‘‘It just felt like the right thing to do,’’ he says today. ‘‘I felt a connection to those folks.’’

The connection was not obvious at their first meeting. About a week after his phone call, Tennant drove from Parkersburg with his wife to Taft’s headquarters in downtown Cincinnati. They hauled cardboard boxes containing videotapes, photographs and documents into the firm’s glassed-in reception area on the 18th floor, where they sat in gray midcentury-modern couches beneath an oil portrait of one of Taft’s founders. Tennant — burly and nearly six feet tall, wearing jeans, a plaid flannel shirt and a baseball cap — did not resemble a typical Taft client. ‘‘He didn’t show up at our offices looking like a bank vice president,’’ says Thomas Terp, a partner who was Bilott’s supervisor. ‘‘Let’s put it that way.’’

Terp joined Bilott for the meeting. Wilbur Tennant explained that he and his four siblings had run the cattle farm since their father abandoned them as children. They had seven cows then. Over the decades they steadily acquired land and cattle, until 200 cows roamed more than 600 hilly acres. The property would have been even larger had his brother Jim and Jim’s wife, Della, not sold 66 acres in the early ’80s to DuPont. The company wanted to use the plot for a landfill for waste from its factory near Parkersburg, called Washington Works, where Jim was employed as a laborer. Jim and Della did not want to sell, but Jim had been in poor health for years, mysterious ailments that doctors couldn’t diagnose, and they needed the money.

DuPont rechristened the plot Dry Run Landfill, named after the creek that ran through it. The same creek flowed down to a pasture where the Tennants grazed their cows. Not long after the sale, Wilbur told Bilott, the cattle began to act deranged. They had always been like pets to the Tennants. At the sight of a Tennant they would amble over, nuzzle and let themselves be milked. No longer. Now when they saw the farmers, they charged.

Wilbur fed a videotape into the VCR. The footage, shot on a camcorder, was grainy and intercut with static. Images jumped and repeated. The sound accelerated and slowed down. It had the quality of a horror movie. In the opening shot the camera pans across the creek. It takes in the surrounding forest, the white ash trees shedding their leaves and the rippling, shallow water, before pausing on what appears to be a snowbank at an elbow in the creek. The camera zooms in, revealing a mound of soapy froth.

‘‘I’ve taken two dead deer and two dead cattle off this ripple,’’ Tennant says in voice-over. ‘‘The blood run out of their noses and out their mouths. … They’re trying to cover this stuff up. But it’s not going to be covered up, because I’m going to bring it out in the open for people to see.’’

The video shows a large pipe running into the creek, discharging green water with bubbles on the surface. ‘‘This is what they expect a man’s cows to drink on his own property,’’ Wilbur says. ‘‘It’s about high time that someone in the state department of something-or-another got off their cans.’’

At one point, the video cuts to a skinny red cow standing in hay. Patches of its hair are missing, and its back is humped — a result, Wilbur speculates, of a kidney malfunction. Another blast of static is followed by a close-up of a dead black calf lying in the snow, its eye a brilliant, chemical blue. ‘‘One hundred fifty-three of these animals I’ve lost on this farm,’’ Wilbur says later in the video. ‘‘Every veterinarian that I’ve called in Parkersburg, they will not return my phone calls or they don’t want to get involved. Since they don’t want to get involved, I’ll have to dissect this thing myself. … I’m going to start at this head.’’

The video cuts to a calf’s bisected head. Close-ups follow of the calf’s blackened teeth (‘‘They say that’s due to high concentrations of fluoride in the water that they drink’’), its liver, heart, stomachs, kidneys and gall bladder. Each organ is sliced open, and Wilbur points out unusual discolorations — some dark, some green — and textures. ‘‘I don’t even like the looks of them,’’ he says. ‘‘It don’t look like anything I’ve been into before.’’

Bilott watched the video and looked at photographs for several hours. He saw cows with stringy tails, malformed hooves, giant lesions protruding from their hides and red, receded eyes; cows suffering constant diarrhea, slobbering white slime the consistency of toothpaste, staggering bowlegged like drunks. Tennant always zoomed in on his cows’ eyes. ‘‘This cow’s done a lot of suffering,’’ he would say, as a blinking eye filled the screen.

‘‘This is bad,’’ Bilott said to himself. ‘‘There’s something really bad going on here.’’

Bilott decided right away to take the Tennant case. It was, he says again, ‘‘the right thing to do.’’ Bilott might have had the practiced look of a corporate lawyer — soft-spoken, milk-complected, conservatively attired — but the job had not come naturally to him. He did not have a typical Taft résumé. He had not attended college or law school in the Ivy League. His father was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, and Bilott spent most of his childhood moving among air bases near Albany; Flint, Mich.; Newport Beach, Calif.; and Wiesbaden, West Germany. Bilott attended eight schools before graduating from Fairborn High, near Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. As a junior, he received a recruitment letter from a tiny liberal-arts school in Sarasota called the New College of Florida, which graded pass/fail and allowed students to design their own curriculums. Many of his friends there were idealistic, progressive — ideological misfits in Reagan’s America. He met with professors individually and came to value critical thinking. ‘‘I learned to question everything you read,’’ he said. ‘‘Don’t take anything at face value. Don’t care what other people say. I liked that philosophy.’’ Bilott studied political science and wrote his thesis about the rise and fall of Dayton. He hoped to become a city manager.

But his father, who late in life enrolled in law school, encouraged Bilott to do the same. Surprising his professors, he chose to attend law school at Ohio State, where his favorite course was environmental law. ‘‘It seemed like it would have real-world impact,’’ he said. ‘‘It was something you could do to make a difference.’’ When, after graduation, Taft made him an offer, his mentors and friends from New College were aghast. They didn’t understand how he could join a corporate firm. Bilott didn’t see it that way. He hadn’t really thought about the ethics of it, to be honest. ‘‘My family said that a big firm was where you’d get the most opportunities,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew nobody who had ever worked at a firm, nobody who knew anything about it. I just tried to get the best job I could. I don’t think I had any clue of what that involved.’’
Photo

At Taft, he asked to join Thomas Terp’s environmental team. Ten years earlier, Congress passed the legislation known as Superfund, which financed the emergency cleanup of hazardous-waste dumps. Superfund was a lucrative development for firms like Taft, creating an entire subfield within environmental law, one that required a deep understanding of the new regulations in order to guide negotiations among municipal agencies and numerous private parties. Terp’s team at Taft was a leader in the field.

As an associate, Bilott was asked to determine which companies contributed which toxins and hazardous wastes in what quantities to which sites. He took depositions from plant employees, perused public records and organized huge amounts of historical data. He became an expert on the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulatory framework, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act. He mastered the chemistry of the pollutants, despite the fact that chemistry had been his worst subject in high school. ‘‘I learned how these companies work, how the laws work, how you defend these claims,’’ he said. He became the consummate insider.

