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Internal documents reveal industry ‘pattern of behavior’ on toxic chemicals by David Heath for The Center for Public Integrity

Sixty-six years ago, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health wrote a report linking leukemia to benzene, a common solvent and an ingredient in gasoline. “It is generally considered,” he wrote, “that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.”

The report is remarkable not only because of its age and candor, but also because it was prepared for and published by the oil industry’s main lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute.

This document and others like it bedevil oil and chemical industry executives and their lawyers, who to this day maintain that benzene causes only rare types of cancer and only at high doses.

Decades after its release, a lawyer for Shell Oil Company flagged the 1948 report as being potentially damaging in lawsuits and gave out instructions to “avoid unnecessary disclosure of sensitive documents or information” and “disclose sensitive benzene documents only on court order.”

Plaintiff’s lawyers like Herschel Hobson, of Beaumont, Texas, wield such documents in worker exposure cases to demonstrate early industry knowledge of benzene’s carcinogenic properties.

“It shows a pattern of behavior,” Hobson said. “It shows how industry didn’t want to share bad news with their employees. None of this information was made available to the average worker … Most of this stuff kind of gets lost in the weeds.”

No more. Today, the Center for Public Integrity; Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and its Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health; and The Graduate Center at the City University of New York are making public some 20,000 pages of benzene documents — the inaugural collection in Exposed, a searchable online archive of previously secret oil and chemical industry memoranda, emails, letters, PowerPoints and meeting minutes that will grow over time.

The aim is to make such materials — most of which were produced during discovery in toxic tort litigation and have been locked away in file cabinets and hard drives — accessible to workers, journalists, academic researchers and others.

Some are decades old, composed on manual typewriters; others are contemporary. Combined with journalism from the Center — such as today’s story on a $36 million benzene research program undertaken by the petrochemical industry — and articles and papers from Columbia and CUNY faculty and students, the archives will shed light on toxic substances that continue to threaten public health.

Exposed: Decades of denial on poisons

The benzene documents are just the start. In coming months, we’ll be posting hundreds of thousands of pages of discovery material from lawsuits involving lead, asbestos, silica, hexavalent chromium and PCBs, among other dangerous substances. And we’ll be on the lookout for other documents.

The inspiration for the project came when we realized that in CPI’s reporting on environmental and workplace issues, we routinely obtained reams of court documents. Often, these documents hold secrets found nowhere else.

Last year we reached out to William Baggett Jr., a lawyer in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who had acquired more than 400,000 pages of documents from a decade-long case against manufacturers of vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing chemical used in plastics. Baggett agreed to give us all of them.

At the same time, public health historians Merlin Chowkwanyun, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz were collecting court documents to create a public database and had approached Baggett. We decided to collaborate. Chowkwanyun is currently a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and will be an assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia next year. Rosner is Ronald Lauterstein Professor of Sociomedical Sciences and History at Columbia. Markowitz is a professor of history at the City University of New York. Both Rosner and Markowitz have served as expert witnesses in a number of major cases related to these documents and have written Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution and other books and articles based on them.

This is not the first database of its ilk. The University of California, San Francisco, maintains a massive collection of documents from tobacco-related lawsuits called the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which exceeds 80 million pages.

How to search the documents

Our database allows you to search for a word, combination of words or an exact phrase in any of the documents. You can also:

Do a search that excludes a word by putting a ‘-‘ sign in front of the word.
Do a fuzzy search that includes variations of a word by putting a tilde ‘~’ at the end of a word with the numbers of characters that don’t have to match exactly. For example, ‘planit~2’ will match ‘planet.’
Do a search that optionally contains a word by putting a ‘|’ between the words.
Do a search with a phrase by putting double quotes around the phrase.
Each document will include the court case from which it came, including the case title, case number, court as well as date filed and date terminated. The original complaint for each lawsuit is also part of the database.

Soon, we will make available a robust set of text-mining tools that will allow researchers to construct chronologies of documents; generate lists of common words, phrases and names; and sort documents in a number of ways. Qualified researchers will also have access to an even larger set of documents that will eventually contain millions of pages.

Robert Proctor, a professor of the history of science at Stanford, has used the UCSF tobacco archive extensively to do research for several books. He called it “an unparalleled treasure” that gives researchers the ability “to look through the keyhole of the mansion of this hidden world and see [corporate officials’] private thoughts, their intent, their ruminations, their jokes, their plans, how they treat their workers, how they treat the public…”

Proctor said he sees value in a similar archive on toxic chemicals. “The internal records of the chemical industry are known only to a tiny group of lawyers and journalists,” he said. “This is going to create a new kind of democracy of knowledge. It also will set the stage for whistleblowers to come forward with documents.”

That’s our hope. The search interface includes options to send us documents or contact us. The ultimate goal, to borrow Proctor’s phrasing, will be to give users “a strong magnet to pull rhetorical needles out of archival haystacks.”

Click on the link below to access the original article at The Center for Public Integrity

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/12/04/16330/internal-documents-reveal-industry-pattern-behavior-toxic-chemicals

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Banned OSHA films are now on YouTube. Industrial Safety & Hygiene News;Oct2008, Vol. 42 Issue 10, p16. The article reports on three banned films from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which are on YouTube. These films include “Can’t Take No More,” “The Story of OSHA” and “Worker to Worker.” These films were originally produced and distributed by OSHA in 1980 during the Jimmy Carter administration, but were recalled and destroyed early in the Ronald Reagan administration by the new head of OSHA, Thorne Auchter.

 

Benzene and worker cancers: ‘An American tragedy’

Documents lay bare petrochemical industry’s $36 million ‘research strategy’ on carcinogen

By Kristen Lombardi for The Center For Public Integrity

Bloated and bed-ridden, his skin browned by blood transfusions, John Thompson succumbed to leukemia on November 11, 2009.

A carpenter by trade, Thompson, then 70, had spent much of his life building infrastructure for the petrochemical industry in his native Texas — synthetic rubber plants in Port Neches, chemical facilities in Orange. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, he often encountered benzene, stored on job sites in 55-gallon drums, which he used as a cleaning solvent. He dipped hammers and cutters into buckets full of the sweet-smelling liquid; to expunge tar, he soaked gloves and boots in it.

Thompson never figured the chemical could do him harm. Not when it stung his hands or turned his skin chalky white. Not even when it made him faint. But after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2006, relatives say, he came to believe his exposure to benzene had amounted to a death sentence. Oil and chemical companies knew about the hazard, Thompson felt, but said nothing to him and countless other workers.

“They put poison on his skin and in the air he breathed,” said Chase Bowers, Thompson’s nephew. “He died because of it.”

Thompson died before a lawsuit filed by his family against benzene suppliers could play out in court, where science linking the chemical to cancer could be put on display. Over the past 10 years, however, scores of other lawsuits, most filed by sick and dying workers like Thompson, have uncovered tens of thousands of pages of previously secret documents detailing the petrochemical industry’s campaign to undercut that science.

Internal memorandums, emails, letters and meeting minutes obtained by the Center for Public Integrity over the past year suggest that America’s oil and chemical titans, coordinated by their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, spent at least $36 million on research “designed to protect member company interests,” as one 2000 API summary put it. Many of the documents chronicle an unparalleled effort by five major petrochemical companies to finance benzene research in Shanghai, China, where the pollutant persists in workplaces. Others attest to the industry’s longstanding interest in such “concerns” as childhood leukemia.

Taken together, the documents — put in context by interviews with dozens of lawyers, scientists, academics, regulators and industry representatives — depict a “research strategy” built on dubious motives, close corporate oversight and painstaking public relations. They comprise an industry playbook to counteract growing evidence of benzene’s toxic effects, which continue to command the attention of federal and state regulators and be fiercely debated in court.

“The conspiracy exists, and the conspiracy involves hiding the true hazards of benzene at low doses,” said Robert Black, a Houston lawyer who represents plaintiffs in toxic tort cases. Since 2004, while handling dozens of lawsuits filed on behalf of workers sickened by leukemia, lymphoma and other diseases associated with benzene, Black has obtained 16,000 pages of internal records detailing the industry’s research tactics, which he shared with the Center. Other lawyers provided an additional 5,000 pages.

The documents may represent the tip of the iceberg. For decades, the petrochemical industry has employed what one litigation guide calls a “comprehensive strategy” for defending against workers’ legal claims. Penned by a senior attorney at Shell Oil, the undated document lays out a coordinated “industry response” aimed at shielding internal company records on benzene. It warns defense attorneys to “avoid unnecessary or inadvertent disclosure of sensitive documents or information,” for instance, and to “disclose sensitive benzene documents only on court order.”

“We don’t know what the health effects are because they’re not going to let us know,” Black said. “It’s an American tragedy.”

What is benzene?
Benzene is a highly flammable, colorless (light yellow at room temperature), liquid, volatile organic compound with a sweet smell. It evaporates into the air quickly and dissolves only slightly in water. It comes from both natural and industrial sources, and can be found in water, air and soil. It is a known human carcinogen.

