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Trade Secrets Documentary by Bill Moyers

 

 

Trade Secrets – Transcripts

TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT

TEASE:

NARRATION: They are everywhere in our daily lives – often where we least expect them.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We are conducting a vast toxicologic experiment, and we are using our children as the experimental animals.

NARRATION: Not a single child today is born free of synthetic chemicals.

AL MEYERHOFF, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: With chemicals, it’s shoot first and ask questions later.

NARRATION: We think we are protected but, in fact, chemicals are presumed safe – innocent – until proven guilty.

SANDY BUCHANAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OHIO CITIZEN ACTION: Years of documents have shown that they knew they were hurting people, much like the tobacco industry.

PROFESSOR GERALD MARKOWITZ Ph.D, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: Historians don’t like to use broad political terms like “cover-up,” but there’s really no other term that you can use for this.

NARRATION: In this special investigation, we will reveal the secrets that a powerful industry has kept hidden for almost fifty years.

TRADE SECRETS: A Moyers Report

PROLOGUE:

NARRATION: There is a three-hundred mile stretch along the coast where Texas and Louisiana meet that boasts the largest collection of petrochemical refineries and factories in the world.

Many who live and work here call it “Cancer Alley.”

RAY REYNOLDS: Many, many nights we were walking through vapor clouds and you could see it. You know how a hot road looks down a long straight? Well, that’s exactly what it looks like – wavy. We would complain about it, and they would pacify us by saying, there’s no long term problem. You might have an immediate reaction like nausea, but that’s only normal. Don’t worry about it.

NARRATION: In the living room of his house a few miles from the chemical plant where he worked for 16 years, Ray Reynolds waits out the last days of his life. He is 43 years old. Toxic neuropathy – poisoning – has spread from his nerve cells to his brain.

MOYERS: What’s the prognosis? How long do they give you?

REYNOLDS: They don’t. There’s too many variables, and there’s too much unknown about it.

NARRATION: Dan Ross had no doubt about what made him sick. Neither does his wife of 25 years, Elaine.

ELAINE ROSS: Went to a dance one night, and he walked in the door, and I had never seen him before, didn’t know what his name was or anything, and he started shooting pool with a bunch of his friends, and the friend that I was with, I told him, I said, “That’s who I’ll spend the rest of my life with.”

MOYERS: Love at first sight?

ROSS: Uh huh.

MOYERS: Did he think that?

ROSS: No.

MOYERS: You had to, had to…

ROSS: I had to persuade him. When we got married, he was still in the Air Force, so he spent eighteen months overseas. When he got back, he had an eighteen-month-old daughter. And so probably the main thing was, he was worried about making a living for everybody, for us.

NARRATION: The plant where Dan Ross made that living produces the raw vinyl chloride that is basic to the manufacture of PVC plastic.

ROSS: Danny worked for them 23 years – and every single day that he worked, he was exposed. Not one day was he not exposed.

As the years went by, you could see it on his face. He started to get this hollow look under his eyes, and he always smelled. I could always smell the chemicals on him. I could even smell it on his breath after a while. But even up until he was diagnosed the first time, he said, “They’ll take care of me. They’re my friends.”

NARRATION: In 1989, Dan Ross was told he had a rare form of brain cancer.

ROSS: He and I never believed in suing anybody. You just don’t sue people. And I was looking for answers. Since I couldn’t find a cure, I wanted to know what caused it.

NARRATION: Looking for an answer, she found something that raised more questions instead.

ROSS: I was just going through some of his papers, and I found this exposure record. It tells you what the amount was that he was exposed to in any given day.

MOYERS: Somebody’s written on here, “Exceeds short-term exposure.” What does that mean?

ROSS: That it was over the acceptable limit that the government allows. So this exceeded what he should have been exposed to that day.

NARRATION: There was also a hand-written instruction.

MOYERS: And then there’s writing that says?

ROSS: “Do not include on wire to Houston.”

MOYERS: Don’t send this to the headquarters?

ROSS: Right.

ROSS: My question was: Why wasn’t it included – why was it held up from going to Houston?

MOYERS: What did you take that to mean?

ROSS: Somebody’s trying to cover something up. Why?

NARRATION: Her discovery led Dan and Elaine Ross to sue.

ROSS: And I promised him that they would never, ever forget who he was, ever.

DOCUMENT WAREHOUSE

NARRATION: And this is the result of that vow.

MOYERS: How long did it take you to gather all this?

WILLIAM BAGGETT, JR, ATTORNEY: Ten years.

NARRATION: Over those ten years, attorney William Baggett, Jr. waged a legal battle for the Rosses that included charges of conspiracy against companies producing vinyl chloride. Dan’s employers – and most of the companies – have now settled. But the long legal discovery led deeper and deeper into the inner chambers of the chemical industry and its Washington trade association. More than a million pages of documents were eventually unearthed.

In these rooms is the legacy of Dan Ross.

We asked to examine the documents buried in these boxes – and discovered a shocking story.

It is a story we were never supposed to know – secrets that go back to the beginning of the chemical revolution.

NARRATION: It was love at first sight. In the decade after World War II, Americans opened their arms to the wonders of chemistry.

Synthetic chemicals were invented to give manufacturers new materials – like plastic.

Pesticides like DDT were advertised as miracle chemicals that would eradicate crop pests – and mosquitoes.

The industry boomed.

Since then, tens of thousands of new chemicals have been created, turned into consumer products or released into the environment. We use them to raise and deliver our food. We clean our carpets and our clothes with them. Plastics carry everything from spring water to cooking oil. They’re in our shower curtains and in our blood bags. They are the material of choice in our children’s toys.

But there are risks that come with the benefits of the chemical revolution.

MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

MOYERS: In this arm?

NURSE: Preferably, if that’s where your vain is good at.

NARRATION: Specialists in public health at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York – led by Dr. Michael McCally – are trying to assess how many synthetic chemicals are in our bodies. For the purpose of this broadcast, I volunteered take part in their study. A much larger project is underway at the US Centers for Disease Control.

MOYERS: And you’re looking for chemicals?

DR. MICHAEL McCALLY, VICE-CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Not the body’s normal chemicals. We’re looking for industrial chemicals, things that weren’t around 100 years ago, that your grandfather didn’t have in his blood or fat. We’re looking for those chemicals that have been put into the environment, and through environmental exposures – things we eat, things we breathe, water we drink – are now incorporated in our bodies that just weren’t there.

MOYERS: You really think you will find chemicals in my body?

McCALLY: Oh yes…no question. No question.

DOCUMENTS

NARRATION: These secret documents reveal that the risks were known from the beginning. The chemical industry knew much more about its miracle products than it was telling. And one of the most toxic was vinyl chloride – the chemical Dan Ross was working with.

PROFESSOR GERALD MARKOWITZ Ph.D., JOHN JAY COLLEGE: One of the indications they knew they should have been telling the work force and public about this is that they mark all these documents “secret,” “confidential.” They tell each other in these documents – “Keep this within the company, do not tell anybody else about this problem.” So they know this is dynamite.

NARRATION: Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner are historians of public health in New York. They were retained by two law firms to study the Ross archive.

DAVID ROSNER, Ph.D., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: They certainly never expected historians to be able to look into the inner workings of their trade association and their vinyl chloride committee meetings and the planning for their attempts to cover up and to basically obscure their role in these workers’ deaths.

NARRATION: The hidden history begins with a document from May, 1959.

To: Director, Department of Industrial Hygiene, The BF Goodrich Company.

“We have been investigating vinyl chloride a bit. … We feel quite confident that 500 parts per million is going to produce rather appreciable injury when inhaled 7 hours a day, five days a week for an extended period.”

NARRATION: It is early correspondence among industry medical officers who were studying the effects of working with vinyl chloride. At the time, workers were regularly exposed to at least 500 parts per million.

November 24, 1959. Inter-company Correspondence, Union Carbide.

“An off-the record phone call from V.K. Rowe gives me incomplete data on their current repeated inhalation study. …Vinyl chloride monomer is more toxic than has been believed.”

NARRATION: BF Goodrich was one of the vinyl chloride producers in on the industry’s private conversations.

BERNARD SKAGGS: I started there in June–it was June the 3rd, 1955.

MOYERS: ’55.

SKAGGS: Uh-huh.

MOYERS: When you began, did you think the work might be dangerous?

SKAGGS: No. They told us it wasn’t. The only thing we had to watch about the vinyl chloride was not getting enough of it pass out.

NARRATION: Fresh out of the Army, Bernard Skaggs went to work at the BF Goodrich plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

There, vinyl chloride gas was turned into a dough-like mixture that was then dried and processed into the raw material for PVC plastic. Bernie Skaggs’ job was to climb into the giant vats that spun and mixed the vinyl chloride – and chip off what was left behind. Workers called it “kettle crud.”

SKAGGS: There was vinyl chloride everywhere. The valve, overhead valves had charging valves over there where the vinyl chloride was pumped into the reactors. All of those leaked and dripped. Most of them dripped on the floor all the time. They said it had to be – I think it was – 1,500 parts per million before you could smell it. Not only could you smell it, you could see it. It would – it would get into a vapor, and through the sunlight it waved, waves, and you see it. It was all the time that way.

My hands began to get sore, and they began to swell some. My fingers got so sore on the ends, I couldn’t button a shirt, couldn’t dial a phone. And I had thick skin like it was burned all over the back of my hand, back of my fingers, all the way up under my arm, almost to my armpit. And after enough time, I got thick places on my face right under my eyes…

MOYERS: Did you think it might be related to your job?

SKAGGS: At the start, no.

NARRATION: BF Goodrich would discover the truth.

From: The BF Goodrich Company To: Union Carbide, Imperial Chemical Industries, and The Monsanto Company.

“Gentlemen: There is no question but that skin lesions, absorption of bone of the terminal joints of the hands, and circulatory changes can occur in workers associated with the polymerization of PVC.”

NARRATION: In other words, they knew vinyl chloride could cause the bones in the hands of their workers to dissolve.

“Of course, the confidentiality of this data is exceedingly important.”

MOYERS: What does this memo tell you? This particular memo?

ROSNER: Oh, it tells me the industry never expected that they would be held accountable to the public about what was happening to the work force. They never even expected their workers to learn of the problems that they were facing and the causes of it.

NARRATION: Bernie Skaggs’ hands were eventually X-rayed.

SKAGGS: I was really shocked.

MOYERS: What did you see?

SKAGGS: Well, on the hands, my fingers were all–you know, showed up–the bones showed up white in the x-ray.

MOYERS: In a normal x-ray.