Bilott was proud of the work he did. The main part of his job, as he understood it, was to help clients comply with the new regulations. Many of his clients, including Thiokol and Bee Chemical, disposed of hazardous waste long before the practice became so tightly regulated. He worked long hours and knew few people in Cincinnati. A colleague on Taft’s environmental team, observing that he had little time for a social life, introduced him to a childhood friend named Sarah Barlage. She was a lawyer, too, at another downtown Cincinnati firm, where she de­fended corporations against worker’s-compensation claims. Bilott joined the two friends for lunch. Sarah doesn’t remember him speaking. ‘‘My first impression was that he was not like other guys,’’ she says. ‘‘I’m pretty chatty. He’s much quieter. We complemented each other.’’

They married in 1996. The first of their three sons was born two years later. He felt secure enough at Taft for Barlage to quit her job and raise their children full-time. Terp, his supervisor, recalls him as ‘‘a real standout lawyer: incredibly bright, energetic, tenacious and very, very thorough.’’ He was a model Taft lawyer. Then Wilbur Tennant came along.

The Tennant case put Taft in a highly unusual position. The law firm was in the business of representing chemical corporations, not suing them. The prospect of taking on DuPont ‘‘did cause us pause,’’ Terp concedes. ‘‘But it was not a terribly difficult decision for us. I’m a firm believer that our work on the plaintiff’s side makes us better defense lawyers.’’

Bilott sought help with the Tennant case from a West Virginia lawyer named Larry Winter. For many years, Winter was a partner at Spilman, Thomas & Battle — one of the firms that represented DuPont in West Virginia — though he had left Spilman to start a practice specializing in personal-injury cases. He was amazed that Bilott would sue DuPont while remaining at Taft.

‘‘His taking on the Tennant case,’’ Winter says, ‘‘given the type of practice Taft had, I found to be inconceivable.’’

Bilott, for his part, is reluctant to discuss his motivations for taking the case. The closest he came to elaborating was after being asked whether, having set out ‘‘to make a difference’’ in the world, he had any misgivings about the path his career had taken.

‘‘There was a reason why I was interested in helping out the Tennants,’’ he said after a pause. ‘‘It was a great opportunity to use my background for people who really needed it.’’

Bilott filed a federal suit against DuPont in the summer of 1999 in the Southern District of West Virginia. In response, DuPont’s in-house lawyer, Bernard Reilly, informed him that DuPont and the E.P.A. would commission a study of the property, conducted by three veterinarians chosen by DuPont and three chosen by the E.P.A. Their report did not find DuPont responsible for the cattle’s health problems. The culprit, instead, was poor husbandry: ‘‘poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care and lack of fly control.’’ In other words, the Tennants didn’t know how to raise cattle; if the cows were dying, it was their own fault.

This did not sit well with the Tennants, who began to suffer the consequences of antagonizing Parkersburg’s main employer. Lifelong friends ignored the Tennants on the streets of Parkersburg and walked out of restaurants when they entered. ‘‘I’m not allowed to talk to you,’’ they said, when confronted. Four different times, the Tennants changed churches.

Wilbur called the office nearly every day, but Bilott had little to tell him. He was doing for the Tennants what he would have done for any of his corporate clients — pulling permits, studying land deeds and requesting from DuPont all documentation related to Dry Run Landfill — but he could find no evidence that explained what was happening to the cattle. ‘‘We were getting frustrated,’’ Bilott said. ‘‘I couldn’t blame the Tennants for getting angry.’’

With the trial looming, Bilott stumbled upon a letter DuPont had sent to the E.P.A. that mentioned a substance at the landfill with a cryptic name: ‘‘PFOA.’’ In all his years working with chemical companies, Bilott had never heard of PFOA. It did not appear on any list of regulated materials, nor could he find it in Taft’s in-house library. The chemistry expert that he had retained for the case did, however, vaguely recall an article in a trade journal about a similar-sounding compound: PFOS, a soaplike agent used by the technology conglomerate 3M in the fabrication of Scotchgard.

Bilott hunted through his files for other references to PFOA, which he learned was short for perfluorooctanoic acid. But there was nothing. He asked DuPont to share all documentation related to the substance; DuPont refused. In the fall of 2000, Bilott requested a court order to force them. Against DuPont’s protests, the order was granted. Dozens of boxes containing thousands of unorganized documents began to arrive at Taft’s headquarters: private internal correspondence, medical and health reports and confidential studies conducted by DuPont scientists. There were more than 110,000 pages in all, some half a century old. Bilott spent the next few months on the floor of his office, poring over the documents and arranging them in chronological order. He stopped answering his office phone. When people called his secretary, she explained that he was in the office but had not been able to reach the phone in time, because he was trapped on all sides by boxes.

‘‘I started seeing a story,’’ Bilott said. ‘‘I may have been the first one to actually go through them all. It became apparent what was going on: They had known for a long time that this stuff was bad.’’

Bilott is given to understatement. (‘‘To say that Rob Bilott is understated,’’ his colleague Edison Hill says, ‘‘is an understatement.’’) The story that Bilott began to see, cross-legged on his office floor, was astounding in its breadth, specificity and sheer brazenness. ‘‘I was shocked,’’ he said. That was another understatement. Bilott could not believe the scale of incriminating material that DuPont had sent him. The company appeared not to realize what it had handed over. ‘‘It was one of those things where you can’t believe you’re reading what you’re reading,’’ he said. ‘‘That it’s actually been put in writing. It was the kind of stuff you always heard about happening but you never thought you’d see written down.’’

The story began in 1951, when DuPont started purchasing PFOA (which the company refers to as C8) from 3M for use in the manufacturing of Teflon. 3M invented PFOA just four years earlier; it was used to keep coatings like Teflon from clumping during production. Though PFOA was not classified by the government as a hazardous substance, 3M sent DuPont recommendations on how to dispose of it. It was to be incinerated or sent to chemical-waste facilities. DuPont’s own instructions specified that it was not to be flushed into surface water or sewers. But over the decades that followed, DuPont pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder through the outfall pipes of the Parkersburg facility into the Ohio River. The company dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA-laced sludge into ‘‘digestion ponds’’: open, unlined pits on the Washington Works property, from which the chemical could seep straight into the ground. PFOA entered the local water table, which supplied drinking water to the communities of Parkersburg, Vienna, Little Hocking and Lubeck — more than 100,000 people in all.

Bilott learned from the documents that 3M and DuPont had been conducting secret medical studies on PFOA for more than four decades. In 1961, DuPont researchers found that the chemical could increase the size of the liver in rats and rabbits. A year later, they replicated these results in studies with dogs. PFOA’s peculiar chemical structure made it uncannily resistant to degradation. It also bound to plasma proteins in the blood, circulating through each organ in the body. In the 1970s, DuPont discovered that there were high concentrations of PFOA in the blood of factory workers at Washington Works. They did not tell their workers this. In 1981, 3M — which continued to serve as the supplier of PFOA to DuPont and other corporations — found that ingestion of the substance caused birth defects in rats. After 3M shared this information, DuPont tested the children of pregnant employees in their Teflon division. Of seven births, two had eye defects. DuPont did not make this information public.

In 1984, DuPont became aware that dust vented from factory chimneys settled well beyond the property line and, more disturbing, that PFOA was present in the local water supply. DuPont declined to disclose this finding. In 1991, DuPont scientists determined an internal safety limit for PFOA concentration in drinking water: one part per billion. The same year, DuPont found that water in one local district contained PFOA levels at three times that figure. Despite internal debate, it declined to make the information public.