How common is benzene?
Benzene is the 17th most-produced chemical in the U.S. and is used in the manufacturing of common household items such as plastics, lubricants, dyes, adhesives and pesticides. The main sources of human exposure to benzene are gasoline and cigarette smoke exposure.

How harmful is benzene?
There is an association with leukemia at a chronic exposure level of 10 parts per million, or lower. A worker exposed at 10 ppm of benzene for 40 years is 155 times more likely to die from leukemia than an unexposed worker.

Benzene is found in:
Cigarette smoke
Solvents
Crude Oil
Diesel exhaust
Gasoline
Styrofoam
Ingredients used to make synthetic rubber, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs and pesticides

Occupations linked to benzene exposure:
Steel workers
Refinery workers
Printers
Shoe makers
Laboratory technicians
Gas station employees
Firefighters

Five million Americans at risk

Benzene emissions in the United States have declined sharply since 1987, when federal regulators set the occupational exposure limit at 1 part per million. Over roughly the same period, there has been a 66-percent drop in releases of the chemical into the environment. Yet experts say it remains a formidable threat. “You’re still seeing elevated risks of leukemias and lymphomas among occupational groups exposed to benzene,” said Peter Infante, a former director of the office that reviews health standards at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who has studied the pollutant for 40 years, “as well as populations being polluted from these benzene sources.”

In May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 5 million Americans — not counting those with workplace exposures — face heightened cancer risks from benzene and 68 other carcinogens spewed into the air by one such source: the nation’s 149 oil refineries. “We are concerned about benzene,” said Kelly Rimer of the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards, which has proposed a rule that would require refinery operators to monitor for the chemical along their fence lines.

“It’s a known human carcinogen,” Rimer said, “and it’s emitted from lots of sectors.”

One month later, California officials lowered the long-term exposure level for benzene from 20 parts per billion to 1 ppb — among the lowest in the country — setting the stage for further emissions cuts at refineries and bulk-oil terminals in that state. Melanie Marty, of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, said regulatory limits are now “getting lower and lower for [benzene’s] non-cancer risks” — dizziness, rapid heart rate, neurological problems, anemia — and not just its carcinogenic effects.

“We have to make sure we’re not exposing people to things we can do something about,” she said.

A naturally occurring component of crude oil, benzene is used to make household products such as plastics, pesticides and dyes. It remains a key ingredient in gasoline, a source of exposure for workers as well as the public: In 2006, the EPA found benzene to be such a “significant contributor to cancer risk from all outdoor air toxics” that it limited levels in fuel. Even oil executives acknowledge its ubiquity; in documents, they call it “universal” and “a basic petrochemical building block.” Benzene ranks 17th among the top 20 chemicals produced in the United States, according to the federal government.

The petrochemical industry’s decade-long research effort on benzene echoes those launched by other industries — asbestos, tobacco, plastics — that used science to create doubt. These industries have employed a host of tactics to try to convince courts and regulators that a chemical or product causes no harm. At times, they funded their own studies in an attempt to show the lack of adverse effects. Experts say the petrochemical industry has bankrolled more research — at greater cost — than anyone but Big Tobacco, which coined the phrase “manufacturing doubt.”

“The more they feel threatened by the outcome of independent research, the more they will quote-unquote invest in their own,” said Celeste Monforton, a public health researcher and lecturer at George Washington University, who has written about corporate corruption of science. Monforton considers the petrochemical companies’ study of workers exposed to benzene in Shanghai to be the most expensive and elaborate effort by any industry to try to refute damning scientific evidence.

The reason, in her mind, is clear: “Litigation is continuing and potential for environmental exposures is still significant,” she said. “They need to protect their economic interests.”

Underwritten by the biggest names in petrochemicals — British Petroleum, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell Chemical — and administered by the powerful API lobby, the Shanghai Health Study purported to examine how benzene exposure affects workers’ health. It consisted of three inquiries: The first investigated the link between benzene and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well as acute myeloid leukemia, or AML; the second, progression of diseases caused by the chemical; and the third, the exposure level at which such biological markers as lower blood cell counts indicate benzene’s toxicity.

But the study’s outcome seemed to some like a foregone conclusion. Documents suggest oil companies set out to counter U.S. government research tying benzene to more types of cancer and at lower exposure levels than previously known. They show how company executives and scientists plotted objectives and “expected” results before the study began, banking on conclusions that would play down health hazards.

“This is just appalling,” said Carl Cranor, a philosophy professor at University of California, Riverside, who has read some of the Shanghai documents. “This does not sound like a scientific inquiry where you’re not sure what the outcome will be.”

Infante, the former OSHA official, who now testifies for plaintiffs in benzene litigation, put it more bluntly: “It’s called potential bias.”

Study’s authors: No bias

Industry representatives and the scientists they paid to do the Shanghai work say such criticism is unwarranted. Some oil executives, they say, may have been seeking an alternative to government research; others may have wanted to better understand benzene’s connection to disease. Whatever the impetus, they argue, scientific integrity was not compromised.

“There could have been the best intentions or the worst intentions,” said Harvey Checkoway, an epidemiology professor at University of California, San Diego, who served on a scientific review panel created by the petrochemical companies to review the study. “We set that aside for the research.”

Richard Irons, one of the study’s two principal investigators and now head of a consulting firm that does research for the petrochemical industry, said that “if you’re ignorant, it’s a logical conclusion” to view the work as biased. “But it’s an accusation not founded in fact.” Irons acknowledged that he has never testified for a plaintiff in a benzene exposure case. The API has financed his work on benzene since the early 1990s, documents show. Irons said he’s no longer receiving money from the institute but has gotten $100,000 for a small benzene project from the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main lobby group.

Defenders of the Shanghai study stress the independence of its design. Scientists, they say, have operated under the guidance of not just the scientific review panel, but of two Chinese government ministries and two university boards, all ensuring a proper inquiry. Many of the results — positive and negative, they say — have been published in peer-reviewed journals.

“The results don’t support the presumption of bias,” Irons said, explaining that, so far, the research has confirmed benzene’s association with AML as well as myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS, a cancer of the bone marrow.

The study’s co-principal investigator, Otto Wong, who directed the work on AML and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said, “I was interested in doing a cutting-edge study and I was confident I had control over our [portion]. The rest is really not a concern.” Wong acknowledged that he has never testified for a plaintiff in a benzene exposure case. His ties to the oil industry date to the 1970s. Now retired, Wong said he has “no contact with the API people at all.”

Representatives of BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips all declined to comment for this article, referring questions to the API, which did not respond to repeated interview requests. In a one-paragraph statement, Shell said the company’s financial “support for the study reflects our ongoing commitment to health, safety, and product stewardship,” stressing that “the study was wholly independent of Shell.”

ExxonMobil, whose scientists participated in the Shanghai study, said in a written statement that it “supports scientific research through funding and technical support,” painting its involvement in this project — as well as a 2012 ExxonMobil-sponsored study of benzene-exposed workers showing adverse health effects at levels below legal occupational limits — as part of a longstanding corporate commitment to better understanding the chemical. The 2012 results in particular prompted ExxonMobil to “voluntarily reduce allowable benzene exposure limits to one-half of OSHA legal limits” at its workplaces, it said — or 0.5 ppm for an eight-hour shift.

By contrast, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommends that workers limit their benzene exposure to an average of 0.1 ppm during a shift.

“Our conservative approach to setting workplace benzene exposure limits is influenced by the most up-to-date scientific evidence, which includes the 2012 study,” ExxonMobil said, noting that its short-term limit is five times lower than OSHA’s.

As the Shanghai findings seep into the scientific literature and, ultimately, the courts, the petrochemical industry generally admits that benzene causes AML and MDS at higher doses. But other blood and bone marrow cancers continue to kill — at lower and lower exposures to the chemical.

On February 27, 2012, Michael Boley, 68, died of a disease Shanghai researchers say can’t be tied to benzene: chronic myelomonocytic leukemia, a form of MDS, combined with another bone-marrow condition known as “myeloproliferative disease.”

Strong and industrious, with a knack for avoiding even the flu, Boley spent 23 years at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in St. Marys, Ohio, site of a seminal benzene study by NIOSH in the 1970s. The research quantified for the first time the leukemia risk for workers exposed to the chemical in the plant’s Pliofilm unit, prompting OSHA to work on the benzene standard that took effect in 1987.

Boley didn’t make the benzene-soaked rubber film for which the unit was named; rather, he was a plant electrician, supervisor and engineer who worked there for an hour or two daily. Still, he knew benzene was in the air: While in the unit he noticed “Authorized Personnel Only” signs for Pliofilm workers who, he testified in a deposition, “were monitored on a regular basis.” At times, he complained about the unit’s “sweeter-than-gasoline” smell. Once, Boley asked a supervisor if he could have the same blood test the company administered to Pliofilm workers.