SKAGGS: Yeah, normal x-ray, yeah. And mine were okay till they got out to this first joint out there. Then from there out, most of it was black. Some of them had a little half moon around the end, and then just a little bit beyond the joint. And I said, “What is that? You’ve really surprised me.” He said, “That–the bone is being destroyed.”

MOYERS: The black showed that there was no bone there.

SKAGGS: Yeah, right. The bone was disappearing, just gone.

MOYERS: Dissolving?

SKAGGS: Yeah.

RICHARD LEMEN Ph.D., FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NIOSH: It was the slowness of action on the industry’s part that was the most striking issue in reviewing these documents.

NARRATION: Dr. Richard Lemen was deputy director of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health until he retired five years ago. The Baggett law firm hired him to analyze the secret documents.

LEMEN: The basic tenet of public health is to prevent, once you have found something, immediately stop exposure.

MOYERS: So they should have told the workers right then.

LEMEN: They absolutely should have told the workers. Even if it was only a suspicion, they should have told the workers what they knew and what they could do to prevent their exposure to what they thought was causing the disease.

NARRATION: That is not what happened. BF Goodrich did not tell the workers, even though its own medical consultants were reporting the truth.

October 6, 1966

“The clinical manifestations are such as to suggest the possibility of a disabling disease as a later development.”

NARRATION: What the company’s advisers feared was that the dissolving hand bones could be a warning of something even more serious.

“May be a systemic disease as opposed to a purely localized disease (fingers). …They (Goodrich) are worried about possible long term effect on body tissue especially if it proves to be systemic.”

MOYERS: “…proves to be systemic.” What’s that saying? Interpret that for a layman.

LEMEN: What that’s saying is that this disease may be much beyond just the fingertips, that it could have effects on other organs in the body or other parts of the body.

MARKOWITZ: If all the doctor is looking for is concerns about tops of the fingers and has not been told in the medical literature that this might be a systemic disease, that this information is kept within the chemical industry, then that worker is going to be misdiagnosed. The worker’s condition is going to get worse, and there is no telling what the effects are going to be for that worker.

MOYERS: He could die not knowing what had killed him.

MARKOWITZ: Absolutely.

NARRATION: Goodrich executives did tell other companies what was happening. But they hoped…

“They hope all will use discretion in making the problem public. …They particularly want to avoid exposes like Silent Spring and Unsafe at Any Speed.”

MARKOWITZ: They understand the implications of what is before them and they are faced with a situation that could explode at any minute, and they are…

MOYERS: Politically.

MARKOWITZ: Politically, culturally, economically – this could affect their whole industry if people feel that this plastic could represent a real hazard to the work force, and if it could present a hazard to the work force, people are going to wonder, consumers are going to wonder what is the impact that it could have for me.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

NARRATION: On April 30, 1969 – ten years after Bernie Skaggs first complained to the company doctor about the pain in his hands – members of the industry’s trade association met at their Washington offices. On the agenda was a report from a group of medical researchers they had hired.

Confidential. Recommendations.

“The association between reactor cleaning and the occurrence of acroosteolysis is sufficiently clear cut. The severity of exposure of reactor cleaner to vinyl chloride should be kept at a minimum…”

NARRATION: The advisers recommended that exposure to vinyl chloride be reduced by ninety per cent – from 500 parts per million to 50 parts per million. But the Occupational Health Committee rejected the recommendation.

“A motion to accept the report as submitted was defeated by a vote of 7 to 3.”

NARRATION: Instead, they changed the report.

“Eliminate the last sentence ‘Sufficient ventilation should be provided to reduce the vinyl chloride concentration below 50 parts per million.'”

MOYERS: What’s stunning to me is that at this meeting were, representing the companies, many people with MDs behind their name, MD the chairman, MD the vice chairman, MD, MD, MD. And they were among those voting against the researchers who had said we’ve got a problem here.

LEMEN: I think that that reflects who the medical doctor’s patient really was. Was their patient the workers in the plant – or were they representing their employer? This is a fundamental problem that we’ve had in public health for a long time – and that is, who is more important? Is it the chemical being produced or is it the human being producing the chemical?

NARRATION: For ten years, the bones in his fingers were disappearing. In that time, the industry never told him what it knew. Bernie Skaggs was kept in the dark – until a few months ago, when we handed him one of the secret documents.

MOYERS: There it is, in black and white. Do you want to read it?

SKAGGS: “There is no question but that skin lesions, absorption of bone of the terminal joints of the hands and circulatory changes can occur in workers associated with polymerization of PVC.”

MOYERS: That was describing the condition you had.

SKAGGS: Right, right.

MOYERS: At the same time they were –

SKAGGS: They were resisting anything –

MOYERS: They didn’t say they knew anything –

SKAGGS: And that bothers me, you know. Well, to think that they’d be this dishonest with me. After all of these years – and I put 37-1/2 years in that place – and that they could be dishonest enough not to even ever admit to me that what they did and what they had was what caused my problem.

MOYERS: Then there’s another. Let me read this. The consultants said “This may be a systemic disease, as opposed to a purely localized disease.”

SKAGGS : This is the first I’ve heard of this. I didn’t know that. The company did a good job of I guess I’d call it brain washing. They actually told us, and they told us this, that this vinyl chloride won’t hurt you.

MOYERS: What do you think when you look at all these documents?

SKAGGS: Makes me more bitter than I was.

NARRATION: By the early 1970s, Dustin Hoffman had been famously advised in the movie, “The Graduate,” that “plastics” was the future. But the vinyl chloride industry was hearing something else.

A scientist at an Italian plant, Dr. P.L. Viola, had exposed laboratory rats to vinyl chloride – and discovered cancer. As he steadily lowered the exposure levels in his tests, the cancer persisted. The discovery cast a pall over the promising future of plastic.

NARRATION: On November 16, 1971, the men from twenty vinyl chloride-producing companies gathered at the Hotel Washington to discuss the bad news.

“Publishing of Dr. Viola’s work in the US could lead to serious problems with regard to the vinyl chloride monomer industry.”

MOYERS: How would you characterize the industry discussion?

ROSNER: Close to panic. There is a whole new ball game out there about who is going to regulate industry, how much influence industry will have over these agencies, and the discovery of cancer, of course, is, you know, potentially not only a public relations disaster, but a regulatory disaster for this industry.

NARRATION: At the meeting, one of the European industry’s own scientists presented an even more disturbing report.

“Doctor LeFevre theorizes that vinyl chloride is absorbed in body fats and carried to the brain.”

NARRATION: Despite the startling prospect that vinyl chloride could affect the brain, the companies took no action – and told no one.

“The present political climate in the US is such that a campaign by Mr. R. Nader and others could force an industrial upheaval via new laws or strict interpretation of pollution and occupational health laws.”

NARRATION: A year later, another Italian researcher, Dr. Cesare Maltoni, found evidence of a rare liver cancer – angiosarcoma. In studies sponsored by the European industry, cancer appeared in rats exposed to levels of vinyl chloride common on factory floors in the US. The panicked industry came running.

MARKOWITZ: Two or three American representatives of the chemical industry go over to Bologna and the Europeans tell them that there are cancers now not only at the very high levels, at thousands of parts per million, but down to 250 parts per million. And yet they are determined to keep this secret. And they go so far as to even sign a secrecy agreement between the Europeans and the Americans so that each of their researchers will be secret from everybody outside the industry.

MOYERS: They get together, the American representatives and the European representatives, and they say this is top secret, we are not going to make it public…

MARKOWITZ: Exactly. They…

MOYERS: …to anybody? To the workers?

MARKOWITZ: To the workers.

MOYERS: To the doctors?

MARKOWITZ: To the doctors. No one is going to get this information except the companies who have signed the secrecy agreement.

NARRATION: Conoco, BF Goodrich, Dow, Shell, Ethyl, Union Carbide – some of the founding fathers of the chemical revolution – were among those who signed the secrecy agreement, even as they were admitting to themselves the bad news.

February 13, 1973. Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

“Dow Chemical Company reviewed the work on the European study. They report the results on rats are probably undeniable.”

Ethyl Corporation. Inter-Office. Subject: Vinyl Chloride.

“All agreed the results certainly indicate a positive carcinogenic effect above or at 250 parts per million.”

NARRATION: The companies knew. Working with vinyl chloride – even at low levels of exposure – could cause cancer.

WASHINGTON, DC

NARRATION: By 1973, the federal government was trying to catch up with the chemical revolution.

A new agency – the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – NIOSH – published an official request seeking all health and safety information regarding vinyl chloride.

Two months later, a staff member of the industry’s trade association sent a letter to member companies urging that they tell NIOSH about Dr. Maltoni’s findings.

March 26, 1973

“There is the aspect of moral obligation not to withhold from the Government significant information having occupational and environmental relevance… ”

MCA BUILDING

May 21, 1973. Manufacturing Chemists Association. Minutes of meeting.

NARRATION: But meeting in their conference room in Washington, they discussed keeping secret what they knew of the dangers posed by vinyl chloride.

“We should not volunteer reference to the European project, but in response to direct inquiry, we could not deny awareness of the project and knowledge concerning certain preliminary results.”

MARKOWITZ: It is an extraordinary situation where they know they should be telling the Government about this problem. They know that they are wrong not to tell them. And then they admit that their engaging in this kind of activity can be legitimately seen as evidence of an illegal conspiracy.

May 31, 1973. Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

NARRATION: A Union Carbide executive reported to corporate headquarters that if the March letter admitting knowledge of Maltoni’s work ever became public, it could…

“could be construed as evidence of an illegal conspiracy by industry…if the information were not made public or at least made available to the government.”

ROSNER: You kind of avoid as a historian the idea that there are conspiracies or that there are people planning the world in a certain way. You just try to avoid that because it’s–it seems too–too unreal and too frightening in its implications. Yet, when you look at these documents, you say yes, there are people who understood what was going on, people who thought about the crisis that was engulfing them or about to engulf them and tried in every which way to get out of that crisis and actually to, in some sense, to suppress an issue.

MOYERS: Do you think all of this added up to, to use your word, a conspiracy?

ROSNER: In a moral sense, I think it was a conspiracy.

NARRATION: We have learned from the secret archive that when the industry met with NIOSH, it did not mention Maltoni or angiosarcoma.

Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

“The presentation was extremely well received and …the chances of precipitous action by NIOSH on vinyl chloride were materially lessened. NIOSH did not appear to want to alienate a cooperative industry.”

MARKOWITZ: Historians don’t like to use broad political terms like “cover-up,” but there is really no other term you can use for this because the industry had the information. They knew the significance of the information they had, and they refused to tell the Government because they were afraid the Government would take action to protect the work force.

MOYERS: And yet, during this time, Dan Ross and others like him, working in vinyl chloride plants, were being told there was nothing to worry about, that there is no danger.