(In a statement, DuPont claimed that it did volunteer health information about PFOA to the E.P.A. during those decades. When asked for evidence, it forwarded two letters written to West Virginian government agencies from 1982 and 1992, both of which cited internal studies that called into question links between PFOA exposure and human health problems.)

By the ’90s, Bilott discovered, DuPont understood that PFOA caused cancerous testicular, pancreatic and liver tumors in lab animals. One laboratory study suggested possible DNA damage from PFOA exposure, and a study of workers linked exposure with prostate cancer. DuPont at last hastened to develop an alternative to PFOA. An interoffice memo sent in 1993 announced that ‘‘for the first time, we have a viable candidate’’ that appeared to be less toxic and stayed in the body for a much shorter duration of time. Discussions were held at DuPont’s corporate headquarters to discuss switching to the new compound. DuPont decided against it. The risk was too great: Products manufactured with PFOA were an important part of DuPont’s business, worth $1 billion in annual profit.

But the crucial discovery for the Tennant case was this: By the late 1980s, as DuPont became increasingly concerned about the health effects of PFOA waste, it decided it needed to find a landfill for the toxic sludge dumped on company property. Fortunately they had recently bought 66 acres from a low-level employee at the Washington Works facility that would do perfectly.

By 1990, DuPont had dumped 7,100 tons of PFOA sludge into Dry Run Landfill. DuPont’s scientists understood that the landfill drained into the Tennants’ remaining property, and they tested the water in Dry Run Creek. It contained an extraordinarily high concentration of PFOA. DuPont did not tell this to the Tennants at the time, nor did it disclose the fact in the cattle report that it commissioned for the Tennant case a decade later — the report that blamed poor husbandry for the deaths of their cows. Bilott had what he needed.

In August 2000, Bilott called DuPont’s lawyer, Bernard Reilly, and explained that he knew what was going on. It was a brief conversation.

The Tennants settled. The firm would receive its contingency fee. The whole business might have ended right there. But Bilott was not satisfied.

‘‘I was irritated,’’ he says.

DuPont was nothing like the corporations he had represented at Taft in the Superfund cases. ‘‘This was a completely different scenario. DuPont had for decades been actively trying to conceal their actions. They knew this stuff was harmful, and they put it in the water anyway. These were bad facts.’’ He had seen what the PFOA-tainted drinking water had done to cattle. What was it doing to the tens of thousands of people in the areas around Parkersburg who drank it daily from their taps? What did the insides of their heads look like? Were their internal organs green?

Bilott spent the following months drafting a public brief against DuPont. It was 972 pages long, including 136 attached exhibits. His colleagues call it ‘‘Rob’s Famous Letter.’’ ‘‘We have confirmed that the chemicals and pollutants released into the environment by DuPont at its Dry Run Landfill and other nearby DuPont-owned facilities may pose an imminent and substantial threat to health or the environment,’’ Bilott wrote. He demanded immediate action to regulate PFOA and provide clean water to those living near the factory. On March 6, 2001, he sent the letter to the director of every relevant regulatory authority, including Christie Whitman, administrator of the E.P.A., and the United States attorney general, John Ashcroft.

DuPont reacted quickly, requesting a gag order to block Bilott from providing the information he had discovered in the Tennant case to the government. A federal court denied it. Bilott sent his entire case file to the E.P.A.

‘‘DuPont freaked out when they realized that this guy was onto them,’’ says Ned McWilliams, a young trial lawyer who later joined Bilott’s legal team. ‘‘For a corporation to seek a gag order to prevent somebody from speaking to the E.P.A. is an extraordinary remedy. You could realize how bad that looks. They must have known that there was a small chance of winning. But they were so afraid that they were willing to roll the dice.’’

With the Famous Letter, Bilott crossed a line. Though nominally representing the Tennants — their settlement had yet to be concluded — Bilott spoke for the public, claiming extensive fraud and wrongdoing. He had become a threat not merely to DuPont but also to, in the words of one internal memo, ‘‘the entire fluoropolymers industry’’ — an industry responsible for the high-performance plastics used in many modern devices, including kitchen products, computer cables, implantable medical devices and bearings and seals used in cars and airplanes. PFOA was only one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals that companies produced and released into the world without regulatory oversight.

‘‘Rob’s letter lifted the curtain on a whole new theater,’’ says Harry Deitzler, a plaintiff’s lawyer in West Virginia who works with Bilott. ‘‘Before that letter, corporations could rely upon the public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated.’’ Under the 1976 Toxic Sub­stances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the E.P.A. has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.

It was especially damning to see these allegations against DuPont under the letterhead of one of the nation’s most prestigious corporate defense firms. ‘‘You can imagine what some of the other companies that Taft was representing — a Dow Chemical — might have thought of a Taft lawyer taking on DuPont,’’ Larry Winter says. ‘‘There was a threat that the firm would suffer financially.’’ When I asked Thomas Terp about Taft’s reaction to the Famous Letter, he replied, not quite convincingly, that he didn’t recall one. ‘‘Our partners,’’ he said, ‘‘are proud of the work that he has done.’’

Bilott, however, worried that corporations doing business with Taft might see things differently. ‘‘I’m not stupid, and the people around me aren’t stupid,’’ he said. ‘‘You can’t ignore the economic realities of the ways that business is run and the way clients think. I perceived that there were some ‘What the hell are you doing?’ responses.’’

The letter led, three years later, in 2006, to DuPont’s reaching a $16.5 million settlement with the E.P.A., which had accused the company of concealing its knowledge of PFOA’s toxicity and presence in the environment in violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act. (DuPont was not required to admit liability.) At the time, it was the largest civil administrative penalty the E.P.A. had obtained in its history, a statement that sounds more impressive than it is. The fine represented less than 2 percent of the profits earned by DuPont on PFOA that year.

Bilott never represented a corporate client again.

The obvious next step was to file a class-action lawsuit against DuPont on behalf of everyone whose water was tainted by PFOA. In all ways but one, Bilott himself was in the ideal position to file such a suit. He understood PFOA’s history as well as anyone inside DuPont did. He had the technical and regulatory expertise, as he had proved in the Tennant case. The only part that didn’t make sense was his firm: No Taft lawyer, to anyone’s recollection, had ever filed a class-action lawsuit.

It was one thing to pursue a sentimental case on behalf of a few West Virginia cattle farmers and even write a public letter to the E.P.A. But an industry-threatening class-action suit against one of the world’s largest chemical corporations was different. It might establish a precedent for suing corporations over unregulated sub­stances and imperil Taft’s bottom line. This point was made to Terp by Bernard Reilly, DuPont’s in-house lawyer, according to accounts from Bilott’s plaintiff’s-lawyer colleagues; they say Reilly called to demand that Bilott back off the case. (Terp confirms that Reilly called him but will not disclose the content of the call; Bilott and Reilly decline to speak about it, citing continuing litigation.) Given what Bilott had documented in his Famous Letter, Taft stood by its partner.