“His comment was, no, we wouldn’t require monitoring,” Boley testified. “Our levels would be safe.”

Four decades later, after enduring the fatigue, feebleness and shortness of breath accompanying a diagnosis of chronic monomyelocytic leukemia, or CMML, Boley sued Goodyear and its benzene suppliers, including ExxonMobil. “He wanted them to know what had happened to him,” said his widow, Cheryl. But the suit went nowhere: In 2011, Boley settled the litigation in a confidential mediation. His still-pending workers’ compensation claim has seen little traction.

“He couldn’t prove it,” Cheryl said, alluding to the companies’ claims that benzene couldn’t have caused her husband’s illness. Those claims were supported by Irons and other scientists affiliated with the Shanghai study, who reported in a journal article last year that “benzene exposure does not appear to be a significant predictor of CMML.”

Only safe level ‘is zero’

The petrochemical industry has known about benzene’s dangers since the turn of the last century. As far back as 1948, the API’s toxicological profile of the chemical discussed “reasonably well documented instances of the development of leukemia as a result of chronic benzene exposure,” cautioning that “the only absolutely safe concentration … is zero.”

Later, as scientific evidence of benzene’s hazards accumulated and regulatory limits on workplace and environmental levels tightened, the industry took a different stance. By 1990, the API and member companies such as BP, Chevron, Mobil and Shell had launched a research program meant to keep further restrictions at bay — or, minutes from an API meeting in 1992 state, research “that will be most useful in improving risk assessment and influencing regulation.”

Within years, the catalyst for the Shanghai Health Study appeared. In 1995, company representatives turned their attention to work by the National Cancer Institute, which was repeating the Pliofilm study in China to examine the effects on workers exposed to benzene at levels below the OSHA limit. Exxon, which had yet to merge with Mobil, even sent company scientists on a fact-finding visit to interview government researchers.

“We are monitoring the NCI studies,” an Exxon memo explained, “because of their potential impact concerning the health risks at low benzene exposures.”

In 1997, the NCI published a landmark study on benzene-exposed workers in Shanghai. The results reinforced past research showing the chemical causes leukemia, said Richard Hayes, a former NCI epidemiologist and the study’s lead author, but “what moved the science forward” were two findings: That workers with chronic benzene exposures had an increased risk of developing MDS and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma — i.e., diseases other than leukemia — and that such effects could be triggered by doses of the chemical as low as the OSHA limit.

In 2004, the NCI released the results of a second study. It found that Chinese shoe makers inhaling benzene in amounts below the OSHA limit had fewer white blood cells than unexposed workers, suggesting the chemical has no safe threshold.

“In general,” Hayes said, “we found benzene was a larger problem than we originally thought.”

The industry quickly attacked the NCI’s work. Documents show that the API commissioned a $25,000 “critical review” of the government research from California epidemiologist Wong. In a 10-page paper, Wong challenged the NCI study from every conceivable angle. “The findings,” he wrote, “are unreliable.”

Wong insists today that his corporate funding had no influence on this conclusion. “My critique of the NCI study was comprehensive and specific,” he said. “I was responsible for every comment.”

For the industry, the review had the desired effect: It cast enough doubt on the NCI’s first study to convince the EPA, in 2000, not to rely on the research for estimating benzene’s carcinogenic effects. “We thought there were methodological issues that might be questionable,” said Bob Sonawane, of the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, who has overseen agency assessments of benzene’s health risks. The agency did use the NCI work to assess non-cancer effects in 2002, Sonawane said.

By then, industry representatives were already thinking beyond conventional critiques. Wong remembers reaching out to Chinese scientists about a possible benzene study before broaching it to industry contacts. “I knew quite a few people at API and member companies,” he said. “We just started a conversation.” The campaign to finance an alternative study in China was kicked off in earnest in the late 1990s, when the API approached Irons, then a pathology professor at University of Colorado, Boulder. Irons said API officials asked him to visit Shanghai in 1999 and consider doing a study similar to the NCI’s, which examined workers’ diseases and estimated their benzene exposures after the fact and “had some provocative findings.”

Irons went to China. Upon his return, he urged the API to instead conduct what he calls “a real-time clinical study,” in which researchers examine workers’ diseases as they occur. Within a year, he, Wong and ExxonMobil scientists had drafted proposals for the Shanghai study, which the API circulated among its members to drum up financing.

API representatives went from company to company, giving what amounted to a sales pitch for the Shanghai study. They laid out just what executives might anticipate in return.

A 2001 document listed the following “expected” results:

Provide strong scientific support for a lack of a risk of leukemia … at current ambient benzene concentrations to the general population.

Establish … current occupational exposure limits do not create a significant risk.

Refute the allegation that Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be induced by benzene exposure.

Other documents show that the industry was counting on such findings to combat stringent regulation and stave off “tremendous” costs that would come from having to cut benzene emissions. “Significant issues of concern” identified in a 2001 PowerPoint include potential requirements to reformulate gasoline and “control emissions from stationary sources.”

Liability also was a worry. Documents warned of “litigation costs due to perceptions about the risks of even very low exposures to benzene” and lawsuits “alleging induction of various forms of leukemia and other hematopoietic diseases,” including more commonly diagnosed lymphomas.

For some in the industry, the bait proved enticing.

“Given the magnitude of [health, safety and environment] issues surrounding benzene as well as the litigation claims we continue to see, I believe it would be worthwhile to participate,” a Shell executive wrote in an email in 2000, a year before the company and its four counterparts formed the Shanghai study’s official sponsor: the Benzene Health Research Consortium.

Later, as consortium members tried to plug an ever-increasing budget gap — boosting the research’s price tag from $19 million in 2001 to more than $35 million in 2008 — their argument turned repeatedly to economics. One 2003 script for a CEO-level phone call states, “This study will positively impact our global business concerns.”

Critics say such documents expose the Shanghai study for what it is: An industry attempt to buy scientific evidence. “It’s all about influencing science to get what industry wants,” said Myron Mehlman, formerly chief toxicologist at Mobil, who became a whistleblower in 1989 after the company fired him for complaining about benzene levels in its gasoline. He sued Mobil, winning a $7 million judgment.

Mehlman remembers hearing about the Shanghai study in 2005 and immediately firing off letters to 45 executives at sponsoring companies. “I knew the scientists would do whatever it takes and whatever the industry needs done,” he said. In response, he said, he got a consortium form letter that “just re-confirmed how the study is being done for a single purpose — to get desirable outcomes.”

Industry-funded researchers bristle at the science-for-sale accusations.

“I didn’t see refuting anything as my charge,” said Irons, the study’s co-principal investigator, “and I wouldn’t have responded favorably to that.”

In depositions, however, Irons conceded that oil companies had a vested interest in the project.

“The oil companies … expected … it would be used for regulation, litigation, and for understanding the health effects of benzene,” he testified in 2010, adding that he didn’t believe a “funding source or the amount of money necessarily impacts on the [study’s] objectivity.”

Wong sounds a similar note. “We didn’t know what the results were before the study began,” he said, claiming he wasn’t privy to “any discussion” among the sponsoring companies. He considers it “just unthinkable” that critics would suggest “all those outside scientists, together with us, tried to create some results.”

Noting that the study relied on actual cases from 29 Shanghai hospitals, Wong explained, “It’s very difficult to argue that we have influenced our data one way or another.”

Members of the Shanghai study’s scientific review panel echo this sentiment. They saw no signs of overt bias in the design, they say, no way to yield preconceived results. “That wasn’t my experience,” said John Cherrie, a former panelist now heading occupational health research at a British nonprofit that has worked for the petrochemical industry. “The studies were designed to investigate the true situation without any obvious bias.”

Some would-be funders weren’t so sure, documents show.

In 2002, consortium members landed a meeting with seven scientists from Dow Chemical Company to pitch the Shanghai study. The meeting came after the scientists had voiced what one described as “specific technical concerns” about its design. Dow eventually opted not to contribute.

In a deposition two years later, Dow’s head of epidemiology, James Collins, testified that the company feared the study could generate inaccurate risk estimates and thus “be biased.”

‘Independent’ review panels

Documents suggest the Shanghai study’s sponsors were keenly aware of such perceptions. To deflect criticism, they set up “independent” review panels consisting of 10 ethicists and scientists, reputable leaders in fields like epidemiology, clinical medicine and bio-statistics. By 2001, panelists were meeting investigators and reviewing protocols — “essentially quality control,” said Jerry Rice, who chaired the scientific panel. Advisory in nature, the boards have remained involved in nearly every aspect of research.

Industry representatives viewed the boards as essential for lending credibility to the study. “There are going to be people out there who will want to misinterpret and criticize the study,” one argued in a 2003 email. “It is important that ‘the integrity’ … be maintained” with the panels.

Panelists insist the boards weren’t simply for show. They say industry representatives routinely encouraged them to offer criticisms and recommendations, and they obliged. Documents show investigators incorporated so many panel suggestions that research costs soared $3 million in one year alone.