MARKOWITZ: That’s correct. The industry kept assuring the work force that there was not anything that they need to be concerned about and that they were going to protect the work force.

MOYERS: But they didn’t.

MARKOWITZ: No, they certainly did not.

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA

NARRATION: The companies involved were among those producing more than five billion pounds of vinyl chloride every year – and they were expanding. In 1967, one of them – Conoco – was finishing construction of a new complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Dan Ross moved his family into a small house less than a quarter of a mile from the new plant’s back door.

ELAINE ROSS: He went to work there, he started as a pumper loader. And he moved up fast in the first year that he was there.

MOYERS: He was eager for hard work or…

ROSS: Or he was smart, he was smart, and a hard worker.

NARRATION: Another early hire at Conoco was Everett Hoffpauir – who took the job shortly after he returned from serving in Vietnam.

EVERETT HOFFPAUIR: We were in the start-up phase, and early operation phase, and they were getting all the bugs out of it, and we had a lotta releases, and we had a lotta problems. Prevailing attitude with management at the time was “Let’s get it back online; downtime is killing us.” So as long as it wasn’t gonna blow sumpin’ up, go on in there and do what you gotta do.

MOYERS: You were breathing it?

HOFFPAUIR: We were breathing it, get higher than a Georgia pine sucking on it, you know. It’s very intoxicating. It’s a lot like propane or any other light end, it’s aromatic and, like I say, it did give you a buzz if you stayed in it long enough.

Their attitude was, if you don’t wanna do the job, there’s four waitin’ at the gate waiting to take your job. Do it – or else.

Vietnam was winding down, had a lot of people that weren’t working or if they were, were working for a lot less money. And plant jobs were very attractive. So if you didn’t want to do the work, just say so – somebody’s waitin’ to take your place.

MOYERS: So you’d worry more about your job than about your health?

HOFFPAUIR: Well, sure you were. I had a wife and three kids at home that I had to feed, you know. Yeah. But nobody told you it was a real health hazard, so you didn’t worry about it.

NARRATION: But the companies were worried.

December 14, 1971. Ad hoc planning group for Vinyl Chloride Research.

NARRATION: To counter the damaging information from the European animal studies, the industry commissioned a confidential study of its own workers that it planned to use in its defense.

“The need to be able to assure the employees of the industry that management was concerned for, and diligent in seeking the information necessary to protect their health. The need to develop data useful in defense of the industry against invalid claims for injury for alleged occupational or community exposure.”

MARKOWITZ: They are telling the scientists this is what we want. They are giving them the money to do the research, and the scientists know that in the end, they have got to come up with something that is approximate to what their funders are interested in.

MOYERS: In other words, they were saying to the epidemiologists, the researchers, the scientists, here is the end we want. Produce the science to get us there.

ROSNER: That’s right.

MARKOWITZ: When research is conducted in that way where you are trying to protect the industry, rather than give the industry the information it needs to protect the work force and the public, the process of science is absolutely corrupted.

LEMEN: Good science is to design a study that will determine whether or not there is an effect from the exposure to the chemical. And you should design that study with the greatest amount of power, the greatest amount of ability to detect whether or not there is an effect. Therefore, you should study those workers that are most directly exposed and eliminate workers that don’t have exposure. That was not done.

MOYERS: Go to the pool of affected workers, not the pool of workers who might be on the margin of the process.

LEMEN: Absolutely. They didn’t do that. They included workers in their study that were probably not ever exposed to vinyl chloride.

MOYERS: So if you bring in secretaries and managers or people out driving trucks, you’re diluting the impact of your study.

LEMEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you can’t get a true result when you do something like that.

NARRATION: The researchers were restricted to studying employment records and death certificates. They did not interview the workers themselves.

MARKOWITZ: They were in, from their perspective, a terrible bind. They wanted the information to know if the workers had suffered any injury as a result of exposure to vinyl chloride, but they didn’t want to tell the workers that they might have been exposed to vinyl chloride and that there was a danger in that exposure. So they didn’t want to even alert the workers in any form through these surveys that they might have had a problem that they should investigate themselves, that they should consult with their doctors about, that they should be worried about.

NARRATION: The confidential documents reveal other efforts that affected the outcome.

October 15, 1973. Vinyl Chloride Epidemiological Study. Progress Report.

“Several companies have indicated that they do not wish their terminated employees to be contacted directly.”

LEMEN: If you have workers that have left employment, they may have left because they were sick. They may have left because they had had some reason to leave. And excluding them from the study gives you a very biased result.

NARRATION: The companies also worried that if researchers contacted the families of workers who had died, someone might get suspicious.

“This becomes even more complicated when one seeks information from relatives of past employees who have subsequently died. …In other words, we need the information, but at what risk.”

ROSNER: I think this is how we, as historians, are looking at it. If you could keep that knowledge secret, keep the causes secret, keep the information secret for long enough, workers will die of other things, they’ll vanish from the work force, they’ll go on to other places, they’ll retire and die of diseases that may or may not be directly linked to the experience in the workplace.

MOYERS: How are lay people like me, citizens, supposed to decide what is good and what is bad science?

LEMEN: That’s hard. It’s real hard. Science is easy to manipulate.

NARRATION: In the end, the industry got a report that said what it wanted.

Lake Charles, Louisiana. PPG/Vista.

“Study after study has confirmed there is no evidence that vinyl affects human health – not for workers in the industry, not for people living near vinyl-related manufacturing facilities, not for those who use the hundreds of vinyl consumer and industrial products.”

NARRATION: So workers like Dan Ross were not told why they were getting sick.

ROSS: He came home from work one day, and he was taking off his boots and socks, and I looked at his feet. The whole top of ’em were burned. Now, he had on safety boots, steel-toed, and the whole top of his feet were red where the chemicals had gone through his boots, through his socks, under his feet, and burned them, both feet.

MOYERS: You knew that chemicals had caused it?

ROSS: Oh, yeah. There was no doubt in his mind, because he had been standing in something. I don’t remember what it was. I said, “My God, what was it that goes through leather, steel-toed boots and your socks to do that?” You know, I said, “Don’t get in it again, whatever it was. Don’t get in it again.”

HOFFPAUIR: I got chlorine gas and I went to the hospital, but, you know, it, it was just part a the – it wasn’t an everyday thing that you got chlorine. It was a everyday thing you got vinyl and EDC. Chlorine’s a bad, “bad news doctor” there. It’ll hurt ya. But you weren’t aware. You knew that instantly. You weren’t aware that this insidious little monster was creeping up on you, vinyl chloride was creeping up on you and eating your brain away. And that’s what it all tended out to prove out that it was doing. Just eating your brain up. Who was to know? No one told us. No one made us aware of it.

MOYERS: We can’t live in a risk-free society, can we?

HOFFPAUIR: No, we can’t live in a risk-free society. But we can live in an honest society.

NARRATION: The chemical industry was not being honest with its workers. And it was not being honest with the public.

In beauty parlors across America, hairdressers and their customers were using new aerosol sprays. No one told them they were inhaling toxic gas at exposure levels much higher than on the factory floor.

ROSNER: Vinyl chloride is a gas, and it is used as a propellant in hairsprays, in deodorants at that time, in a whole slew of pesticides and other cans that are propelling chemicals out into the environment. So, if it turns out that this relatively low threshold limit is poisoning workers, what is the potential danger if it ends up poisoning consumers?

NARRATION: Once again, buried in the documents, is the truth the industry kept hidden.

March 24, 1969. BF Goodrich Chemical Company Subject: Some new information.

“Calculations have been made to show the concentration of propellant in a typical small hair dresser’s room. …All of this suggests that beauty operators may be exposed to concentrations of vinyl chloride monomer equal to or greater than the level in our polys.”

NARRATION: The threat of lawsuits gave the industry second thoughts about marketing aerosols.

Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

“If vinyl chloride proves to be hazardous to health, a producing company’s liability to its employees is limited by various Workmen’s Compensation laws. A company selling vinyl chloride…”

MOYERS: “A company selling vinyl chloride as an aerosol propellant, however, has essentially unlimited liability to the entire U.S. population.” What does that mean?

ROSNER: The problem that they’re identifying is the giant elephant in the corner. It’s the issue of what happens when worker’s comp isn’t there to shield them from suits in court, what happens if people who are not covered by worker’s comp suddenly get exposed to vinyl chloride and begin to sue them for damages to their health.

MOYERS: Unlimited liability.

ROSNER: Unlimited liability. Millions and millions of women, of workers, of people exposed to monomer in all sorts of forms. This is catastrophic. This is potentially catastrophic.

Interoffice Memo. Ethyl Corporation.

“Dow … is questioning the aspect of making sales of vinyl chloride monomer when the known end use is as an aerosol propellant since market is small but potential liability is great.”

ROSNER: They consciously note that this is a very small portion of the vinyl chloride market. So why expose themselves to liability if this minor part of the industry can be excised and the huge liability that goes with it excised?

Allied Chemical Corporation. Memorandum. Subject: Vinyl Chloride Monomer.

“Concerning use of vinyl chloride monomer as aerosol propellant, serious consideration should be given to withdrawal from this market.”

MARKOWITZ: Here you have the industry saying we are going to give up this part of the industry, the aerosol part of the industry, because the liability is so great. But they are not going to inform the work force. They are not going to do anything about protecting the work force because the liability is limited for them. And so it’s a very cynical way of deciding on how you are going to deal with this dangerous product.

They have put people in danger. They have exposed a variety of people to a dangerous product, and, yet, they are not willing to say this is something we did, we didn’t know it, we, you know, had no way of knowing it, whatever excuses they wanted to make up, but they don’t even do that.

NARRATION: Some companies would give up the aerosol business – but quietly. No public warning was issued. Now, 30 years later, those hairdressers and their customers are unaware of the risks to which they were exposed. And it is impossible to know how many women may have been sick or died – without knowing why.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

NARRATION: 1974. B.F. Goodrich announced that four workers at its Louisville, Kentucky, vinyl chloride plant had died from angiosarcoma – the rare liver cancer uncovered by Dr. Maltoni. A link to their jobs could not be denied.

But neither workers nor the public knew that the companies had kept from them the clear connection between the chemical and the cancer.

WORKER # 1: My test came back bad and I’m only 26 years old, couple of young kids, really scares you.

NARRATION: When news of the four deaths broke, two hundred seventy employees were tested. Blood abnormalities showed up in fifty-five of them.

WORKER # 2: Fifty per cent of the guys I worked with in the late fifties aren’t around now, and that’s a twenty year period. And I’ve been here twenty and a half years.