A lead plaintiff soon presented himself. Joseph Kiger, a night-school teacher in Parkersburg, called Bilott to ask for help. About nine months earlier, he received a peculiar note from the Little Hocking water district. It arrived on Halloween day, enclosed in the monthly water bill. The note explained that an unregulated chemical named PFOA had been detected in the drinking water in ‘‘low concentrations,’’ but that it was not a health risk. Kiger had underlined statements that he found particularly baffling, like: ‘‘DuPont reports that it has toxicological and epidemiological data to support confidence that exposure guidelines established by DuPont are protective of human health.’’ The term ‘‘support confidence’’ seemed bizarre, as did ‘‘protective of human health,’’ not to mention the claim that DuPont’s own data supported its confidence in its own guidelines.

Still, Kiger might have forgotten about it had his wife, Darlene, not already spent much of her adulthood thinking about PFOA. Darlene’s first husband had been a chemist in DuPont’s PFOA lab. (Darlene asked that he not be named so that he wouldn’t be involved in the local politics around the case.) ‘‘When you worked at DuPont in this town,’’ Darlene says today, ‘‘you could have everything you wanted.’’ DuPont paid for his education, it secured him a mortgage and it paid him a generous salary. DuPont even gave him a free supply of PFOA, which, Darlene says, she used as soap in the family’s dishwasher and to clean the car. Sometimes her husband came home from work sick — fever, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting — after working in one of the PFOA storage tanks. It was a common occurrence at Washington Works. Darlene says the men at the plant called it ‘‘Teflon flu.’’

In 1976, after Darlene gave birth to their second child, her husband told her that he was not allowed to bring his work clothes home anymore. DuPont, he said, had found out that PFOA was causing health problems for women and birth defects in children. Darlene would remember this six years later when, at 36, she had to have an emergency hysterectomy and again eight years later, when she had a second surgery. When the strange letter from the water district arrived, Darlene says, ‘‘I kept thinking back to his clothing, to my hysterectomy. I asked myself, what does DuPont have to do with our drinking water?’’

Joe called the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (‘‘They treated me like I had the plague’’), the Parkersburg office of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (‘‘nothing to worry about’’), the water division (‘‘I got shut down’’), the local health department (‘‘just plain rude’’), even DuPont (‘‘I was fed the biggest line of [expletive] anybody could have been fed’’), before a scientist in the regional E.P.A. office finally took his call.

‘‘Good God, Joe,’’ the scientist said. ‘‘What the hell is that stuff doing in your water?’’ He sent Kiger information about the Tennant lawsuit. On the court papers Kiger kept seeing the same name: Robert Bilott, of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, in Cincinnati.

Bilott had anticipated suing on behalf of the one or two water districts closest to Washington Works. But tests revealed that six districts, as well as dozens of private wells, were tainted with levels of PFOA higher than DuPont’s own internal safety standard. In Lubeck, the Kigers’ district, the water tested positive for PFOA at seven times the limit. All told, 70,000 people were drinking poisoned water. Some had been doing so for decades.

But Bilott faced a vexing legal problem. PFOA was not a regulated substance. It appeared on no federal or state list of contaminants. How could Bilott claim that 70,000 people had been poisoned if the government didn’t recognize PFOA as a toxin — if PFOA, legally speaking, was no different than water itself? In 2001, it could not even be proved that exposure to PFOA in public drinking water caused health problems. There was scant information available about its impact on large populations. How could the class prove it had been harmed by PFOA when the health effects were largely unknown?

The best metric Bilott had to judge a safe exposure level was DuPont’s own internal limit of one part per billion. But when DuPont learned that Bilott was preparing a new lawsuit, it announced that it would re-evaluate that figure. As in the Tennant case, DuPont formed a team composed of its own scientists and scientists from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. It announced a new threshold: 150 parts per billion.

Bilott found the figure ‘‘mind-blowing.’’ The toxicologists he hired had settled upon a safety limit of 0.2 parts per billion. But West Virginia endorsed the new standard. Within two years, three lawyers regularly used by DuPont were hired by the state D.E.P. in leadership positions. One of them was placed in charge of the entire agency. ‘‘The way that transpired was just amazing to me,’’ Bilott says. ‘‘I suppose it wasn’t so amazing to my fellow counsel in West Virginia who know the system there. But it was to me.’’ The same DuPont lawyers tasked with writing the safety limit, Bilott said, had become the government regulators responsible for enforcing that limit.

Bilott devised a new legal strategy. A year earlier, West Virginia had become one of the first states to recognize what is called, in tort law, a medical-monitoring claim. A plaintiff needs to prove only that he or she has been exposed to a toxin. If the plaintiff wins, the defendant is required to fund regular medical tests. In these cases, should a plaintiff later become ill, he or she can sue retroactively for damages. For this reason, Bilott filed the class-action suit in August 2001 in state court, even though four of the six affected water districts lay across the Ohio border.

Meanwhile the E.P.A., drawing from Bilott’s research, began its own investigation into the toxicity of PFOA. In 2002, the agency released its initial findings: PFOA might pose human health risks not only to those drinking tainted water, but also to the general public — anyone, for instance, who cooked with Teflon pans. The E.P.A. was particularly alarmed to learn that PFOA had been detected in American blood banks, something 3M and DuPont had known as early as 1976. By 2003 the average concentration of PFOA in the blood of an adult American was four to five parts per billion. In 2000, 3M ceased production of PFOA. DuPont, rather than use an alternative compound, built a new factory in Fayetteville, N.C., to manufacture the substance for its own use.

Bilott’s strategy appeared to have worked. In September 2004, DuPont decided to settle the class-action suit. It agreed to install filtration plants in the six affected water districts if they wanted them and pay a cash award of $70 million. It would fund a scientific study to determine whether there was a ‘‘probable link’’ — a term that delicately avoided any declaration of causation — between PFOA and any diseases. If such links existed, DuPont would pay for medical monitoring of the affected group in perpetuity. Until the scientific study came back with its results, class members were forbidden from filing personal-injury suits against DuPont.

A reasonable expectation, at this point, was that the lawyers would move on. ‘‘In any other class action you’ve ever read about,’’ Deitzler says, ‘‘you get your 10 bucks in the mail, the lawyers get paid and the lawsuit goes away. That’s what we were supposed to do.’’ For three years, Bilott had worked for nothing, costing his firm a fortune. But now Taft received a windfall: Bilott and his team of West Virginian plaintiff lawyers received $21.7 million in fees from the settlement. ‘‘I think they were thinking, This guy did O.K.,’’ Deitzler says. ‘‘I wouldn’t be surprised if he got a raise.’’

Not only had Taft recouped its losses, but DuPont was providing clean water to the communities named in the suit. Bilott had every reason to walk away.

He didn’t.

‘‘There was a gap in the data,’’ Bilott says. The company’s internal health studies, as damning as they were, were limited to factory employees. DuPont could argue — and had argued — that even if PFOA caused medical problems, it was only because factory workers had been exposed at exponentially higher levels than neighbors who drank tainted water. The gap allowed DuPont to claim that it had done nothing wrong.