“I never felt there was any desire to muzzle or tone down criticism,” said Rice, formerly with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, who oversaw the agency’s evaluations of chemicals for carcinogenic risks from 1996 to 2002. At IARC, Rice had come to know oil industry executives, who recruited him for the panel. “If there had been any of that, we’d have all quit.”

Still, company executives maintained tight control over the study. Documents indicate the consortium operated like a corporation, replete with committees governing research, finances and communications. Once a year, it hosted a meeting of 50 or so participants, flying American and Chinese scientists as well as review panelists to a two-day retreat to discuss the work as executives observed. Twice a year, consortium members combed through detailed progress reports filed by investigators.

The consortium also required industry review of draft manuscripts until 2005, when Irons penned his first. In it, Irons announced preliminary results linking a previously unrecognized form of myelodysplastic syndrome — MDS — to benzene exposure. The draft set off debate within ExxonMobil and Shell, both of which alerted the EPA — as the law required — to what was vaguely described in a consortium email as “health findings reported in a draft publication.”

At the time, Irons expressed reservations over the manuscript-review requirement.

Consortium members dropped it but kept the review boards. For years, panelists kept circulating “ready-for-submission manuscripts” for “feedback,” documents show.

Consortium members have worked especially hard on controlling their message. Before the Shanghai study began, the communications committee was crafting its marketing strategy. Documents reveal reams of “if asked” statements and media-relations plans, listing objectives such as “counter activists’ negativity.” Among the committee’s tasks, according to a 2001 email:

perception needs to be that this is not being done to protect against litigation

use a consulting attorney to address these issues of perceived motivation

Consortium sales pitches to prospective contributors, expressed in recruitment briefs, “call sheets” and “adaptable” slideshows, epitomize this corporate spin. Publicly, members have claimed altruistic motives for backing the Shanghai study. During a presentation in 2002 at PetroChina, a Chinese oil firm targeted for sponsorship, one Shell scientist proclaimed, according to a company email, “We believe it is important to understand the hazards of the products we make and sell, and we believe it is the right thing to do!”

Privately, consortium members betrayed less charitable motives. A draft of a 2002 recruitment brief reminded potential sponsors that “there is continued concern with the potential health effects of benzene as it relates to worker exposure … and personal injury claims.”

In response, a Shell executive urged colleagues to “delet[e] the reference to legal liabilities” and emphasized that “the only reason we are doing this is in support of protecting workers.”

Widows like Carolyn Wright have trouble processing such statements. Her husband, Eric, was a consummate company man whose closets brimmed with Shell awards, buckles, hats and magnets. Wright spent 34 years, from 1976 to 2010, working on offshore vessels for five oil companies — 18 at Shell. A trained “gun shooter,” he repaired sonar equipment, breaking down air guns. He soaked parts in benzene-laced solvents in a diesel-engine room, breathing in the chemical at exposures estimated to be two to five times greater than the legal limit.

Wright died, at 63, of leukemia in 2010, exactly five months after receiving an MDS diagnosis. Most of that time he remained hospitalized, beset by body sores, eye infections and a failing gall bladder. Within weeks, he couldn’t feed or bathe himself; eventually, he couldn’t hold up his head. Carolyn remembers leaving her husband’s bedside twice — first, to get clothes and then to visit a funeral home.

“They took away my best friend,” she said, referring to Shell and eight other petrochemical companies she and her husband sued 14 days before his death. “They were responsible because they made the benzene.” She settled the case for an undisclosed amount, most of which went toward her husband’s outstanding medical bills and legal fees. Shell admitted no liability.

“I’d rather have my husband,” Carolyn said. “There is not another one like him.”

Seeding the literature

The petrochemical industry’s research strategy had another key component: publication. Oil and chemical companies have long seeded the scientific literature, paying consultants to publish in peer-reviewed journals. They often use the published articles to advance their positions in regulatory and legal arenas. Infante, the former OSHA official, considers benzene “a good example of how the general scientific literature is being polluted by people working for industry.”

A 2002 Shell summary of the Shanghai project defined a “Key Measure/Indicator of Success” as a “Cost effective study reported in public literature … [that would] support … advocacy.”

By the time the research consortium disbanded in 2009, Irons and his colleagues had released results in 20 journal articles as well as at an “international benzene symposium,” in Germany. Industry-funded scientists have added to the literature since; according to Irons, the consortium’s dollars have yielded a total of 30 papers.

Such publications can play a critical role in benzene litigation. The Shanghai study has helped companies deny liability by casting doubt on causation, the central issue in a toxic-tort lawsuit. One tactic the industry has employed — with aid from the study — is to separate cancers into subsets, making it harder to prove a specific link between benzene and the disease. David Eastmond, a toxicology professor at University of California, Riverside, said that the petrochemical industry “gets sued on a fairly regular basis” over “a wide range of diseases.”

“If [it] could narrow down which subtypes are caused by benzene,” he explained, “the industry could eliminate a number of lawsuits.”

Industry-funded Shanghai researchers found that only certain subtypes of MDS and AML are significantly linked to benzene.

Now, in claims involving auto mechanics, gas station attendants and printers, plaintiff’s lawyers are seeing this claim play out in court. There is the case, for example, of a contract worker for southeast Texas refineries and chemical plants who washed his tools in benzene and later developed MDS. Citing a 2009 article by Irons, defense lawyers argued that the worker didn’t have the subtype of MDS associated with benzene exposure. The worker’s family resolved the case under terms that remain confidential.

In another case, a refinery technician who used benzene in laboratory experiments developed the very MDS subtype the 2009 article tied to the chemical. In testimony, however, defense experts used the Shanghai research not to affirm this link, but rather to debate whether his MDS was, in fact, properly diagnosed. The case settled in 2010 as part of a confidential agreement.

Some find such defenses scientifically disingenuous. Hayes, the former NCI scientist, who is now head of epidemiology at New York University’s medical school, explained that scientists cannot eliminate a disease subtype simply because a study doesn’t show an association with benzene exposure. “It doesn’t mean there isn’t any effect,” he said. “The end result is to sow the seeds of doubt.”

Wong said that all he and his fellow researchers can do is report their findings — positive and negative. “I’m sure some people use the results in their own way,” he said, referring to defense lawyers. “I can’t really speak to that.”

Acknowledging that “no study can prove a negative,” Irons defends the Shanghai research as “the best available evidence” benzene causes only certain disease subtypes. That “doesn’t reduce the fact that benzene is associated with MDS,” he said — or, for that matter, AML. And ultimately, some say, these findings aren’t as conclusive as oil executives may have wanted.

“In terms of something that would once and forever cause the petroleum industry’s legal liability problems to go away,” said review panelist Rice, “it didn’t do that.”

In fact, some outcomes have hurt defendants in court. In 2004, after 30 years fixing refrigerators at ice-skating rinks and meat-packing plants — receiving a daily dose of petroleum-based products — Brian Milward developed a rare condition known as acute promyelocytic leukemia, or APL. At the time, he was 47 years old.

“You don’t want to find out you have cancer at that age because of somebody else’s wrongdoing,” Milward said, explaining he had no idea the solvents and paints he used to clean and seal pipes contained benzene until after he was diagnosed.

In 2007, he filed suit against Rustoleum Paints and 20 other manufacturers, whose experts argued no epidemiological studies show a link between benzene and APL. Experts hired by Milward countered that evidence linking benzene to AML essentially links it to all subtypes, including APL. The judge disagreed, ruling for the defendants. But the debate has stymied the case, fueling appeals on both sides, and sparking a brief signed by 27 preeminent scientists affirming benzene can cause any leukemia.

Meanwhile, the Shanghai study affirmed the very link Milward’s lawyers tried to draw. In a 2010 article confirming benzene’s tie to “an increased risk of AML,” Wong discussed the relationship by disease subtype. APL was the “most strongly related” to benzene exposure, he wrote.

While the ruling against Milward eventually was struck down, he has yet to appear before a jury. After settling with every defendant but Rustoleum, he has watched the company challenge the science again. This time, defense experts question whether his workplace exposures could have caused his cancer. A second appeal is pending.

Now in remission, Milward must grapple with cancer’s lasting effects. Nearly a decade of chemotherapy, along with diabetes and a rare bowel disorder, have left him battling what he calls “absolutely ridiculous” fatigue. Retired and on disability, he remembers returning to work twice. First, he resorted to napping to endure an eight-hour shift. When his boss assigned him to office duty, pushing paper and making calls, he still fell asleep at his desk.

“I can’t really do anything,” said Milward, 57 — at least, not what he loves: repairing race cars, working in his yard, playing with his grandchildren. “It just sucks when you get a cancer like this.”