WORKER #3: It just kindly upsets me and my wife, naturally, and my mother. It’s – I know it’s a problem. It’s, it’s, it’s just – what do you do?

NARRATION: The company provided no answers. But experts like Dr. Irving Selikoff, the country’s leading specialist in occupational disease, rushed to Louisville.

WORKER #4: Have they found anything besides cancer that vinyl chloride might cause? Or have you all looked for anything besides cancer?

DR. IRVING SELIKOFF: The liver can be affected even besides cancer. Scarring can occur in the liver. Fibrosis. The blood vessels can break, the veins can break, and you can get a fatal hemorrhage, even.

WORKER #5: Once you have found that a man has this cancer caused from vinyl chloride, will you be able to cure it?

SELIKOFF: The answer is, no. At this moment, we do not know how to cure angiosarcoma.

BERNARD SKAGGS: My opinion is, if the liver thing had not come to the forefront, I don’t think they would have ever admitted anything.

MOYERS: If those guys hadn’t died.

SKAGGS: If they hadn’t died. I’m thinking about those people that I knew that died needlessly. I’m the fortunate one. I’ve lived through it. I’ve survived it. Some of them were cut off in their youth. I mean, they were young people.

NARRATION: Nine months later – over the objections of industry – the government ordered workplace exposure to vinyl chloride reduced to one part per million.

NARRATION: The aftershocks of the chemical revolution resounded throughout the 1970s. New words began to enter our vocabulary.

In Missouri, oil contaminated with dioxin had been sprayed on the dirt streets of a small working class town. When flood waters spread the poison everywhere, the entire population was evacuated.

In upstate New York, where homes had been built on a long-abandoned chemical dump, children were being born with birth defects. Love Canal was declared a disaster area.

Scientists looking for PCBs found them everywhere – in the mud of lakes and rivers, in birds and fish, and so up into the food chain. They showed up in cow’s milk in Indiana and mother’s milk in New York.

These modern poisons were not only widespread – but long-lasting.

BENZENE

NARRATION: Then came the benzene scare. Although it was known to be toxic, its use in gasoline helped fuel the American economy. But as evidence mounted connecting benzene to leukemia, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration – OSHA – ordered that workplace exposure be lowered to one part per million – a regulation the industry, then producing 11 billion pounds a year, would challenge.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: It’s almost inevitable that when a chemical becomes part of the political process that its regulation is going to be delayed. A chemical that has no commercial value is easy to regulate.

NARRATION: To counter the proposed regulation with its own science, the industry created and funded a $500,000 “Benzene Program Panel.”

PETER INFANTE, Ph.D., DIRECTOR OF STANDARDS REVIEW, OSHA: The science at the time was that a) benzene caused leukemia. I think there was no question about that.

MOYERS: There was no doubt in your mind that workers were at risk who were using benzene in those plants?

INFANTE: There was no doubt at all in most scientists that I spoke with. I think the only ones that had a contrary view were some scientists that represented the industry.

NARRATION: Again, the documents reveal that, just as with vinyl chloride, the industry’s own medical officers had known of benzene’s toxicity for a very long time.

MOYERS: Here’s an internal memo from 1958, 43 years ago, from Esso Oil’s medical research division. This came out of their own medical center. Quote: “Most authorities agree the only level which can be considered absolutely safe for prolonged exposure is zero.” What does that say to you?

INFANTE: There’s certainly information that the medical department has, and that information, you know, is not being conveyed to the workers, and that information is not being used to modify behavior by the company.

NARRATION: Instead of changing its behavior, the petrochemical industry turned to the courts to stop the regulation. The companies argued that reducing exposure to benzene would be too costly.

October 11, 1977

“We assert that there is no evidence that leukemia has resulted from exposure to benzene at the current concentration limits. The new and lower limitation on exposure would represent an intolerable misallocation of economic resources.”

NARRATION: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans – in America’s petrochemical heartland – ruled that the government had not proved the danger to humans to be great enough to justify the cost to industry. The victory propelled an offensive directed by the now re-named Chemical Manufacturers Association.

September, 1979. A Summary of Progress. Presented to the Board of Directors.

“Gentlemen, this is a campaign that has the dimension and detail of a war. This is war – not a battle. The dollars expended on offense are token compared to future costs.

“The rewards are the court decisions we have won, the regulations that have been modified, made more cost effective or just dropped. The future holds more of the same.”

DBCP

NARRATION: The companies had their battle plan in place when trouble erupted over a little-known pesticide – produced by Dow, Occidental and Shell – called DBCP.

WORKER #1: I worked in the DBCP unit itself manufacturing the chemical. And now after telling me that I shouldn’t worry about anything out there because it can’t hurt me, now to find out that I’m sterile from it, their answer was, don’t worry about that because you can always adopt children.

NARRATION: Talking among themselves, workers had figured out that many of them could not have children. Company officials claimed there was no pattern – and no evidence, even though newly-ordered tests proved disturbing.

WORKER #2: They ran a series of four sperm counts on us over a period of, I guess, two or three months. All my sperm counts came up zero. And I’d never been told in the whole time I’d been working out at Shell that this might happen to me.

NARRATION: What the industry also didn’t tell was that its own scientists had known of the dangers for decades.

Dow Chemical Company Biochemical Research Laboratory. July 23, 1958

“Testicular atrophy may result from prolonged repeated exposure. A tentative hygiene standard of 1 part per million is suggested.”

NARRATION: Dow had treated the report as “internal and confidential,” did not reduce exposure to DBCP – and did not tell the truth.

V.K. ROWE, Dow Chemical Company: It is our regular policy wherever to totally inform people about what the material is that they’re working with and what its potential is. So I can’t say precisely what was said in one situation. It’s generally throughout the company that we try our best to inform people about what are the hazards, how to avoid them and what to do if they have an accident – or what.

WORKER #2: The thing that bothers me, I think, more than anything is the fact that the chemical industry had no interest whatsoever in protecting us through telling us the dangers of what we were working with.

NARRATION: The companies were neither protecting their workers – nor their neighbors. An engineer at Occidental had alerted his plant manager.

April 29, 1975. Inter-office memo.

“We are slowly contaminating all wells in our area and two of our own wells are contaminated to the point of being toxic to animals or humans. THIS IS A TIME BOMB THAT WE MUST DE-FUSE.”

AL MEYERHOFF, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: DBCP was a reproductive toxicant, a very powerful carcinogen. It was found in drinking water wells throughout the country. It stayed on the market because to ban it, you first had to have an administrative process within a Government agency that was under great political pressure from power people on Capitol Hill. If you put enough hurdles up even the best-intentioned Government regulator is hamstrung.

NARRATION: The companies kept DBCP on the market for eight more years. And it would take a decade for the best-intentioned regulators to finally reduce the exposure level to benzene. By then, the evidence was so overwhelming the industry did not challenge the regulation. For some, it came too late.

LANDRIGAN: We knew how many chemical workers there were, how many rubber workers, how many petroleum workers, how many workers in other industries that were exposed to benzene, and on the basis of knowing how many were exposed and knowing the levels at which they were exposed, we were able to calculate how many unnecessary deaths from leukemia resulted from exposures during that 10-year delay.

MOYERS: How many?

LANDRIGAN: And the number was 492 unnecessary deaths from leukemia. Deaths that almost certainly would have been prevented if the standard had been reduced to 1 part per million back in the 1970’s.

MOYERS: What are the lessons that you would have us draw from this case of delay?

LANDRIGAN: Well, I think the most fundamental lesson is that we have to presume chemicals are guilty until they are proven innocent. What’s needed is an unpolluted political structure that is empowered to set regulations that protect the public health.

NARRATION: That’s not the political structure the industry wanted.

September 8, 1980. Report to the Board.

“The cold fact is that the Congress today has more influence over the agencies than the White House does.

“For even our best friends in Congress, there’s a limit to how long they’ll support us if the public’s against us.”

WITNESS IN HEARING: The industry’s gotten away with murder. That’s why they don’t move forward. Because it’s cost them some money and some effort, and if they’re not pushed, they won’t move.

“We need real muscle, the kind none of your lobbyists are likely to have as individuals. One growing source of political strength outside Washington is the Political Action Committees. PAC contributions improve access to Members.”

NARRATION: Through almost two hundred quickly-formed political action committees, the industry would contribute over six million dollars to the 1980 election campaign.

“When the time comes to play hardball, we’ll try to make good use of the political muscle you’ve been helping us develop.”

REAGAN INAUGURATION

NARRATION: Ronald Reagan was petrochemical’s favorite Presidential candidate. And four of the top five Senate recipients of the industry’s largesse were Republican challengers who defeated incumbents.

The industry was ready to play hardball.

September 28, 1981. Government Relations Committee. Pebble Beach.

“The Committee believes that the new climate in Washington is more reasoned and responsive. …The election of the Reagan Administration appears to have produced changes which bode well for our industry.”

NARRATION: The Reagan team asked business for a wish-list of actions that could be completed within the first 100 days. In less than a third that time, the new President signed an executive order that transformed the battle over the safety of chemicals.

CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

“President Reagan directed EPA to delay proposing or finalizing regulations until it could be determined that they were cost-effective and necessary.”

NARRATION: A prime target was the one law intended to give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate toxic chemicals – the Toxic Substances Control Act – TSCA.

JACQUELINE WARREN, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR THE NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: The whole theory of TSCA was that we’re not going to keep waiting until we can count the bodies in the street. We’re going to do some preliminary steps early on, catch the problems in the laboratory, get rid of them, identify the really bad actors, take some steps to reduce exposures, to find substitutes for these. That was the theory. It just in practice has never worked.

NARRATION: Case in point: A class of chemicals known as phthalates. In 1980, the National Cancer Institute had determined that one phthalate – DEHP – caused cancer in animals. By the time the Reagan Administration came to town, the Chemical Manufacturers Association was already spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on efforts to thwart any regulation.

“We must arm ourselves with cost calculations for alternate environmental control strategies; and we must feed that information to EPA as early as possible.”

NARRATION: Industry representatives and attorneys met three times with the number two man at the EPA. No environmental or consumer organizations were invited – or informed. Jacqueline Warren was one of those closed out.

WARREN: And we weren’t really there to say, “We represent another point of view on this that you should hear before you decide to go along with what the industry might be proposing”, since their interest is much narrower. They’re interested in their bottom line, their stockholders, their product, and they’re not as interested at all in what the potential health or safety or environmental effect of exposure to this might be. In fact, they’d rather keep that quiet if they can.

NARRATION: Although phthalates are widely used in common products from shower curtains to children’s toys, the EPA announced it would take no action to either ban or limit the uses.