Bilott represented 70,000 people who had been drinking PFOA-laced drinking water for decades. What if the settlement money could be used to test them? ‘‘Class members were concerned about three things,’’ Winter says. ‘‘One: Do I have C8 in my blood? Two: If I do, is it harmful? Three: If it’s harmful, what are the effects?’’ Bilott and his colleagues realized they could answer all three questions, if only they could test their clients. Now, they realized, there was a way to do so. After the settlement, the legal team pushed to make receipt of the cash award contingent on a full medical examination. The class voted in favor of this approach, and within months, nearly 70,000 West Virginians were trading their blood for a $400 check.

The team of epidemiologists was flooded with medical data, and there was nothing DuPont could do to stop it. In fact, it was another term of the settlement that DuPont would fund the research without limitation. The scientists, freed from the restraints of academic budgets and grants, had hit the epidemiological jackpot: an entire population’s personal data and infinite resources available to study them. The scientists designed 12 studies, including one that, using sophisticated environmental modeling technology, determined exactly how much PFOA each individual class member had ingested.

It was assured that the panel would return convincing results. But Bilott could not predict what those results would be. If no correlation was found between PFOA and illness, Bilott’s clients would be barred under the terms of the agreement from filing any personal-injury cases. Because of the sheer quantity of data provided by the community health study and the un­limited budget — it ultimately cost DuPont $33 million — the panel took longer than ex­pected to perform its analysis. Two years passed without any findings. Bilott waited. A third year passed. Then a fourth, a fifth, a sixth. Still the panel was quiet. Bilott waited.

It was not a peaceful wait. The pressure on Bilott at Taft had built since he initiated the class-action suit in 2001. The legal fees had granted him a reprieve, but as the years passed without resolution, and Bilott continued to spend the firm’s money and was unable to attract new clients, he found himself in an awkward position.

‘‘This case,’’ Winter says, ‘‘regardless of how hugely successful it ends up, will never in the Taft firm’s mind replace what they’ve lost in the way of legal business over the years.’’

The longer it took for the science panel to conduct its research, the more expensive the case became. Taft continued to pay consultants to interpret the new findings and relay them to the epidemiologists. Bilott counseled class members in West Virginia and Ohio and traveled frequently to Washington to attend meetings at the E.P.A., which was deciding whether to issue advisories about PFOA. ‘‘We were incurring a lot of expenses,’’ Bilott says. ‘‘If the scientific panel found no link with diseases, we’d have to eat it all.’’

Clients called Bilott to say that they had received diagnoses of cancer or that a family member had died. They wanted to know why it was taking so long. When would they get relief? Among those who called was Jim Tennant. Wilbur, who had cancer, had died of a heart attack. Two years later, Wilbur’s wife died of cancer. Bilott was tormented by ‘‘the thought that we still hadn’t been able to hold this company responsible for what they did in time for those people to see it.’’

Taft did not waver in its support of the case, but the strain began to show. ‘‘It was stressful,’’ Sarah Barlage, Bilott’s wife, says. ‘‘He was exasperated that it was lasting a long time. But his heels were so dug in. He’s extremely stubborn. Every day that went by with no movement gave him more drive to see it through. But in the back of our minds, we knew that there are cases that go on forever.’’

His colleagues on the case detected a change in Bilott. ‘‘I had the impression that it was extremely tough on him,’’ Winter says. ‘‘Rob had a young family, kids growing up, and he was under pressure from his firm. Rob is a private person. He didn’t complain. But he showed signs of being under enormous stress.’’

In 2010, Bilott began suffering strange attacks: His vision would blur, he couldn’t put on his socks, his arms felt numb. His doctors didn’t know what was happening. The attacks recurred periodically, bringing blurry vision, slurred speech and difficulty moving one side of his body. They struck suddenly, without warning, and their effects lasted days. The doctors asked whether he was under heightened stress at work. ‘‘Nothing different than normal,’’ Bilott told them. ‘‘Nothing it hadn’t been for years.’’

The doctors ultimately hit upon an effective medication. The episodes ceased and their symptoms, apart from an occasional tic, are under control, but he still doesn’t have a diagnosis.

‘‘It was stressful,’’ Bilott says, ‘‘not to know what the heck was going on.’’

In December 2011, after seven years, the scientists began to release their findings: there was a ‘‘probable link’’ between PFOA and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia and ulcerative colitis.

‘‘There was relief,’’ Bilott says, understated nearly to the point of self-effacement. ‘‘We were able to deliver what we had promised to these folks seven years earlier. Especially since, for all those years, DuPont had been saying that we were lying, trying to scare and mislead people. Now we had a scientific answer.’’

As of October, 3,535 plaintiffs have filed personal-injury lawsuits against DuPont. The first member of this group to go to trial was a kidney-cancer survivor named Carla Bartlett. In October, Bartlett was awarded $1.6 million. DuPont plans to appeal. This may have ramifications well beyond Bartlett’s case: Hers is one of five ‘‘bellwether’’ cases that will be tried over the course of this year. After that, DuPont may choose to settle with every afflicted class member, using the outcome of the bellwether cases to determine settlement awards. Or DuPont can fight each suit individually, a tactic that tobacco companies have used to fight personal-injury lawsuits. At the rate of four trials a year, DuPont would continue to fight PFOA cases until the year 2890.

DuPont’s continuing refusal to accept responsibility is maddening to Bilott. ‘‘To think that you’ve negotiated in good faith a deal that everybody has abided by and worked on for seven years, you reach a point where certain things were to be resolved but then remain contested,’’ he says. ‘‘I think about the clients who have been waiting for this, many of whom are sick or have died while waiting. It’s infuriating.’’

As part of its agreement with the E.P.A., DuPont ceased production and use of PFOA in 2013. The five other companies in the world that produce PFOA are also phasing out production. DuPont, which is currently negotiating a merger with Dow Chemical, last year severed its chemical businesses: They have been spun off into a new corporation called Chemours. The new company has replaced PFOA with similar fluorine-based compounds designed to biodegrade more quickly — the alternative considered and then discarded by DuPont more than 20 years ago. Like PFOA, these new substances have not come under any regulation from the E.P.A. When asked about the safety of the new chemicals, Chemours replied in a statement: ‘‘A significant body of data demonstrates that these alternative chemistries can be used safely.’’

Last May, 200 scientists from a variety of disciplines signed the Madrid Statement, which expresses concern about the production of all fluorochemicals, or PFASs, including those that have replaced PFOA. PFOA and its replacements are suspected to belong to a large class of artificial compounds called endocrine-disrupting chemicals; these compounds, which include chemicals used in the production of pesticides, plastics and gasoline, interfere with human reproduction and metabolism and cause cancer, thyroid problems and nervous-system disorders. In the last five years, however, a new wave of endocrinology research has found that even extremely low doses of such chemicals can create significant health problems. Among the Madrid scientists’ recommendations: ‘‘Enact legislation to require only essential uses of PFASs’’ and ‘‘Whenever possible, avoid products containing, or manufactured using, PFASs. These include many products that are stain-resistant, waterproof or nonstick.’’

When asked about the Madrid Statement, Dan Turner, DuPont’s head of global media relations, wrote in an email: ‘‘DuPont does not believe the Madrid Statement reflects a true consideration of the available data on alternatives to long-chain perfluorochemicals, such as PFOA. DuPont worked for more than a decade, with oversight from regulators, to introduce its alternatives. Extensive data has been developed, demonstrating that these alternatives are much more rapidly eliminated from the body than PFOA, and have improved health safety profiles. We are confident that these alternative chemistries can be used safely — they are well characterized, and the data has been used to register them with environmental agencies around the world.’’