‘He never complained’

To family and friends in Deweyville, Texas, a pine-shaded town along the Louisiana border, John Thompson was “John” — a life-long resident, church deacon and carpentry teacher who reinforced souls as much as structures. To Irons, the Shanghai study investigator who charged $600 per hour as an expert witness, he was “John H. Thompson” — deceased, one of three case referrals from a corporate-defense firm, all in lawsuits alleging cancers caused by benzene.

Thompson had built scaffolding for refineries and chemical plants in the 1960s and early ’70s. At the end of most workdays he’d be covered in a thick adhesive known as mastic and would use pure benzene to get it off his hands, clothes and tools. In 2010, three months after Thompson’s death, Irons flew to Houston from China to testify in the benzene litigation, armed with what he has called “the largest single study of AML in history” —the Shanghai study. In a deposition, the scientist touted the research, saying it “inform[ed] with respect to disease specificity to a much greater degree than other previous epidemiological studies.”

“Assumptions and presumptions,” Irons testified, “have to be modified and re-assessed.”

The comment proved prescient in Thompson’s case.

In 2006, the former contract worker was mowing his lawn when he mentioned feeling fatigued. A pillar of a man, Thompson, then 66, had gotten two heart stents without uttering a gripe. “He never complained,” said Chase Bowers, his nephew. Not when he broke both arms on an oil rig, or lost his left eye in a shop accident. Bowers, who, as a teenager, was raised by Thompson and his wife, Carol, remembers watching a tree branch rip open his uncle’s ear. One emergency-room visit and Thompson returned to work.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Bowers said.

Within days of the lawn-mowing episode, Thompson learned he had acquired AML — specifically, a subtype of AML known as “inversion 16.”

In the contentious world of toxic-tort litigation, Thompson’s case seems like a classic: The only leukemia the petrochemical industry has admitted benzene can cause is AML — especially at higher doses. According to the Shell benzene-litigation defense guide, the industry might have classified Thompson’s case as “high risk”: He not only suffered from AML, but, as the guide states, “pure benzene is involved,” and his “exposure took place prior to OSHA involvement.” Experts hired by the family estimated Thompson’s cumulative benzene exposures were five times greater than the legal limit.

At trial, however, the case turned out to be anything but a slam dunk. Citing the Shanghai study, Irons worked to debunk a link between benzene and the type of AML afflicting Thompson. The Shanghai research has shown approximately two of the 20 AML subtypes are significantly associated with the chemical, he testified — neither of them “inversion 16.”

“We found many cases of inversion 16,” Irons said in court. “We did not find an association between benzene exposure and inversion 16.” Other scientists disagree, arguing that if benzene causes one subtype of AML, it likely causes all of them.

Keith Hyde, a Beaumont, Texas, lawyer who represents plaintiffs in toxic-tort cases, including the Thompsons, remembers Irons highlighting one Shanghai article after another at trial, raising doubt. “You have doubt here and there through all these industry studies,” Hyde said. “Let’s just say they do their job.”

After two weeks of testimony, the Thompson case ended in mistrial. The suit ultimately was resolved under terms that remain confidential.

In April, Carol, Thompson’s widow, died of liver cancer. In the years after the benzene trial, she rarely mentioned the ordeal — too many painful memories. She had to relive her husband’s death daily in court, watching videos and hearing testimony on his decline. “It was devastating for my aunt,” Bowers said. In his view, she never understood the extent to which oil and chemical companies hid benzene’s hazards and tried to spin the science.

“There’s obvious vested interest here,” Bowers said of the Shanghai study. “If oil companies are willing to spend $36 million to fund research, how much are they afraid of losing?”

Ashley Schwartz contributed to this story.

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/12/04/16320/benzene-and-worker-cancers-american-tragedy

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Are Any Plastics Safe? Industry Tries to Hide Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Bottles, Containers

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/3/4/are_any_plastics_safe_industry_tries


AMY GOODMAN: “Are any plastics safe?” That’s the title—that’s the question of a new exposé by Mother Jones that may shock anyone who drinks out of plastic bottles, gives their children plastic sippy cups or eats out of plastic containers. For years, public campaigns have been waged against plastic containing BPA, Bisphenol-A, a controversial plastic additive. But a new investigation by Mother Jones magazine has revealed that chemicals used to replace BPA may be just as, if not more, dangerous to your health than their cousin compound.

BPA is still widely used in everything from the lining of soup cans to printed receipts, even though studies show it mimics the behavior of estrogen in the human body, and have linked it to breast cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Just last week, a study estimated the use of BPA in food and beverage containers is responsible for some $3 billion a year in healthcare costs. But because BPA can hamper brain and organ development in young children, it’s been banned in bottles and sippy cups since 2012. Now new studies show the plastic products being advertised as BPA-free, and sold by companies such as Evenflo and Nalgene, Tupperware, are still releasing synthetic estrogen.

The Mother Jones report goes on to look at how the plastics industry has used a Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury the disturbing evidence about the products you use every day.

We’re joined in Washington, D.C., now by Mariah Blake, staff reporter with Mother Jones magazine.

Mariah, welcome to Democracy Now! Just lay out what you have found.

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, essentially, there is relatively new research showing that the vast majority of plastics, at least commercially available plastics that are used for food packaging, contain BPA-like chemicals, so chemicals that are what they call estrogenic. And the—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what BPA is.

MARIAH BLAKE: So BPA is a chemical that mimics the hormone estrogen. And estrogen plays—we all have estrogen in our bodies. It plays an essential role in various bodily functions and is also very important in human development, so the development of our brain, the development of our organs. However, too much or too little of this hormone, basically, especially during early childhood or prenatally, can set you up for disease later on in life. So, exposure—what the research shows is that exposure in the womb can then lead to breast cancer, diabetes, increased aggression, really sort of a staggering list of health problems later on in life.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, talk about what has happened since BPA has been banned.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, yes, and many people will recall that in 2008 the dangers of BPA became very widely known. There was a scare. Major retailers pulled BPA from their shelves. Customers began demanding BPA-free products, especially for children. And many manufacturers began introducing products that were BPA-free. And all of us who have children have these BPA-free products in our home, most likely. One of the—so—and in many cases, it turns out that the chemicals that were used to replace BPA, or the plastics contained chemicals that were, you know, similar to BPA—at any rate, many of these chemicals had not been tested to see whether they had similar properties to BPA, whether they mimicked estrogen, in essence. And it turns out that many of them do. So, the implication is that they could have similar effects on human health.

AMY GOODMAN: You begin your piece by telling us the story of Michael Green and his daughter.

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that experience.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, Michael Green is—he had a two-year-old daughter. He’s somebody who works in the environmental health field. And he had heard—he had seen research suggesting that BPA-free plastics may have posed some of the same problems to human health. And—but he told me this very moving story about himself and his two-year-old daughter. Somebody else in the family had given his two-year-old daughter this pink plastic sippy cup with a picture of a princess on it, which she just loved. And every night at dinner time, they would have this battle of the wills over this pink plastic sippy cup: He wanted to give her the stainless steel sippy cup; she wanted the pink plastic sippy cup. And in the interest of maintaining peace in the household, occasionally he gave in and gave her this pink plastic sippy cup. But the decision really weighed on him. And I think that those of us who have children—I have a three-year-old son—can relate to this situation, where sometimes you do the expedient thing in the interest of peace, but you wonder if it’s the best thing for your child. And in this case, he decided that he would try to answer that question. And he runs this environment health organization, and he collected sippy cups from Wal-Mart and Toys”R”Us—Babies”R”Us, I’m sorry—and he sent them to an independent lab in Texas to be tested. And he found out that in fact roughly a third of them did contain estrogen-like chemicals.

AMY GOODMAN: And that pink sippy cup?

MARIAH BLAKE: His daughter’s sippy cup was leaching estrogenic chemicals. So his fears were founded.

AMY GOODMAN: And what can that do to her?

MARIAH BLAKE: This is the big question. We know a lot about BPA. BPA is one of the most studied chemicals on the planet. And we know that these chemicals generally are associated with a range of negative health effects. But the specific effect of any given chemical varies slightly from chemical to chemical, and we actually don’t know what chemical is leaching out of that sippy cup. So it’s impossible to know. I mean, there’s a very high correlation with breast cancer, for example, with all of these estrogenic chemicals, and with certain developmental problems. But other specific diseases vary from chemical to chemical. So, Michael Green, the way he describes it is an unplanned science experiment that we’re doing on our families all of the time.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion and talk about Big Tobacco, what Big Plastic has learned from Big Tobacco. We are talking to Mariah Blake, a staff reporter with Mother Jones. Her story is in the new issue of the magazine. It’s called “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It.” Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We are with Mariah Blake, staff reporter for Mother Jones magazine. “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It” is her new piece. What is the campaign to bury the information, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, there are multiple facets to the campaign, but the primary—the primary objective is to cast doubt on the scientific evidence linking these chemicals to human health problems. So—and there are various ways this is done. In the case of BPA, for example, the industry funded studies, which were biased studies that found that this—that the chemical was not harmful to health. And there’s a sort of network there. They published them in certain journals that, in many cases, had links to the tobacco industry. They relied on scientists that, in many cases, had helped to discredit the science linking smoking and secondhand smoke to disease. So, in many ways, this is—they didn’t only borrow strategies and tactics from Big Tobacco; they are actually relying on the same cadre of experts that Big Tobacco relied on to bury—to bury the truth about smoking.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to a video made by the plastics industry featuring the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, speaking in the video made by the company. A pregnant woman is one of the people shown buying plastic products as Boldea speaks.