MEYERHOFF: We refer to it as the Toxic Substances Conversation Act.

MOYERS: Because?

MEYERHOFF: They built in obstacle after obstacle and process after process where it is virtually impossible to get a known high-risk chemical off the market. There have been very few chemicals that have been actually banned because of their health risks. That’s because chemicals get far more due process than people do.

MOYERS: Chemicals have more rights than people?

MEYERHOFF: Far more rights than people.

NARRATION: The public protested that the Environmental Protection Agency had become a captive agency. What the public protested, the industry celebrated.

January 11, 1982. CMA Board of Directors. Grand Ballroom, Arizona Biltmore.

“Just ten days ago, TSCA celebrated its fifth birthday. The first five years of TSCA have seen numerous rules proposed by the Agency. To date, we have seen none of these types of rules finalized.”

WARREN: In terms of what we thought TSCA was going to mean, we haven’t made a big dent in getting tested the very large number of chemicals that are all over the environment and to which people are exposed to all the time, for which there are some data already available to suggest that they may be harmful. We’re still having to wait until the actual harm appears, and then try to do something about it.

MOYERS: Who’s in charge of the process now? LEMEN: The industry.

MOYERS: Regulating itself?

RICHARD LEMEN Ph.D., FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NIOSH: They’re in charge of doing that. The government is supposed to, but the industry has so much control through the lobbying efforts that they actually indeed do control it themselves.

NARRATION: To this day – almost 25 years after the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted – only five types of chemicals, out of thousands, have been banned under the law.

INSTITUTE, WEST VIRGINIA

NARRATION: August 11, 1985. The accidental release of a toxic cloud from a Union Carbide plant in Institute, West Virginia sends 134 people to the hospital. It is only eight months after an explosion at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India had killed some 2000 people – and injured 200,000 more.

REPORTER: When they told you it was a leak, what was the first thing that went through your mind?

MAN: India. Because you’re so helpless.

WOMAN: They didn’t know where it came from, they didn’t know what it was till two days later after it happened. You fumble and stumble and cause our lives to be turned upside down over things you misplaced – over 500 gallons of this mixture. Now I can see misplacing one or two gallons of gasoline around your house…

ROBERT KENNEDY, PRESIDENT, UNION CARBIDE: If we don’t make those chemicals, someone will. Someone will make those chemicals, and you know, you can wish the problems on somebody else. I had a dog once who overly aggressive and he bit a mailman once. And he missed a mailman about three times. And I was very upset about it. And I asked a vet finally if she thought that I could find a good home for that dog. And she said, Mr. Kennedy, don’t give your problem to somebody else. And I think I learned something by that. I don’t think we want to quit.

MAN IN AUDIENCE: When will you listen? I don’t want to hear your dog stories. We’re talking about people. And their lives and their homes and their families. You can have my job if you want it. Because by god, I can get another job. I can’t get another life.

NARRATION: Accidents were but one symptom of our co-existence with industrial chemicals.

In the late 1980’s, people began to agitate for the right to know more about the chemicals that they – and their children – were being exposed to.

WOMAN: I don’t think we should be afraid any more about talking about controls on the chemical industry. These are private companies -Carbide, DuPont, FMC, all of them – whose day to day decisions in those corporate board rooms are affecting our lives, our children’s lives, and the future generations.

MAN: What about cleaning up the industry? Stop the leaks, for Christ’ sake. Don’t kill me. Let’s do something.

NARRATION: In California, they did do something. In 1986, citizens themselves rounded up enough signatures to put the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act – Proposition 65 – on the California ballot.

MEYERHOFF: With Prop 65, if you are a manufacturer of a chemical and you’re exposing my family to a health hazard in a consumer product, in the workplace, in the air and the water, you have to warn me, and that makes a big difference because the public then doesn’t buy the product and it shifts the burden to the company.

MOYERS: You were really turning the system of regulation upside-down.

MEYERHOFF: Yes. It turned the entire system on its head, and that’s why the chemical industry and agriculture and others in California fought the law so hard.

NARRATION: Once again, we have learned from the secret documents how industry planned to fight.

June 4, 1986 California Toxics Initiative.

“A campaign fund of $5 million dollars has been targeted, with a broad coalition of industry and agricultural interests having been formed to finance and manage the campaign.”

MOYERS: “A total of $150,000 is needed by June 25th for fund-raising, research, and advertising, an additional $650,000 payable during July, August, or September.”

MEYERHOFF: Well, I always knew there were resources against us. I actually was unaware of the amount. That actually surprises me that there was quite that high level of dollars, and that was a lot of money then, to oppose Prop 65.

NARRATION: But the industry had been caught short; its money came too late. On election day, California’s right-to-know proposition passed – overwhelmingly.

MEYERHOFF: What the voters were saying is that we don’t trust the Government to protect us any longer from chemicals that cause cancer or birth defects or other harm, give us the information, tell us when we are at risk, we’ll protect ourselves. That was the basic message. And if you fail to do that, then you, a chemical company or grower or others, can be fined up to $5,000 per day, per person that isn’t warned. Prop 65 put the fear of God in the chemical companies, and it had never been there before.

NARRATION: Afraid of aroused public opinion, the companies vowed never to be caught short again.

June 3, 1987 Board of Directors Meeting. Chemical Manufacturers Association. State Toxics Initiatives

“Development of a funding plan which would include an industry-wide ‘pledge’…”

MOYERS: …”pledge” of resources company-by-company, pre-authorization to commit the funds to individual state campaigns.” Does that surprise you?

SANDY BUCHANAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OHIO CITIZEN ACTION: Well, it helps me understand why they were able to marshal their forces so quickly in Ohio and from so far across the country, the idea that they were ready for it and committed.

MOYERS: But you didn’t know about this?

BUCHANAN: No. I didn’t know about that until just now.

NARRATION: Sandy Buchanan heads Ohio Citizen Action, the group which took the lead in getting a right-to-know initiative on the Ohio ballot in 1992.

MOYERS: Though you didn’t know it at the time, I assume you were up against a lot of that money?

BUCHANAN: We were up against about at least 4.8 million of it.

MOYERS: 4.8 million.

BUCHANAN: That was the final spending on the actual ballot campaign.

MOYERS: By the industry.

BUCHANAN: By the industry in Ohio. They definitely spent more money than that, though, because at every stage of the process through the legislature and others, they brought us to court and they tried to challenge the legality of our petitions.

MOYERS: So the industry spent 4-point–

BUCHANAN: 4.8 million dollars on the ballot.

MOYERS: And how much did you spend in trying to pass it?

BUCHANAN: Oh, about 150,000.

MOYERS: I would say you were outspent.

BUCHANAN: About 50 to 1 or so, yeah.

NARRATION: For the companies, the dollars spent to defeat the initiative were insurance against the greater loss of being held accountable.

BUCHANAN: If they can’t be held liable, if the tools that citizens or workers can use to try to defend themselves are taken away, then you can protect the bottom line of a corporation.

MOYERS: It would cost them money if people knew.

BUCHANAN: It would absolutely cost them money.

NARRATION: No state right-to-know initiative has passed since 1986. And two years ago, industry persuaded Congress to roll back a major right-to know provision in the Clean Air Act.

TEST RESULTS

NARRATION: Today, an average of twenty new chemicals enter the marketplace every week. We don’t know much about them – and we don’t know what they might be doing to us.

Back at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. Michael McCally was ready to tell me if residues of the chemical revolution had been found in my blood.

MOYERS: So what’s the news?

DR. MICHAEL McCALLY, VICE-CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We tested for 150 different industrial chemicals, and you have 84 of those 150.

MOYERS: Wow. Eighty-four.

McCALLY: Eighty-four.

MOYERS: If you had tested me sixty years ago when I was six years old, would you have found those chemicals?

McCALLY: No. No. With one exception.

MOYERS: What’s that?

McCALLY: Lead.

MOYERS: Lead.

McCALLY: Lead. Lead’s been around — we’ve been — we’ve been poisoning ourselves with lead since, you know, practically the cave ages.

MOYERS: So 83 of these 84 chemicals you found in my blood are there because of the chemical revolution –

McCALLY: Yes.

MOYERS: — over the last sixty years.

McCALLY: That’s correct. That’s correct. And we didn’t know this until we looked, but suddenly we find out that the industry has put a bunch of chemicals in our body that, you know, are not good for us, and we didn’t have any say in that. That just happened.

MOYERS: What kind of chemicals?

McCALLY: In the PCB case, you have 31 different PCBs of this whole family of similar chemicals. They are all over the place. And it’s probably a function of where you lived. You lived in some locale where PCBs were in the environment, and you got them into you through the air you breathed. Some of them get down in groundwater. Some of them get coated on food. You didn’t get them sort of in one afternoon because you ate a poisoned apple.

MOYERS: And dioxins?

McCALLY: And dioxins, of all that we measured, you had 13, 13 different dioxins.

MOYERS: You tested for some pesticides.

McCALLY: Yes. The organophosphates — malathion is one we may have heard of because we’re spraying it here in New York because of mosquitoes.

MOYERS: I used to spray malathion on my house in Long — on my yard in Long Island.

McCALLY: We also measured organochlorine pesticides. The best known is DDT. DDT hasn’t been produced in this country for several decades.

MOYERS: Yes. So where would I have gotten that?

McCALLY: Did you ever, you know, watch them spray the trees when you were a little kid?

MOYERS: Young man.

McCALLY: A young man? Yes. Okay.

MOYERS: And I lived around places that had used it.

McCALLY: Well, that’s enough, because again, like PCBs, these are very persistent chemicals. They don’t — the body doesn’t metabolize them, doesn’t break them down into little pieces and get rid of them.

MOYERS: How do the results of my test compare with others around the country?

McCALLY: I wish we had more data. I wish I could give you a clear answer to that. The burdens that you carry are probably biologically less important than if you were, you know, a 21-year-old woman who was in her ninth week of pregnancy. And then the fact that you were circulating some DDT might really be important.

MOYERS: Have these chemicals been tested in terms of what happens when they are combined?

McCALLY: No. No. That is a complexity that we haven’t even looked at.

MOYERS: Have they been tested on vulnerable populations like children?

McCALLY: No. We are just beginning to do that science.

MOYERS: Is it fair to say from all of this that we are, as human beings, being unwittingly exposed to hundreds of toxic chemicals which have been tested enough just to know that they’re toxic, but not tested enough to know the risks?

McCALLY: That’s a fine summary of the current state of affairs. We know enough now to know that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to make chemicals that are carcinogenic and add them to our bodies and then argue about how much we are adding. It just isn’t a good idea. Particularly when there are perfectly acceptable alternatives, and if the industry chose, it could change our exposures dramatically by its own actions.