Every year Rob Bilott writes a letter to the E.P.A. and the West Virginia D.E.P., urging the regulation of PFOA in drinking water. In 2009, the E.P.A. set a ‘‘provisional’’ limit of 0.4 parts per billion for short-term exposure, but has never finalized that figure. This means that local water districts are under no obligation to tell customers whether PFOA is in their water. In response to Bilott’s most recent letter, the E.P.A. claimed that it would announce a ‘‘lifetime health advisory level for PFOA’’ by ‘‘early 2016.’’

This advisory level, if indeed announced, might be a source of comfort to future generations. But if you are a sentient being reading this article in 2016, you already have PFOA in your blood. It is in your parents’ blood, your children’s blood, your lover’s blood. How did it get there? Through the air, through your diet, through your use of nonstick cookware, through your umbilical cord. Or you might have drunk tainted water. The Environmental Working Group has found manufactured fluoro­chemicals present in 94 water districts across 27 states (see sidebar beginning on Page 38). Residents of Seattle; Wilmington, Del.; Colorado Springs; and Nassau County on Long Island are among those whose water has a higher concentration of fluorochemicals than that in some of the districts included in Rob Bilott’s class-action suit. The drinking water in Parkersburg itself, whose water district was not included in the original class-action suit and has failed to compel DuPont to pay for a filtration system, is currently tainted with high levels of PFOA. Most residents appear not to know this.

Where scientists have tested for the presence of PFOA in the world, they have found it. PFOA is in the blood or vital organs of Atlantic salmon, swordfish, striped mullet, gray seals, common cormorants, Alaskan polar bears, brown pelicans, sea turtles, sea eagles, Midwestern bald eagles, California sea lions and Laysan albatrosses on Sand Island, a wildlife refuge on Midway Atoll, in the middle of the North Pacific Ocean, about halfway between North America and Asia.

‘‘We see a situation,’’ Joe Kiger says, ‘‘that has gone from Washington Works, to statewide, to the United States, and now it’s everywhere, it’s global. We’ve taken the cap off something here. But it’s just not DuPont. Good God. There are 60,000 unregulated chemicals out there right now. We have no idea what we’re taking.’’

Bilott doesn’t regret fighting DuPont for the last 16 years, nor for letting PFOA consume his career. But he is still angry. ‘‘The thought that DuPont could get away with this for this long,’’ Bilott says, his tone landing halfway between wonder and rage, ‘‘that they could keep making a profit off it, then get the agreement of the governmental agencies to slowly phase it out, only to replace it with an alternative with unknown human effects — we told the agencies about this in 2001, and they’ve essentially done nothing. That’s 14 years of this stuff continuing to be used, continuing to be in the drinking water all over the country. DuPont just quietly switches over to the next substance. And in the meantime, they fight everyone who has been injured by it.’’

Bilott is currently prosecuting Wolf v. DuPont, the second of the personal-injury cases filed by the members of his class. The plaintiff, John M. Wolf of Parkersburg, claims that PFOA in his drinking water caused him to develop ulcerative colitis. That trial begins in March. When it concludes, there will be 3,533 cases left to try.

Further Reading

For more about DuPont’s FPOA pollution, see ‘‘The Teflon Toxin’’ by Sharon Lerner (The Intercept, Aug. 17, 2015) and ‘‘Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia’’ by Mariah Blake (The Huffington Post, Aug. 27, 2015).

Nathaniel Rich is a contributing writer for the magazine and the author of ‘‘Odds Against Tomorrow.’’ He lives in New Orleans and is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books and The Atlantic.

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobson (Excerpts regarding Hitler’s Chemists – Fritz Hoffmann)

Hitler’s Chemists

Fritz Hoffmann

This nerve agent was code-named VX (the V stood for venomous)–a battlefield killer that was three times more toxic than sarin when inhaled and one thousand times more lethal when it came into contact with the skin. Ten milligrams of VX could kill a man in fifteen minutes. VX would be more effective on the battlefield than sarin ever would be; sarin dissipated within fifteen or so minutes, but when VX was sprayed, it stayed on the ground for up to twenty-one days. Now, in 1957, the Chemical Corps began producing VX by the thousands of tons. Operation Paperclip scientist Fritz Hoffmann moved over from synthesizing tabun at Edgewood to working on VX munitions. But Fritz Hoffmann’s more haunting legacy lies in the work he performed for the CIA’s Special Operations Division and the Chemical Corps’ antiplant division. Antiplant agents include chemical or biological pathogens, as well as insects, that are then used as part of a program to harm crops, foliage, or other plant life.

After the death of Frank Olson, the SO Division continued its LSD mind control schemes, But Sidney Gottlieb, the man who had suggested poisoning Frank Olson at the CIA safe house in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, was assigned to also work on the CIA’s assassination-by-poison program. Fritz Hoffmann was one of the chemists at the locus of the program. “He was our teacher,” Edgewood laboratory director Dr. Seymour Silver told journalist Linda Hunt. “He was the guy who brought to our attention any discoveries that happened around the world and then said, ‘Here’s a new chemical, you better test it.'”….. page 384

“During the Vietnam War, I remember one evening we were at the dinner table and the war was on the news,” Gabriella Hoffmann explains. The family was watching TV. “Dad was usually a quiet man, so when he spoke up you remembered it. He pointed to the news–you could see the jungles of Vietnam, and he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be easier to defoliate the trees so you could see the enemies?’ That’s what he said. I remember it clearly. Years later I learned one of Dad’s projects was the development of Agent Orange.”

The army’s herbicidal warfare program during the Vietnam War started in August 1961 and lasted until February 1971. More than 11.4 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed over approximately 24 percent of South Vietnam, destroying 5 million acres of uplands and forests and 500,000 acres of food crops–an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts. An additional 8 million gallons of other anti-crop agents, code-named Agents White, Blue, Purple, and Green, were also sprayed, mostly from C-123 cargo planes. Fritz Hoffmann was one of the earliest known U.S. Army Chemical Corps scientists to research the toxic effects of dioxin–possibly in the mid-1950s but for certain in 1959–as indicated in what has become known as the Hoffmann Trip Report. This document is used in almost every legal record pertaining to litigation by U.S. military veterans against the U.S. government and chemical manufacturers for its usage of herbicides and defoliants in the Vietnam War.