LUCIAN BOLDEA: We understand that there are concerns about plastic materials that are used in consumer products that consumers use every day. Those products include water bottles, baby bottles and food storage containers. We can see how available information about plastic materials can be confusing and how it can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe. We want you, the consumer, to know the facts behind our clear, tough material named Tritan. Consumers can feel confident that the material used in the product is free of estrogenic activity.

Consumers should have high expectations of the products that they use, and no one is tougher on our products than the researchers and engineers at Eastman Chemical. Most importantly, we have used reputable, independent, third-party laboratories that have used well-recognized scientific methods to prove that Tritan is free of estrogenic activity. Numerous regulatory agencies around the world have independently reviewed our data and have approved the product for use in food contact applications. Some of the world’s most recognized brands trust Tritan as their ingredient.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Lucian Boldea, who is president of Eastman Chemical’s specialty plastics division. Can you respond to this, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, the Eastman product, called Tritan, which is the product that Boldea is speaking about in this video, is actually one of the primary focuses of my investigation. A number of independent scientists have tested this product and found that it is actually more estrogenic than polycarbonate, which is the plastic that contains BPA. And Eastman Chemical, according to internal documents which were released as part of a lawsuit, has taken pains to suppress the evidence showing that its products—or that this product, in particular, is in fact estrogenic.

AMY GOODMAN: So how is it the EPA isn’t regulating this?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, and this is one of the most surprising things to me when I read this—when I was reporting the story. So, there are about 80,000 chemicals in circulation in the United States. Virtually none of those chemicals has been tested for safety, or a very, very small fraction of those chemicals has been tested for safety. In general, chemicals are presumed safe until proven otherwise under the U.S. regulatory system. So, when a chemical like BPA is removed from a production line, the industry will substitute another chemical that is untested, and we really, in many cases, just don’t know the health effects of that chemical. So, it’s largely an unregulated realm.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about George Bittner.

MARIAH BLAKE: OK. George Bittner is a neuroscientist at the University of Texas, and he has launched an independent lab called CertiChem—it also has a sister company called PlastiPure—and it tests products for estrogenic activity. And he—working with a prominent Georgetown professor, he and his staff tested, I think it was, 455 commercially available plastics that are on the market and published a paper in Environmental Health Perspectives, which is the premier NIH journal, which found that virtually all commercially available plastics have estrogenic activity. And among the plastics he tested were Tritan products, several Tritan products. And this publication, this finding, prompted a pretty big backlash from the industry. So he ended up being targeted by the industry as a result and, in fact, was sued by Eastman, which is—many of the documents that formed the basis of my story were released as a result of that lawsuit.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from a memo that Eastman’s senior chemist, Emmett O’Brien, wrote after customers began asking about George Bittner’s tests that showed that Tritan may still be estrogenic. O’Brien describes a meeting with Whole Foods executives who were considering replacing their polycarbonate bulk food bins with ones made from Tritan. He wrote, quote, “We called Bittner a mad scientist. They didn’t know his name actually. They asked twice, by two independent people, what we thought of them. I hemmed and hawed (ducked and dodged) saying I prefer not to comment, but we joked and pushed and flat out said the guy was ‘shady’ — with this non-stereotypical crowd it was a good term.” O’Brien added, “They asked if they could do their own tests — I mentioned the cost is very high and they were quick to chime in that the tests take very long.” Can you respond to that, Mariah Blake?

MARIAH BLAKE: I think you chose the most telling possible quote. So this was effective—this was the strategy they used. Firstly, they worked to discredit Bittner, and they did this through a campaign of personal character assassination and by calling his business practices into question. And secondly, they worked to discredit the science. So, one of the things that Eastman did was they claimed that the test that Bittner is using, which relies on a specialized line of breast cancer cells, had been rejected by the EPA, when in fact it hadn’t. The EPA is considering using this very line of breast cancer cells for its own screening program for what they call endocrine-disrupting chemicals. BPA is one of those.

So, the other thing they did was they commissioned their own research, so they paid labs to perform research which found that Tritan was not estrogenic. And—but if you look at—if you look at the research closely, you’ll see that it is—the studies are essentially designed in a way that guarantee that estrogenic activity will not be found. So, for instance, they use a type of rat; it’s called a Charles River Sprague Dawley rat. This rat is known to be insensitive to estrogen, so it can withstand doses, according to one Japanese study, a hundred times higher than a human female can withstand, with—and show absolutely no effect. They also used doses that are below what is known as the no-observable-effect level, so the doses that are known not to cause an effect. And they then published their own study in a scientific journal, which is—has numerous tobacco industry ties, finding that Tritan was in fact not estrogenic. So, that is essentially how they responded to the finding that their product contained these chemicals that are potentially harmful to human health: They attempted to cover it up.

AMY GOODMAN: Your report cites some leaked minutes from a 2009 meeting of the BPA Joint Trade Association, whose members include the American Chemical—the American Chemistry Council, Coca-Cola, Del Monte. During the meeting, they explored messaging strategies that included using what they called, quote, “fear tactics.” For example, “Do you want to have access to baby food anymore?” The attendees agreed that the “holy grail” spokesperson was a, quote, “pregnant young mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA.” Mariah?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes, and this is one of the most disturbing things I discovered during the course of reporting this, is that in their efforts to portray plastics as safe, they oftentimes target the groups who are most vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals. So, prenatal exposure and exposure during early childhood is potentially the most harmful, and oftentimes the marketing of these products targets pregnant women, targets families with children. And also, Eastman, for example, in their efforts to portray their products as safe, also targeted these specific groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Nalgene bottles, Evenflo—is it Evenflo?—Tupperware, Rubbermaid, CamelBack?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes, all of these companies produce at least some products that are made with Tritan, so—and they’re not alone. There are hundreds, probably, of companies that use this. This is the only plastic on the market that markets itself as being free of all estrogenic activity, so many companies that cater to consumers who are concerned about their health and many of the high-end consumer brands have started using this plastic. I think the thing to keep in mind is that Eastman misrepresented their product to their customers, as well. So these brands are not necessarily to blame for this. They have been told by Eastman that Eastman produced—performed independent, third-party testing and found no evidence of estrogenic activity. And so, in many cases, it appears that these companies are trying to do the best thing for their customers, but they were not given—they were not given accurate information about the plastic that they use in their products.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, NPR did a report, “Maybe That BPA In Your Canned Food Isn’t So Bad After All.” Can you talk about that?

MARIAH BLAKE: Yes. So, this is based on a recent study that was performed by FDA scientists. This is a $30 million taxpayer-funded study. And the FDA used many of the same tactics that the industry uses. For instance, they used the Charles River Sprague Dawley rat. The other thing about this study is that the lab appears to have been contaminated. So the control group of rats—these are the rats that are supposed to not be exposed to BPA, so that you can—you have some sort of a baseline to measure the animals that have been exposed to this chemical—they were somehow accidentally exposed to BPA. I have been talking to scientists about this and am planning to write about this later this week. And the academic scientists I have been speaking to say that this essentially—this raises very serious questions about the validity of the findings, and it’s unclear whether any conclusions can be drawn based on this study.

AMY GOODMAN: What most shocked you in all your research, Mariah?

MARIAH BLAKE: Boy, that’s a good question, because there were a lot of—a lot of shocking things I discovered. I would say there’s a couple things. One, the fact that so few of the chemicals that are in the products we use every day have been tested for safety. So, as I said, there are 80,000 chemicals that are in commercial use in the United States; only a tiny fraction of those have been tested for safety.

Two, how easy it is for the industry to bias that safety testing in their favor. I had—obviously, many of us know about Big Tobacco and the way they were able to essentially buy science saying their products were safe. But I was not aware that that was happening on such a grand scale today. And it really is. You know, plastics—as I worked on the story, it became evident to me that plastics—that this is not the only industry—the plastics and chemical industry are not the—is not the only one that is using these tactics. These tactics are fairly widespread.

And I guess, on a micro level, one of the things that surprised me most, in Bittner’s testing, he looked at various types of commercially available plastics, and one of the types of plastic that was most frequently estrogenic was the corn-based plastic, so the plastic that is biodegradable, that you often find in restaurants—health food restaurants, health food stores, that this is potentially one of the most harmful types of plastic.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain that again.