NARRATION: Three years ago – on the eve of Earth Day – the Chemical Manufacturers Association promised that its member companies would begin to voluntarily test one hundred chemicals a year at an estimated cost of 26 million dollars.

FRED WEBBER, PRESIDENT, CHEMICAL MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION: Our vision is that we will be highly valued by society for our leadership, for the benefits of our products and for the responsible and ethical way in which we conduct our business. It’s as simple as that.

NARRATION: Today, we are still waiting for the results of even one of those tests.

During those three years, the industry poured more than 33 million dollars into the election campaigns of friendly politicians.

NARRATION: As the secret documents reveal, the promise to test – voluntarily – was part of a strategy hatched almost a decade ago.

September 15, 1992:

“A general CMA policy on voluntary development of health, safety and environmental information will…potentially avert restrictive regulatory actions and legislative initiatives.”

MEYERHOFF: The idea of a chemical company voluntarily testing its product is not unlike efforts to voluntarily regulate their products. It is an attempt to pre-empt effective government. It is an attempt to try to stop the government from doing its job by doing half-baked measures and then claiming that we’re protecting the public.

DR. PHILIP LANDRIGAN, CHAIRMAN, PREVENTIVE MEDICINE, MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: There are 80,000 different man-made chemicals that have been registered with the EPA for possible use in commerce. Of those 80,000, there are about 15,000 that are actually produced each year in major quantities, and of those 15,000, only about 43 percent have ever been properly tested to see whether or not they can cause injury to humans.

NARRATION: The industry’s own documents confirm just how little we know.

Meeting of the CMA Board of Directors. Pebble Beach. Report of Health Effects Committee.

“The chemical industry has contended that while a few substances pose a real risk to human health when sufficient exposure occurs, the vast majority of chemicals do not pose any substantial threat to health. However, the problem is, very little data exists to broadly respond to the public’s perception and the charges of our opponents.”

NARRATION: That is worth repeating. “The problem is, very little data exists.”

In other words, the industry itself acknowledged it could not prove the majority of chemicals safe.

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA

NARRATION: Lake Charles, Louisiana. In the spring of 1989, the family of Dan Ross gathered to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from college.

ELAINE ROSS: He was always the kind of man that wore denim. Denim shirts, denim pants. In fact, he got downright indignant if we tried to make him dress up. We thought that was what was wrong with him. He’d complained about having a headache that day, and Robin told him – that’s our daughter. She said, Daddy, you’re not wearing that to my graduation. You’re wearing a suit. We assumed that the look on his face was that he was mad at all of us and was gonna let us remember it forever, you know. And we laughed at him and teased him about it. But afterward, the headache didn’t go away.

NARRATION: Several days later, a CAT scan revealed brain cancer. In the last words he was able to speak, Dan Ross told his wife, “Mama, they killed me.”

ROSS: You start watching him die one piece at a time, you know. It’s like, okay, he’s blind today, but he can still hear, he can still swallow if I put something in his mouth. But he lost the use of one of his arms, and then next day it would be the other arm, the next day it would be one leg. And then he couldn’t hear anymore. The hardest part was when he couldn’t speak anymore.

NARRATION: On October 9, 1990, twenty-three years to the day after he started working at Conoco, Dan Ross died. He was 46 years old.

ROSS: They hurt somebody that meant more to me than my whole life. I would have gladly taken his place to die. Gladly.

NARRATION: Half a century into the chemical revolution, there is a lot we don’t know about the tens of thousands of chemicals all around us.

What we do know is that breast cancer has risen steadily over the last four decades. Forty thousand women will die of it in this year alone.

We do know brain cancer among children is up by 26 per cent. We know testicular cancer among older teenage boys has almost doubled, that infertility among young adults is up, and so are learning disabilities in children.

We don’t know why.

But by the industry’s own admission, very little data exists to prove chemicals safe.

So, we are flying blind. Except the laboratory mice in this vast chemical experiment are the children.

They have no idea what’s happening to them. And neither do we.

PANEL DISCUSSION

MOYERS: Now we want to discuss some of the public policy issues raised by what we’ve seen.

With me are Terry Yosie, Vice-President of the American Chemistry Council; Ted Voorhees, partner in the law firm of Covington & Burling – he represents the Chemical Trade Association in the Ross case; Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working group — as a matter of disclosure, the foundation I serve made a small grant to Mr. Cook’s organization a few years ago, but I didn’t meet him until three weeks ago — and Dr. Phil Landrigan, a pediatrician and chairman of preventative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Mr. Yosie, thank you very much for coming.

TERRY YOSIE: Thank you.

MOYERS: Given what we’ve just seen, how can the public rely on what the chemical industry says about the safety of synthetic chemicals?

YOSIE: Thank you, Mr. Moyers. If I were a member of the viewing audience tonight, I would be very troubled and anguished if I thought that the information presented during the proceeding 90 minutes represented a complete and accurate account of the story. It does not. For nearly two years, this program has been in preparation. At no time during that two year period have representatives of this program contacted our industry, asked us for information, or provided an opportunity for us to appear on the 90-minute segment.

We believe that it is a sad day in American journalism when two sides of the story can’t be told, when accuracy and balance are not featured in the broadcast. It’s our intention in the limited about of time that we have available this evening to correct some of the errors that we found in the broadcast, but also to present a more complete picture of who this industry does and what it represents and the benefit it delivers for the American people.

How can– turning to your question Mr. Moyers– how can the American people be reassured that the products developed are safe for the intended uses? We test our products and we report that information to the government. There are 9,000 chemical products on the marketplace today. They have been researched, they have been tested, and that information has been disclosed. We do not do this information alone. We work with some of the finest universities in the United States: people at Harvard, the University of California system, the University of Massachusetts– independent researchers with world-class reputations.

We have a major partnership with one of this nation’s leading environmental groups, Environmental Defense, and through that partnership we are disclosing information on those test results no matter what they show. So I believe this commitment to openness and transparency, to working together to identify information needs and to disclose this to the public is to pass the greater confidence in the products we make.

MOYERS: Mr. Cook, do you want to talk about that?

KEN COOK: Well, it’s interesting that you raised the question of testing. As I was struck by so many images in this program, one of the images was that of the x-rays of these vinyl workers who you had in your industry, medical doctors examining without telling them why they were examining them. Their fingers dissolving and this new program you’re describing, the symbol of it is two hands holding a globe. I don’t think I will ever be able to look at the logo for your program without thinking of those vinyl workers and their dissolving finger bones.

As for testing, one of the things that was striking about Bill’s results as I was thinking about it, was just how little is known about the products of your industry showing up in people. Do you, for all your testing you’re saying is being done, do you have any idea how many of the products of your industry, all your companies– it’s a good bit more than 9000– do you know how many show up in people? Have you even tested for that?

YOSIE: Let us respond to some of the issues you’re raising.

MOYERS: You don’t want to answer?

COOK: So you’re testing?

YOSIE: I want to respond to the issues that…

MOYERS: Before you do…

YOSIE: I think the viewers deserve our correction of some statements.

MOYERS: Well we’ll turn to it in just one minute, but how thoroughly are these chemicals tested before they come on to the market?

YOSIE: They are tested using the best scientific methods available, and they are tested not only for their potential hazard, but when we test a product, when we submit that information to the government, we are using standards set by our government, but also international standards. We are applying the best laboratory practices that have been defined by the scientific community.

We don’t do this work in isolation, and when we develop a product, we have margins of safety so that whatever potential effects there may be, we develop those products so that they ensure safety many times below where there could ever be an effect. Subsequent legislation has ratified that approach that we have taken for many years.

COOK: But this is legislation that you have opposed. I mean, your own documents show– whether it’s the clean air act, the clean water act, the safe drinking water act– straight on through, you can read the documents now for the first time that you have never made public before, and it’s quite clear that every time there’s an attempt to tighten regulation on your industry to protect citizens, communities from air pollution, water pollution, your own documents show how you have opposed that.

MOYERS: Let me bring Mr. Voorhees in on this.

TED VOORHEES: Thank you, and let me say that I have met Mrs. Ross, and I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for her situation having lost her husband to brain cancer. At a human level I have sympathy, but no amount of sympathy can justify putting on a program that presents an incomplete, slanted, and essentially misleading characterization of what happened with vinyl chloride.

And to take Ken’s example of the hands, as the first of a couple of examples let me give, the show tells the viewer that this hand problem appeared in the mid 1960’s, and that it was treated as confidential and secret by the industry. What the show doesn’t state is that as soon as that problem was found by B.F. Goodrich company, the doctor who found that problem in 1967, published his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which is probably one of the most widely read professional articles read by doctors, and in that article on the hand problem, Dr. Creech included the very same x-ray images which you showed on your program as if they had been hidden and kept secret from people.

MOYERS: Did that document say that it was linked to the exposure of vinyl chloride?

VOORHEES: It absolutely did, that was the whole subject of the article.

MOYERS: Why didn’t the company tell Bernie Skaggs?

VOORHEES: Bernie Skaggs’ doctor knew about that because he read it in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

MOYERS: But why didn’t the company tell him?

VOORHEES: The company was telling his doctor — the person who would know and who would be able to react to something like that is a professional who would be able to see the relationship.

MOYERS: I believe the documents show that the company did not tell his doctor.

VOORHEES: Well, they published the study of the hand problem in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1967.

MOYERS: So was the doctor expected to just come across that in random reading? Why didn’t the company tell Bernie Skaggs directly? He worked for the company, Mr. Voorhees. Why didn’t they tell him?

VOORHEES: The Journal of the American Medical Association, JAMA, is not random reading. It’s probably the most widely read professional journal…

MOYERS: Sir, you’re not answering the question. Why didn’t the company tell its employees?

VOORHEES: I don’t know that they didn’t tell Bernie Skaggs.

MOYERS: The documents suggest they didn’t.

VOORHEES: The B.F. Goodrich company had a doctor at the plant. He was the author of this article in JAMA and he would have, as workers came into see him, he would have explained to them what their problem was and I would expect that would happen.

MOYERS: Was Bernie Skaggs lying to me when he said the company didn’t tell him?

VOORHEES: I am certainly not going to accuse him of lying, but what I’m saying is that the doctor at his plant published his findings immediately in the Journal of the American Medical Association and my point is, the program has suggested to your viewer that this was an issue that was kept in secret. Far from keeping it in secret, it was published in the most widely read journal, and the x-rays that were supposedly kept secret were a part of that journal article.