Fritz Hoffmann’s untimely death came like something out of a Special Operations Division’s Agent Branch playbook. He suffered a serious illness that came on quickly, lasted for a relatively short time, and was followed by death. On Christmas Eve 1966, Fritz Hoffmann was diagnosed with cancer. Racked with pain, he lay in bed watching his favorite television shows–“Cowboy westerns and Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone,” Gabriella Hoffmann recalls. One hundred days later, Fritz Hoffmann was dead. He was fifty-six years old.

page 387 – 388

Also in the first three months of the CIA’s existence, the National Security Council issued Directive No. 3, dealing specifically with the “production of intelligence and the coordination of intelligence activities within the intelligence community.” The National Security Council wanted to know who was producing what intelligence and how that information was being coordinated among agencies. In the opinion of the CIA, “the link between scientific planning and military research on a national scale did not hitherto exist.” The result was the creation of the Scientific Intelligence Committee (SIC), chaired by the CIA and with members from the army, the navy, the air force, the State Department, and the Atomic Energy Commission. “Very early in its existence the SIC undertook to define scientific intelligence, delineate areas of particular interest and establish committees to handle these areas,” wrote SIC chairman Dr. Karl Weber, in a CIA monograph that remained classified until September 2008. “Priority was accorded to atomic energy, biological warfare, chemical warfare, electronic warfare, guided missiles, aircraft, undersea warfare and medicine” –every area involving Operation Paperclip scientists. Each scientific intelligence subcommittees were created, one for each area of warfare.

Despite the urgency. the JIOA’s plan to make Operation Paperclip over into a long-term program was still at a standstill. By the spring of 1948, half of the one thousand German scientists bound for America had arrived, but not a single one of them had a visa. Troublemaker Samuel Klaus was gone from the State Department, but the JIOA could still not get the visa division to make things happen fast enough. On May 11, 1948, military intelligence chief General Stephen J. Chamberlin, the man who had briefed Eisenhower in 1947, took matters into his own hands. Chamberlin went to meet FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to enlist his help with visas. Cold War paranoia was on the rise, and both men were staunch anti-Communists. The success of Operation Paperclip, said Chamberlin, was essential to national security. The FBI had the communists to fear, not the Nazis. Hoover agreed. Paperclip recruits needed the promise of American citizenship now more than ever, Chamberlin said, before any more of them were stolen away by the Russians.. three months later, the first seven scientists had U.S. immigration visas.

Pages 315 – 316

Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobson. (Excerpts regarding Hitler’s Chemists – Otto Ambros)

Hitler’s Chemists

Otto Ambros

Otto Ambros was a fastidious man. His calculations were exact, his words carefully chosen, his fingernails always manicured. He wore his hair neatly oiled and parted. In addition to being Hitler’s favorite chemist, Ambros was the manager of IG Farben’s synthetic rubber and fuel factory at Aushwitz.

page 21

“The concentration camp already existing with approximately 7000 prisoners is to be expanded.” Santo noted in his official company report. For Ambros, Farben’s arrangement with the SS regarding slave laborers remained vague; Ambros sought clarity. “It is therefore necessary to open negotiations with the Reich Leader SS [Himmler] as soon as possible to discuss necessary measures with him,” Ambros wrote in his official company report. The two men had a decades-old relationship; Heinrich Himmler and Otto Ambros had known one another since grade school. Ambros could make Himmler see eye-to-eye with him on the benefits that Auschwitz offered to both Farben and the SS. – Operation Paperclip. page 153.

Otto Ambros was key to making the Buna factory a success. With his knowledge of synthetic rubber and his managerial experience–he also ran Farben’s secret nerve gas production facilities–there was no better man than Otto Ambros for the Auschwitz job….
Major Tilley waited at Dustin for the return of Tarr and Ambros. It was now clear to him that there was no single individual more important to Hitler’s chemical weapons program than Otto Ambros had been. Ambros was in charge of chemical weapons at Gendorf and Dyhernfurth, and he was the manager of the Buna factory at Auschwitz. From interviewing various Farben chemists held at Dustbin, Tilley had also learned that the gas used to murder millions of people at Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Zyklon B, and it was sold to the Reich by an IG Farben company. In one of these interviews, Tilley asked IG Farben board member Baron Georg von Schnitzler if Otto Ambros knew that Farben chemicals were being used to murder people.

“You said yesterday that a [Farben employee] ‘alluded’ to you that the poisonous gasses [sic] and the chemicals manufactured by IG Farben were being used for the murder of human beings held in concentration camps,” Major Tilley reminded von Schnitzler in their interview
“So I understood him,” von Schnitzler replied.
“Didn’t you question those employees of yours further in regard to the use of these gases?”
“They knew it was being used for this purpose,” von Schnitzler said
von Schnitzler confessed, “I asked [the Farben employee] is it known to you and Ambros and other directors in Auschwitz that the gases and chemicals are being used to murder people?”
“What did he say?” asked Major Tilley.
“Yes; it is known to all the IG directors in Auschwitz,” von Schnitzer said.

Few men were as important to IG Farben during the war than Otto Ambros had been. IG Farben began first producing synthetic rubber in 1935, naming it Buna after its primary component, butadiene…. Otto Ambros poured over maps of this region, called the Upper Silesia, in search of a Buna factory site, he found what he was looking for. The production of synthetic rubber required four things: water, flat land, good railway connections, and an abundance of laborers. Auschwitz had all four. Three rivers met in Auschwitz, the Sola, the Vistula, and the Przemsza, with a water flow of 525,000 cubic feet per hour. The land was flat and sixty-five feet above the waterline, making it safe from floodwaters. The railway connections were sound. But the most important was the labor issue. The concentration camp next door could provide an endless labor supply because the men were cheap and could be worked to death. For Farben, the use of slave labor supply could take the company to levels of economic prowess previously unexplored.

pages 151 – 155

It was only a matter of time before an American chemical company would learn of the army’s interest in a whole new field of chemical weapons. An American chemist, Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind, was in Germany at this same time. Dr. Hirschkind was conducting a survey of the German chemical industry for the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service while on temporarily leave from Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Hirschkind had spent several months inspecting IG Farben plants in the U.S. and British zones and now he was in Heidelberg, hoping to meet Ambros. Lieutenant Colonel Tarr reached out to Colonel Weiss, the French commander in charge of IG Farben’s chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, and a meeting was arranged.

On July 28, 1945, Dr. Hirschkind met with Ambros and Lieutenant Colonel Tarr in Heidelberg. Ambros brought his wartime deputy with him to the meeting, the Farben chemist Jurgen von Klenck. It was von Klenck who, in the final months of the war, had helped Ambros destroy evidence, hide documents, and disguise the Farben factory in Gendorf so that it appeared to produce soap, not chemical weapons. Jurgen von Klenck was initially detained at Dustbin but later released. The Heidelberg meetings lasted several days. When Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind left, he had these words for Ambros: “I would look forward after the conclusion of the peace treaty [to] continuing our relations [in my position] as a representative of Dow.”

Only later did FIAT interrogators learn about this meeting. Major Tilley’s suspicions were now confirmed. A group inside the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, including his former partner, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, did indeed have an ulterior motive that ran counter to the motives of CIOS, FIAT, and the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Tilley’s superior at Dustbin, Major Wilson, confirmed this dark and disturbing truth in a classified military intelligence report on the Ambros affair. “It is believed that the conflict between FIAT… and LT-Col Tarr was due to the latter’s wish to use Ambros for industrial chemical purposes” back in the United States.”