MARIAH BLAKE: So, Bittner looked at various kinds of plastic, Bittner and his colleagues, when they tested plastics. There’s a variety of different kinds of plastic—polyurethane, PET-P, polycarbonate—all these different kinds of plastic. So he broke it down by types of plastic. He tested a number of samples of each one. And he—in the final paper, they showed which ones—what percentage of each type of plastic tested positive in their tests. And there is a type of plastic that is—frequently you’ll find it in Whole Foods, you’ll find it in health food stores. It is corn-based, and it is marketed as biodegradable. Oftentimes there are forks made out of this, for example, in health food restaurants. I believe the statistic was 95 percent of samples made out of this kind of plastic tested positive for estrogenic activity.

AMY GOODMAN: So what are you going to do with your three-year-old? What have you decided to use?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, what I’ve already done is removed all plastic from my home. So, I have switched to natural materials. We use glass or stainless steel for our Tupperware, for our sippy cups, for everything that we possibly can. Plastic is unavoidable, so we still buy food packaged in plastic, because there is no alternative. But we try to minimize it.

AMY GOODMAN: Saran Wrap?

MARIAH BLAKE: Saran Wrap, actually, in Bittner’s tests, I believe it was somewhere around 99 to 100 percent of plastic wraps tested positive for estrogenic activity.

AMY GOODMAN: And where does the EPA come down when you question them about when they’re going to be regulating some of this, in the way that they regulated BPA?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, the EPA still does not regulate BPA. The FDA—the FDA banned BPA in sippy cups and bottles at the request of the industry. So—and they still—the agency still insists that BPA is safe. So the industry asked the FDA to ban it, because they wanted to reassure parents that their products are safe. There has been no meaningful regulation of any of these chemicals, with the exception of phthalates. And in the case of the EPA, they have a program which was supposed to screen these 80,000 chemicals for what’s called endocrine disruption. So, endocrine-disrupting chemicals are chemicals that mimic hormones, like BPA. And they—this was supposed to be at least partially done by 2000. They still haven’t fully vetted a single chemical. So the industry has managed to throw stumbling blocks in their path. And delay is the name of the game, essentially, sowing doubt and delay. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And how much does the plastic in water bottles and juices leach into the water and the juices?

MARIAH BLAKE: PET or PETE, which is most commonly used for water bottles, is—I believe 75 percent of samples in Bittner’s study leached estrogenic activity. There is another study performed by a scientist in Germany which also found that this particular type of product was estrogenic. So, it seems, based on the available evidence, that many or most of these bottles leach estrogen.

AMY GOODMAN: And the longer the bottle of water you buy sits, is the water becoming increasingly contaminated?

MARIAH BLAKE: Well, there are certain factors that increase the risk of these chemicals being released. So, exposure to UV rays, heat, if they’re put in a dishwasher, these are the things that are known to increase—increase the risks that these chemicals leach out of plastics. So, with reusable plastics, in particular, this is a concern. If you boil them, if you put them in your dishwasher, if you leave them in your car, that causes plastics to break down, and it’s more likely that estrogenic chemicals will leak into whatever those containers contain.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mariah Blake, we want to thank you for your research, staff reporter with Mother Jones magazine. Her story is just out in the new issue; it’s called “The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-Style Campaign to Bury It.” We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. You can also follow her on Twitter. Later today, she’ll be doing a Twitter chat with readers.

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/tritan-certichem-eastman-bpa-free-plastic-safe

The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics

And the Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury it.

—By Mariah Blake | March/April 2014 Issue – MotherJones


Chasing Molecules by Elizabeth Grossman

An excerpt from the chapter, “The Polycarbonate Problem.”

BPA, Benzene, Phenols, & Carbonyl Chloride (also known as Phosgene)

Although it’s only in the past few years that news of bisphenol A’s health impacts began to reach a nonscientific general public–news that has since spread rapidly–it was first recognized as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Papers published in the journal of Nature in 1933 and 1936 describe its estrogenic effects on lab rats. These papers also commented on the possible carcinogenic activity of materials with similar or comparable composition to bisphenol A–specifically materials synthesized from petroleum (from which bisphenol A is ultimately derived) and coal tar.

Some two decades later, bisphenol A was launched into everyday life with the development of commercially produced polycarbonates. Major production of these plastics began in the United States in the late 1950s after a General Electric engineer named Daniel W. Fox formulated a material based on BPA that GE called Lexan. The invention was not so much deliberately planned as it was the result of what Fox called his ability to take “a few clues and jump to conclusions that frequently panned out.”

While experimenting with different materials that might ultimately make a good moldable polymer, Fox decided to work with bisphenols, compounds derived from petroleum processing that were then being used to make various epoxy resins. As molecules, bisphenols have a structural feature that makes them useful as potential chemical building blocks. Attached to their hydrocarbon ring is what’s called a hydroxyl group, an oxygen and hydrogen that together form a site to which other molecules can bond. This structure is common to both synthetic and naturally occurring compounds, a coincidence that will later turn out to be important to how bisphenol A behaves.

Fox’s interest in the hydroxyl group was as a polymer building site, not for its biological activity. But when attached to a hydrocarbon ring as it is in bisphenol A, the entire chemical grouping becomes a molecule known as a phenol–an aromatic hydrocarbon, a ring made up of six carbon atoms and five hydrogen atoms plus a hydroxyl group. Phenols are commonly made by oxidizing benzene, which essentially means adding oxygen to benzene. Phenols are toxic, but they are also known for their antiseptic properties and so were used to kill germs in the nineteenth century surgical procedures.

This molecular group consisting of six carbon-five hydrogen rings with a hydroxyl group attached, however, is also part of the structure of substances produced naturally by the human body, compounds that include estrogen and thyroid hormones. Introducing a manufactured chemical that includes the phenol group into a cellular environment may therefore pose a problem because the synthetic material may compete biochemically with the similarly structured naturally occurring chemical. Thinking in green chemistry terms, the presence of a phenol group on a synthetic, therefore, should be a sign to investigate that substance’s potential as an endocrine disruptor.

The potential cellular toxicity of phenols has actually been known for decades. Research done in the 1950s, written about by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring, discussed the mechanisms by which pesticides constructed with phenols had the ability to prompt oxidation processes that upset cellular metabolism. These reactive chemical groups can disrupt formation of enzymes vital to energy production, which in turn may interfere with how an organism produces and differentiates cellular material. These processes of cellular reproduction are involved in virtually every bodily system, from how an individual processes sugars and calcium to how its reproductive system functions. Carson described the introduction of xeniobiotic phenols as thrusting “a crowbar into the spokes of a wheel. Had Fox been a green chemist, our current synthetic landscape might look very different.

But because Fox and his colleagues were focused on functional performance and on working with readily available chemical ingredients, bisphenols seemed a good choice. As an additional building block that might combine with the bisphenol molecules’ hydrocarbons to yield a useful polymer, Fox chose a chlorine compound called carbonyl chloride. Carbonyl chloride was then–and is currently–a common ingredient in the synthetics known as isocyanates that are used to make any number of products, including polyurethanes that go into varnishes, paints, and plastic foams. By the 1950s it was known that chlorinated hydrocarbons made useful synthetics so this was a logical route for Fox to follow–but no one had yet made the kind of moldable, shatter-resistant plastic that Lexan turned out to be.

If you’re building a polymer, a linked chemical chain in effect, you need lots of the same repeating pieces; ideally you’ll work with shapes that are easy to find and lend themselves to chemical bonding. It’s here that a Tinkertoy or Lego analogy comes to mind. To add pieces to a chemical structure, you need sites where new sticks and building blocks can be attached. So it was with the choice of bisphenols and carbonyl chloride, which lend themselves to such bonding and were both readily available industrial chemicals. Had Fox been practicing green chemistry, however, he would never–even with what was known in the 1950s–have launched a product that required copious quantities of carbonyl chloride.

Carbonyl chloride is also known as phosgene and is so toxic that it was used as a chemical weapon during World War I. The isocyanates it’s used to make are also highly toxic. One such compound, methyl isocyanate, was the gas involved in the deadly 1984 disaster at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. Lest anyone wonder if nerve gas is lurking in your bike helmet or CD cases, however, let me quickly explain that no phosgene or even any chlorine ends up in the final bisphenol A polymer; the chlorine compound is simply a reagent, an ingredient that enables the desired chemical bonding to take place.

Yet speaking to an interviewer in 1983, Fox acknowledged that using large quantities of a chemical such as phosgene was indeed hazardous. But, Fox continued, it “was not a totally frightening undertaking because we had good advice. I would say that we have been tightening up our whole phosgene handling ever since, investing in an awful lot of money in trying to make the stuff doubly safe and then triply safe and quadruply safe.” Still, the interviewer pressed, “Has there ever been a problem?” To which Fox responded, “We have had one or two small discharges. To my knowledge, I don’t think GE advertised it, but I think we probably had a ‘casualty’ from phosgene.” Did this give anyone second thoughts about going into business? “I don’t think it did,” Fox replied.