YOSIE: 40 years ago is a very long time. 40 years ago there wasn’t an Environmental Protection Agency. 40 years ago there wasn’t a clean air act. I don’t believe the viewers of this program are interested so much in what happened 40 years ago. I believe they are vitally interested in their own personal health and wellbeing today. They want to know that if the products that we develop and market are safe for their intended uses. They want to know if the products that they’re using in their homes are going to benefit them. and I believe the answer is…

MOYERS: Those are the questions that I sent you a month ago and said, “let’s talk about these policy issues.”

YOSIE: Those are the questions I absolutely want to address.

MOYERS: What about that?

LANDRIGAN: I think that’s really the central question, Bill, Terry.

Today there are many thousands of chemicals on the market. There are a number of chemicals that are registered with the EPA for commercial use is not 9,000; it’s over 80,000. There’s about 3,800 which are called “high production volume chemicals.” A couple of years ago, the Environmental Defense Fund, the same organization with which the chemical manufacturers are partnered, did an analysis of those high production volume chemicals to see what fraction has been tested. Now, to be sure, when the EDF were seeking information on how many were tested, they had to go to the open literature. They obviously didn’t have access to company documents.

In the open literature they found that only 43%, less than half of these chemicals had ever been tested for toxicity to humans. When they looked more deeply, when they asked more sophisticated questions, for example, what fraction of these chemicals has been tested for their effects on children’s health?

What fraction have been tested for the effects on the developing brain, the developing immune system, the developing reproductive organs, the endocrine system of babies? You’re down very close to single digits. Around 8% or 10% of chemicals on the market have ever been tested for these effects.

So I think that it has to be said here today that the toxic substances control act is a well-intentioned piece of legislation, but in its execution, it has mostly been a failure. It is just not doing an adequate job of protecting the American public.

YOSIE: There are not 75,000 products on the market today. There are 9,000.

LANDRIGAN: No, there are not 75,000 chemicals on the market, but there are that many chemicals registered with the EPA for commercial use. And of the 38,000 high production volume chemicals, fewer than half, less than half have been tested for their toxicity.

YOSIE: Mr. Moyers, you’ve had your own body tested and this was shown to the viewers. What was not shown to the viewers, that the products that we make probably saved your life. From what I read in the newspapers, you had a very serious heart operation at about 1994. You had a blockage in an artery leading to your heart. When your doctors discovered this problem and advised you and provided the professional counseling and expertise that made it possible for you to recover to the robust man that you are today, they were using our products. They diagnosed…

MOYERS: Are you sorry about that now? I mean, don’t you wish…?

(laughs)

YOSIE: I am delighted that you’re here. You look very healthy. They diagnosed your problem using technologies that we helped develop. When they operated on you, they used surgical instruments that we helped develop. To ensure that you did not contract a subsequent infection post operation, you were given medicines.

In addition, you were probably given medication afterwards to ensure your continuing return to health. I believe that your state of well-being today was directly dependent on the benefits that our industry provided to you and to every American.

MOYERS: I don’t challenge that, and I didn’t challenge that in our reporting. I do not challenge that.

YOSIE: You do not challenge that but you didn’t report it either.

MOYERS: You just said it. I told you a month ago we wanted you to come on and say what you wanted to say and you just did. But here is the issue that I think that Dr. Landrigan is raising, that my own body burden test is raising, Dr. McCally said to me, I said to him, “Should I be worried?”

He said, “At your age, 66, I don’t think so. But if you were a 21-year-old pregnant woman, it might be a different story.” And he said, “We do not know what this combination of chemicals, what effect it’s having on our health.” This is a new phenomenon. He said, “Your grandfather would not have had this.” This is a new phenomenon. And what I think I was asking in the broadcast, and what I hear Dr. Landrigan asking is, how do we find out what this combination of chemicals is doing in our body? Particularly to children. Are children the most vulnerable?

LANDRIGAN: Children…

YOSIE: Dr. McCally erred in what he told you. He said that 60 years ago the only compound that you would have in your body was lead. 60 years ago, American cities looked like an industrial wasteland. They looked like what Russia or China or Eastern Europe looks like today. 60 years ago, there were no pollution controls on industry or any other major products. 60 years ago, the area that I come from, Western Pennsylvania, people had to wear two shirts to go to work. One to wear outside, one to wear inside.

MOYERS: “Better living through chemistry.” I acknowledge that. We all acknowledge that.

COOK: I think as an environmentalist, I’ll defend your industry. But the thing that surprises me…

YOSIE: Thank you, I’ll take that compliment.

COOK: Let’s go back to the vinyl story. Again, for the first time now it are read tens of thousands of pages of documents that you never made public. If they so strongly defend your position, you never made them public. Now that they are public, one of the striking things about me is how you’re hiding your light under a bushel basket when it comes to inventiveness. Those documents clearly show again and again and again that your industry worried that if vinyl chloride standards were tightened, it would be the end of the industry. Companies would go bankrupt. They say this. They could not continue to operate.

None of them did go bankrupt when it went from 500 parts per million down to one. They all did fine. In fact, they made money. And I think what I respond to you when you make that point is, yes, there are many ways which chemicals make a difference in our lives. But there are also ways in which we can find safer alternatives. And in most cases, the fastest was to those alternatives is to put pressure on the industry beyond what you feel now to move you in that direction. You don’t go rapidly on your own, and that’s been shown time and again.

YOSIE: Three months ago…

VOORHEES: Can I respond to that?

MOYERS: Sure.

VOORHEES: Since he referred to the vinyl chloride story in the litigation, and I would say it would be fair for the viewer to think that the program was about concealment and secrecy. And what the viewer was not shown was that in each of the episodes that you portrayed in the program where you would show a document that says confidential or secret, what you failed to do was to show that shortly after that document was prepared, a study was published. For example, I’ll just give you few examples.

The Viola study in 1970, the first Italian researcher who found some signs of carcinogenity in laboratory animal experiments, and you showed a document that said this could potential be problematic and should be confidential. What you didn’t say is that Viola’s study on that subject was published in 1970, the next year after the confidential document. So the point is, that when we research was being done on these very subjects, research on… initially on laboratory animals, that the research was published and there was not one reference in that whole program to the published articles that followed each of these incidents that are referred to in the program. To me that’s a very misleading presentation.

YOSIE: Three months ago…

MOYERS: Let me just answer Mr. Voorhees. For one thing, it was because that Dr. Viola was going to publish his findings that the chemical association meeting took place to discuss what to do about it. And I was really astonished, Mr. Voorhees, in the materials you sent us before the broadcast which we examined thoroughly. You were very selective in what you gave us. You did not include in there the documents that show how the industry did not want to talk about it, Dr. Maltoni’s research, and made plans not to disclose that to NIOSH, even though NIOSH, the government agency, had asked for those… that information to be volunteered, and your industry did not do that. The documents make it clear that they did not talk about Dr. Maltoni’s argument. But that’s the past.

I would love to come back to this issue. Look, the people out there watching this thing, you know, we know our lives are better because of chemistry. But we also know that pediatricians and physicians like Dr. Landrigan are saying, we don’t know what this new combination is doing to us. So what is the question? What are the issues?

LANDRIGAN: I that’s the… excuse me, Terry. I think the issue, Bill, is that this is not something of the past. Many of the chemicals, for example, that were tested last week in that CDC report that was released to the nation on the 21st of March, are chemicals that reside…

MOYERS: That was the center for disease control, right?

LANDRIGAN: The center for disease control in Atlanta, that’s right.

Many of the chemicals which they tested, for example the pesticide products, are relatively short-lived chemicals. Those are chemicals, when they get into the body of a child, only stay there for a matter of weeks or at most a month or two, and then they’re gone.

So the chemicals that were measured by CDC in Americans are chemicals where the exposures are taking place today. And in response to your question, it’s absolutely true that children are the most vulnerable among us to those chemicals, and kids are vulnerable for two reasons. First of all, they take more chemicals into their body. They breathe more air. They drink more water. They eat more food pound for pound. So they take more chemicals into their body that are present in the air, on their food, in their water. And of course, kids play on the floor. They drop a lollipop on the rug. If there’s pesticide on that rug, they pick up the lollipop, they put the lollipop into their mouths and the pesticide gets in.

Then on top of that, besides being more heavily exposed, kids are biologically more vulnerable. I mean, anybody who has seen a little child– I’ve got a grandson who is just a bit over a year old– anybody who’s got a little child knows how precious and how vulnerable they are. Their brains are growing and developing. If a chemical like lead, like a pesticide, like PCB’s, like organic mercury gets into the brain of a baby during those early months of development, the consequences can be life-long.

YOSIE: Three months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services… Please, Bill, please, be fair.

LANDRIGAN: What really troubles me here is we don’t know… we simply do not know the long-term consequences of exposures in early life. As a pediatrician, as a parent, as a grandparent…

MOYERS: But what’s the public’s policy you’d like to see come out of this, and I would like to hear Terry Yosie say why the industry wouldn’t support that public policy?

LANDRIGAN: I think we need four things, four things only.

Number one, we need thorough independent testing of chemicals, including testing that looks at pediatric effects.

YOSIE: That’s underway.

LANDRIGAN: Number two, and it needs to be independent of the industry.

YOSIE: Colleagues… Mr. Cook’s colleagues in the environmental community are working directly with us. We just participated in a process with environmental groups and others to test compounds for their impact on children.

LANDRIGAN: Well, that’s… it just leaves…

YOSIE: There is an agreement in place to do just that.

LANDRIGAN: I’m glad. I noticed in the show itself that of promises were made, the results haven’t yet appeared. But the second thing that needs to be done is that we need to continue the nationwide testing of chemicals in the bloodstream of Americans that CDC has started. CDC, I understand…

YOSIE: We support that objective.

LANDRIGAN: And that’s good, that’s good.

YOSIE: We think the CDC report, which by the way, used technology that we helped develop. Those analytical methods that were used in your body and used on the recent CDC report are an outgrowth of our commitment to science to improve better analytical detection techniques. And so we support CDC’s continued efforts to learn more about the health status of the American people.

LANDRIGAN: Excellent. Number three, I think we need to work together. And this might actually be an area where the chemical industry and the environmental community and the academic community can work together. This is to support a national right-to-know initiative. For this nation, we ought to have the national equivalent of the Proposition 65 law that they have in California. Everybody in this country ought to be able to get good, accurate, unbiased information on every product they buy in the stores.

And fourthly, on the final need that I think we have to have in this country, is we need to have a more efficient, more effective process than we do today to get toxic chemicals off the market and to replace them with safer chemicals.

That’s what America’s kids need.

YOSIE: Two comments: One is, Mr. Landrigan, Dr. Landrigan, does raise the issue of what is the health status of children. Three months ago the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Center for Disease Control, issued a report. Let me read you a sentence in the very first paragraph of that report: “We’ve made life better for our children.” The Department of Health and Human Services, like the CDC, looks at the broad spectrum of issues that could potentially effect children’s health. And there is some very good news to report.