“All documents regarding the Ambros affair would remain classified for the next forty years, until August of 1985. That an officer of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, had sheltered a wanted war criminal from capture in the aftermath of the German surrender was damning. That this officer was also participating in meetings with the fugitive and a representative from the Dow Chemical Company was scandalous.”

page 157 – 159

By 1964, Ambros had been a free man for thirteen years. He was an extremely wealthy, successful businessman. He socialized in Berlin among the captains of industry and the professional elite. When the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial started, he was a board member of numerous major corporations in Germany, including AEG (Allgemeine Elekrizitats Gesellschaft), Germany’s General Electric; Hibernia Mining Company; and SKW (Suddeutsche Kalkstickstoff-Werke AG), a chemical company.

page 415 – 416

In separate letters to Finance Minister Ludger Westrick and Deputy Finance Minister Dr. Dollinger, a new secret was revealed, though Ambros promised not to make public a piece of the information they shared. “Concerning the firms abroad where I am a permanent co-worker advisor,” Ambros wrote, “I won’t name them [publicly] because I don’t want to tip off any journalists who might cause trouble with my friends. You know about W.R. Grace in New York… and I hope I can stay with Hibernia Company. Concerning the firms in Isreal,” Ambros wrote, “stating their names publicly would be very embarrassing because they are [run by] very public, well-respected persons in public positions that have actually been at my home and are aware of my position, how I behaved during the Reich, and they accept this.”

The “well-respected” public figures in Israel to whom Ambros referred have never been revealed. That Ambros also had worked for the American company W.R Grace would take decades to come to light. When it did, in the early 1980s, the public would also learn that Otto Ambros worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission, “to develop and operate a plant for the hydrogenation of coal in a scale of 4 million tons/year at the former IG Farben industry.” That a convicted war criminal had been hired by the Department of Energy sparked indignation, and congressmen and journalists sought further details about Ambros’s U.S. government contract. In a statement to the press, the Department of Energy insisted that the paperwork had been lost…

Letters on White House stationary reveal that Deputy National Security Adviser James W. Nance briefed Reagan about how it was that the U.S. government could have hired Otto Ambros. Nance’s argument to the president was that many others hired him. “Dr. Ambros had contracts with numerous officials from Allied countries,” wrote Nance. “Dr. Ambros was a consultant to companies such as Distillers Limited of England; Pechiney, the French chemical giant; and Dow Europe of Switzerland. He was also the chairman of Knoll, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of the well known chemical corporation BASF.” President Reagan requested further information from the Department of Energy on its Ambros contract. Nance told the president, “The DOE and/or ERDA [The Energy Research and Development Administration] do not have records that would answer the questions you asked in the detail you requested. However, with Ambros’ involvement in the company shown and his special knowledge in hydrogenation of coal, we know there were productive contacts between Dr. Ambros and U.S. energy officials.” Even the president of the United States could not get complete information about an Operation Paperclip legacy.

In the midst of the scandal, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle telephoned Ambros at his home in Mannheim, Germany, and asked Ambros about his 1948 conviction at Nuremberg for mass murder and slavery.

“That happened a very long time ago,” Ambros told the reporter. “It involved Jews. We do not think about it anymore.”

Pages 418 – 419

In the decades since Operation Paperclip ended, new facts continue to come to light. In 2008, previously unreported information about Otto Ambros emerged, serving as a reminder that the story of what lies hidden behind America’s Nazi scientist program in to complete.

A group of medical doctors and researchers in England, working on behalf of an organization called the Thalidomide Trust, believe they have tied the wartime work of IG Farben and Otto Ambros to the thalidomide tragedy of the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Ambros was released from Landsberg Prison, he worked as an economic consultant to German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and to the industrial magnate Friedrich Flick, the richest person in Germany during the Cold War. Like Ambros, Flick had been tried and convicted at Nuremberg, then released early by John J. McCloy.

In the late 1950s, Ambros was also elected chairman of the advisory committee for a German company called Chemie Grunenthal. Grunenthal was about to market a new tranquilizer that promised pregnant women relief from morning sickness. The drug, called thalidomide, was going to be sold under the brand name Contergan. Otto Ambros served on the board of directors of Grunenthal. In the late 1950s, very few people knew that Grunenthal was a safe haven for many Nazis , including Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck, the inspector of nutrition for the SS, and Dr. HeinzBaumkotter, an SS captain (Hauptsturmfuhrer) and the chief concentration camp doctor in Mauthausen, Natweiler-Struthof, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

Ten months before Grunenthal’s public release of thalidomide, the wife of a Grunenthal employee, who took the drug to combat morning sickness, gave birth to a baby without ears. No one linked the birth defect to the drug, and thalidomide was released by the company. After several months on the market, 1959, Grunenthal received its first reports that thalidomide caused polyneuropathy, or nerve damage, in the hands and feet of elderly people who took the drug. The drug’s over-the-counter status was changed so that it now required a prescription. Still, thalidomide was marketed aggressively in forty-sex countries with a label that stated it could be “given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without any adverse effect on mother and child.” Instead, the drug resulted in more than ten thousand mothers giving birth to babies with terrible deformities, creating the most horrific pharmaceutical disaster in the history of modern medicine. Many of the children were born without ears, arms, or legs and with reptilian, flipperlike appendages in place of healthy limbs.

The origins of thalidomide were never accounted for. Grunenthal had always maintained that it lost its documents that showed where and when the first human trials were conducted on the drug. Then, in 2008, the Thalidomide Trust, in England, headed by Dr. Martin Johnson, located a group of Nazi-era documents that produced a link between thalidomide and the drugs researched and developed by IG Farben chemists during the war. Dr. Johnson points out that Grunenthal’s 1954 patents for thalidomide cryptically state that human trials had already been completed, but the company says it cannot offer that data because it was lost, ostensibly during the war. “The patents suggest that thalidomide was probably one of a number of products developed at Dyhernfurth or Auschwitz-Monowitz under the leadership of Otto Ambros in the course of nerve gas research,” Dr. Johnson says.

The Thalidomide Trust also links Paperclip scientist Richard Kuhn to the medical tragedy, “Kuhn worked with a wide range of chemicals in his nerve gas research, and in his antidote research we know he used Antergan, which we are fairly sure was a ‘sister drug’ to Contergan,” the brand name for thalidomide, Dr. Johnson explains.

In 2005, Kuhn experienced a posthumous fall of grace when the society of German Chemists (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, GDCh) announced it would no longer award its once-prestigious Richard Kuhn Medal in his name. Nazi-era documents on Kuhn had been brought to the society’s attention, revealing that in “the spring of 1943 Kuhn asked the secretary-general of the KWS [Kaiser Wilhelm Society], Ernst Telschow, to support his search for the brains of ‘young and healthy men,’ presumably for nerve gas research.” The Society of German Chemists maintains that “the sources indicate that these brains were most likely taken from execution victims,” and that ‘[d]espite his scientific achievements, [Richard] Kuhn is not suitable to serve as a role model, and eponym for an important award, mainly due to his conduct towards Jewish colleagues.”

It seems that the legacy of Hitler’s chemists has yet to be fully unveiled. Because so many of these German scientists were seen as assets to the U.S. Army Chemical Corps’ nerve agent programs, and were thus wanted as participants in Operation Paperclip, secret deals were made, and the many documents pertaining to these arrangements were classified.

pages 431 – 433

Operation Paperclip

http://anniejacobsen.com/operation-paperclip/

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