There are record child immunization rates. There’s a decline in youth drug use and smoking. There is a decline in teenaged mothers giving birth. There’s a decline in infant mortality. But even beyond children, cancer rates are down.

LANDRIGAN: Cancer death rates are down, cancer incidence rates are up, Terry.

YOSIE: But that’s an artifact of better reporting.

LANDRIGAN: No, it’s not.

YOSIE: Life expectancy rates in this country. We are living better and healthier, not only but because of the products we make but because people are being more sensible in terms of how they live and how they behave.

LANDRIGAN: The facts don’t support… some of what you’re saying is true, but it’s very selective.

YOSIE: I’m quoting to the CDC, Phil.

LANDRIGAN: You’re quoting part of a 30-page CDC report. Cancer death rates are down, but the number of new cases of cancer in children is up. I don’t know why they’re up, but since 1972, which is when we began to keep national records in this country, we have experienced a 42%… 41% increase in the incidents of brain cancer, the number of cases of brain cancer per thousand children. That is not a reporting artifact. We weren’t missing 40% of brain cancers 30 years ago when I started my pediatric career. We just weren’t. In young men 15-30, there has been a 68% increase in the incidents of testicular cancer.

Now, you’re quite right, American children today live longer. They live longer because we have conquered most of the infectious diseases in this country. But the rates of asthma have doubled.

YOSIE: What are the principal health risks that children today. To some extent they do come from environmental factors, but domestic violence…

LANDRIGAN: Oh, the principal cause of hospitalization of American children is…

YOSIE: …lack of access to healthcare, a number of other factors…

MOYERS: Are those not involuntary, but chemicals in our food and chemicals in our toys are not something that people ask for, they just happen, as you said I think, or McCally said in the interview, suddenly we’ve got all these chemicals in our body.

VOORHEES: These are products that have been very carefully scrutinized by the scientific community, by government agencies, and as a result…

YOSIE: Let me make one point if I may, one point, if I may.

LANDRIGAN: Why is there…

YOSIE: Phil made the point that we need to take the compounds off the market. That has been tried in many countries and disaster has resulted. The nation of Peru stopped chlorinating its water supply. Chlorine is one of our major products. What happened after that event? A cholera epidemic broke out and over 10,000 people in Peru and Latin America lost their life.

LANDRIGAN: And in this country we took tetraethyl lead out of gasoline American’s blood levels have declined 99%.

YOSIE: And proponents of removing chlorine are saying that ought to be done in this country. There are ten to 25 million people perishing because of a lack of a drinking water supply.

LANDRIGAN: In this country, over the vigorous objection of the Ethyl Corporation, we removed tetraethyl lead from gasoline. The average blood lead level in American children has declined by 90%, and the average IQ of American babies has increased by three points.

YOSIE: You and I were on the same side of that debate when I served as the official of the environmental protection agency.

LANDRIGAN: When you were at EPA.

YOSIE: When I was at EPA.

COOK: Yeah, but the companies you represent…

YOSIE: You and I were on the same side of that debate, and we still are.

MOYERS: What was that, Ken?

COOK: The companies you represent weren’t, and that’s the point. If you look at these documents which we now have– and let me just put in a plug, ewg.org, you can read 40,000 pages of them going back to 1945 now.

YOSIE: And we will correct those in abouttradesecrets.org.

MOYERS: What’s your web site?

YOSIE: Everybody’s got a web site. Ours is abouttradesecrets– that’s one word– abouttradesecrets.org.

MOYERS: And yours is…

LANDRIGAN: Childenvironment.org.

MOYERS: Covington & Burling?

VOORHEES: Well, we have a law firm web site, but I’m not sure people…

MOYERS: (laughs) Ours is pbs.org.

It’s only fair that you get a chance to answer this question, because as I’ve said to you, investigative journalism is not a collaboration between the journalist and the subject, and I did lay out there, Sherry Jones and I laid out, the record of the industry and opposing right to no initiative.

Why has, in every case that I can find, why has your industry opposed citizens effort to use the right to know initiative and every right to know efforts?

YOSIE: I think you have your facts wrong.

MOYERS: Tennessee, Hawaii, California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts.

YOSIE: We supported the amendment, the Superfund statute, in 1986, creating the Toxic Release Inventory. We supported in 1990, the amendment of the Clean Air Act so that information would be made available to communities about chemicals that were being used in their neighborhoods. We supported, with Environmental Defense, the complete and total disclosure of any testing results going on with our current agreement with them. We had been a strong supporter of right to know, and here’s why.

We have had over the last dozen years, a program that has instituted over 300 community advisory panels wherever this industry is located in this country. We have learned a great deal from listening to communities where we play a major part. One of the greatest testimonials that you hear about this industry is from people who live near it, because they have seen the very direct health and environmental progress and the emissions reductions that result from our industry. When they have a question about plant safety or noise levels or environmental emissions, they have direct access to the plant manager. They have access to go inside the plant gates and see what’s going on.

COOK: I’ve talked to an awful lot of people…

YOSIE: That is why we have 60% decline in emissions over the last decade, the best of any American industry.

COOK: Well, you almost make it sound as if you volunteered to do that, and you did not.

YOSIE: We supported those measures.

COOK: Listen, what you selectively may have supported, everyone can now read what decisions you made and how you made them to take a stand on clean air and clean water and drinking water, and it’s… I respectfully disagree, it is not as you describe it. No, what these communities are often left with is just asking a plant manager, “Can you tell us?” No authority, no power under law to actually compel that information to come forward. And to get back to the testing point, I just want to, because there would be some confusion…

MOYERS: We have about 45 seconds.

COOK: There will be some confusion out there. If these chemicals are so well tested, then how come you had to come forward with a program just two years ago to voluntarily test the most widely used ones if they were tested? Some of them have been used for decades.

YOSIE: Because we’re a responsible industry. Because we’re always seeking answers to question. We’re a science-based…

COOK: About 40 years late.

YOSIE: We’re a science-based industry, and by nature we are asking these questions. There are a million men and women who work in this industry who apply chemistry to make a variety of products and services. I’m very proud to represent them here tonight, and as we close this broadcast, I want to thank them for the contribution they’ve made to society. They’ve made America a better, healthier and safer society. And to the viewing audience, I want to say that we are committed to continuing to improve our environmental health and safety performance. I think you all know that what happened 40 years ago is no reflection of the kind of industry that we represent today.

MOYERS: We’re going to let you have the last word.

YOSIE: Thank you.

MOYERS: Thank you very much, Terry Yosie, thank you, Mr. Voorhees, thank you Dr. Landrigan, thank you Ken Cook.

I’m Bill Moyers. Thanks for watching. Good night.

Goldman Sachs emerges as growing natural gas player

Goldman Sachs has quietly overtaken Chevron and ExxonMobil to become one of the biggest natural gas merchants in North America, expanding in physical commodities trading even as other banks pull back.

The Wall Street institution last year bought and sold 1.2tn cubic feet of physical gas in the US — equal to a quarter of the country’s residential consumption and more than twice its volumes in 2013, a recent regulatory filing revealed. Goldman is now the seventh-largest gas marketer in North America, according to Natural Gas Intelligence.

The gas utility serving households in Buffalo, New York last year purchased 11 per cent of its supply from Goldman, a securities filing showed. Power plants that produce electricity for copper mines in northern Mexico also buy gas from the bank, according to government reports and industry executives. Goldman’s commodities division, known as J Aron, is listed as a shipper on huge pipelines including the Texas Eastern, which last month ruptured into a fireball that critically injured a man.

Goldman has grown the business even as banks await fresh rules on handling physical commodities such as oil, gas and aluminium. The Federal Reserve has said lethal gas explosions illustrate the risks banks face.

Dealing in physical commodities is exempt from the Volcker rule ban on banks’ proprietary trading passed after the financial crisis. In a letter to the Fed in 2014, Goldman said the physical market, not financially settled derivatives, was the main way gas was traded at certain locations.

While the bank has sold off infrastructure such as power plants and metals warehouses, its rise as a gas middleman highlights a commitment to commodities. Prominent Goldman leaders including Lloyd Blankfein, chief executive, are J Aron alumni.

“The fact that J Aron’s business is growing in the face of low volatility in physical natural gas markets is noteworthy. Many players have downsized,” said Tom Russo, an energy consultant and former official at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Goldman declined to comment.

Goldman moved into the gas merchant business when it acquired the North American natural gas marketing operations of Nexen, a Canadian oil company, in 2010. After dealing 3.42bn cu ft per day in 2011, its North American volumes rose 71 per cent to 5.86bn cu ft/d in 2015, according to NGI. The average US household that heats with natural gas uses 50,000 cu ft of gas in a year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

“Historically, J Aron in natural gas was more of a financial player. The Nexen acquisition really allowed them to enter the physical space” by taking over supply contracts with customers, said a former Goldman commodities employee.

The power and gas business is led by Owen West, a Goldman partner who has authored novels, served combat tours in Iraq as a US Marine and climbed 28,000 feet up the north face of Mount Everest.

“I hate to use this word, but Owen is very ‘Zen’,” a colleague once told the New York Times. “When some traders start losing money they get nervous. Owen stays very relaxed.”

While Goldman’s commodities business reported weaker results in the first quarter, the physical gas division has been lucrative. One deal involved supplying the plants powering mines owned by Grupo Mexico in the Mexican state of Sonora, two people familiar with the transaction said. Goldman exported 22bn cu ft of US gas to the operation in 2015, according to figures published Wednesday.

The contract gave Goldman the option to sell gas to the plants at either the monthly average price or the price at the close of each month, to be decided at the end of the month, said people with knowledge of its terms. Given the extent to which gas prices move up and down, Goldman’s option was worth $120m, they added.

When a polar vortex ushered frigid air into the northern US two years ago, utilities scrambled to obtain gas. Goldman, which has storage contracts in states including Michigan, profited as regional gas prices soared, according to people familiar with the matter.

In February the ANR Pipeline Company sought permission to allow Goldman to park more gas in its vast underground storage facilities. The proposed agreement deviated from the norm in that it required Goldman to keep gas stored for 12 months until March 2017, then withdraw it in April 2017.

The FERC raised questions, saying the agreement “could create a substantial risk of undue discrimination” against other customers, and ordered the pipeline to offer the same terms to all. A person close to Goldman said the deal was structured at the pipeline company’s request to allow it to satisfy obligations to customers.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a9e67824-1846-11e6-bb7d-ee563a5a1cc1.html#axzz4AKbznwlC

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.