At the time Fox was working, new material inventions like carbonates were just that–inventions that came first, with applications and markets found later. “When we invented polycarbonates in the early 1950s we had a polymer with an interesting set of properties and no readily apparent applications,” Fox said in 1983. But what was known about polycarbonates’ behavior early on that might have hinted at what’s since been discovered about their physical and biological behavior” Could this information have been used to prevent what are clearly problems of chemical contamination? Endocrine-disruption science is relatively new, but some of what was known early on about bisphenol A and polycarbonates would seem to indicate a material perhaps not ideally suited for use, say, with food, heat, and dishwashing detergents.

That polycarbonates built from bisphenol A were vulnerable to certain detergents, solvents, and alkali solutions (household ammonia would qualify) has been known since at least the 1970s. Ammonium hydroxide (essentially a solution of ammonia in water) was discussed as a possible way to break polycarbonates down to its chemical constituents–for materials recovery and reuse and as a way to remove unwanted polycarbonate from another surface. It was also known that various additives used to modify polycarbonate mixtures could leach from the finished plastics when they came into contact with certain liquids. Documents filed with the Federal Register in 1977 list chloroform, methylene chloride, and chlorobenzene among these additives. (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers chloroform and methylene chloride suspected carcinogens, while chlorobenzene is known to cause liver, kidney, and nervous system damage and produce a precancerous condition in lab rats.) Correspondence between GE Plastics Division personnel in the 1970s and 1980s also voiced concern over the presence of chlorobenzene in water stored in polycarbonate bottles (but not bottles made by GE as it happened) and about how the stability of these polymers might affect their ability to be used with food.

A memo circulated within the Lexan division of GE in 1978 also noted that “through reaction with water,” polycarbonate resin can degrade. “The two largest applications of Lexan resin for which hydrolytic stability is critically important are baby bottles and water bottles,” ran the 1978 memo.

In each application the finished parts are subjected to conditions which will cause, after prolonged treatment, molecular weight reduction. However, in each application, actual product failure is usually observed before significant molecular weight reduction is detectable by the usual techniques…..Baby bottles are subjected to autoclaving at 250 degrees F in saturated steam and fail under these conditions by becoming opaque, and sometimes by shrinking and deforming. Milk and water bottles are washed in aqueous solutions of alkaline or caustic cleaning agents and fail by stress cracking. The relationship between practical failure modes and the fundamental physical and chemical processes involved is not fully understood.

That polycarbonates might degrade when heated, washed, or exposed to sunlight was also discussed in company memos in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Three decades later, the plastics industry assures consumers that such wear and tear of polycarbonate baby bottles poses no health concerns for infant users.

Pages 58 – 62

To read more about this extremely informative book and sale information click on the link below.

 

Chasing Molecules

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General Electric to Sell Plastics Division By Claudia H. Deutsch
The New York Times
Published: May 22, 2007

General Electric agreed today to sell its plastics division for $11.6 billion to the largest public company in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation.

The deal for the G.E. division, which has 11,000 employees in 20 countries, is one of the largest yet by the Saudi company, known as Sabic. Sabic prevailed in a sometimes crowded race, with other top bidders being Basell, the Dutch plastics maker, and Apollo Management, the American private equity firm led by Leon Black.

In a statement, Mohamed al-Mady, the vice chairman and chief executive of Sabic, said: “This business is complementary to our existing business without any overlaps. Sabic’s intention is to grow the business globally.”

In a separate statement, Jeffrey R. Immelt, the chief executive of G.E., said the sale made equal sense for G.E.

“Sabic is the right owner for our customers and our employees,” Mr. Immelt said. “This transaction will transform the plastics industry by combining Sabic’s low-cost materials position and global reach with GE Plastics’ strong marketing and technology capabilities. Sabic also has a record of investing in acquired businesses and their people.”

Neither the buyer nor the price came as a surprise to analysts who follow General Electric. In January, when G.E. confirmed long-standing rumors that it was putting its plastics business on the block, most analysts expected the unit to go for $8 billion to $10 billion, and for the probable buyer to be a private equity firm.

But in recent months, G.E. executives had signaled to analysts that they expected to get $10 billion to $12 billion for the unit, and that it would likely go to a strategic buyer — that is, a company that would utilize the division and its products, rather than groom it for an eventual public offering or resale. Most analysts quickly honed in on Sabic, because of its access to Saudi Arabia’s vast petroleum supplies. After all, it was the ever-rising cost of benzene, a petroleum derivative and a key raw material for G.E.’s plastics products, that had sucked the profitability out of the unit for G.E. A company like Sabic, with an inexpensive and inexhaustible supply of benzene could far more easily turn a profit.

The sale, which is expected to close in the third quarter, is unlikely to have much of a strategic impact on G.E. In January, G.E. agreed to spend $4.8 billion to buy the aerospace business of the Smiths Group, $1.9 billion to buy the oil and gas operations of Vetco Gray and $8.1 billion to buy a diagnostics business from Abbott Laboratories. G.E. said it will use most of the proceeds from the plastics sale to buy back stock, but analysts expect that some of the money will be used to pay for those acquisitions.

It is also unlikely that the divestiture is heralding a larger-scale trimming of the G.E. portfolio. Many investors have tried to pressure G.E. into selling NBC Universal, the entertainment division that suffered through many quarters of lackluster profits. And there has been widespread speculation that, if G.E. did decide to sell the unit, it would also divest its consumer finance division. The reason is that NBC Universal is part of G.E.’s industrial group, and a sale would skew the company’s portfolio too far toward financial products. Shares of financial services companies generally trade at lower multiples than those of industrial companies, and G.E. would not want to risk having itself recategorized in investors’ minds.

But NBC Universal’s profits have been rising, and consumer finance is a growing area for G.E., and many analysts say G.E. would have no reason to sell either. Still, while plastics seemed to play no role in G.E.’s vision of its future, it played a huge role in the company’s past. G.E. formed its first plastics department in 1930, and by 1941 it had become the country’s largest plastics producer. In 1953, a G.E. scientist discovered a high-strength polycarbonate that the company branded Lexan. To this day Lexan is a huge seller, used for bulletproof glass, water bottles and even Apple iPods. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were wearing Lexan visors on their journey to the moon in 1969. Four years later, G.E. made the booming plastics department an official division of the company.

Since then GE Plastics has become a major supplier to industries as diverse as automaking, electronics and appliances. Both Mr. Immelt, G.E.’s current chairman, and John F. Welch Jr., his predecessor, worked at the plastics group. But competition and price increases in raw materials have squeezed profit margins, even though the unit increased product prices. For 2006, the plastics division reported about $6.6 billion in revenue, virtually unchanged from the previous year. Profit fell to $674 million, down 22 percent from 2005.

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This significant discovery is mentioned in Our Stolen Future.

Researchers soon realized the estrogenic effect was due to a contaminant rather than a hormone that was causing the breast cancer cells to rapidly multiply. They determined that the contaminant was bisphenol-A – BPA and that the source of the contamination was the polycarbonate lab flasks used to sterilize the water used in the experiments….

In a 1993 paper, the Stanford team reported their discovery and their discussions with the manufacturer of polycarbonate, GE Plastics Company. Apparently aware that polycarbonate will leach, particularly if exposed to high temperatures and caustic cleaners, the company had developed a special washing regimen that they thought had eliminated the problem.

In working with the company, however, the researchers discovered that GE could not detect bisphenol-A in samples sent by the Stanford lab-samples that were causing proliferation in estrogen-responsive breast cancer cells. The problem proved to be the detection limit in GE’s chemical assay-a limit of ten parts per billion. The Stanford team found that two to five parts per billion of bisphenol-A was enough to prompt an estrogenic response in cells in the lab. pages 130 – 131

Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving.

AV Krishnan, P Stathis, SF Permuth, L Tokes and D Feldman
Division of Endocrinology, Stanford University School of Medicine, California 94305

Endocrinology, Vol 132, 2279-2286

In studies to determine whether Saccharomyces cerevisiae produced estrogens, the organism was grown in culture media prepared using distilled water autoclaved in polycarbonate flasks. The yeast- conditioned media showed the presence of a substance that competed with [3H]estradiol for binding to estrogen receptors (ER) from rat uterus. However, it soon became clear that the estrogenic substance in the conditioned media was not a product of the yeast grown in culture, but was leached out of the polycarbonate flasks during the autoclaving procedure. [3H]Estradiol displacement activity was monitored by ER RRA, and the active substance was purified from autoclaved medium using a series of HPLC steps. The final purified product was identified as bisphenol-A (BPA) by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. BPA could also be identified in distilled water autoclaved in polycarbonate flasks without the requirement of either the organism or the constituents of the culture medium. Authentic BPA was active in competitive RRAs, demonstrating an affinity approximately 1:2000 that of estradiol for ER. In functional assays, BPA (10-25 nM) induced progesterone receptors in cultured human mammary cancer cells (MCF-7) at a potency of approximately 1:5000 compared to that of estradiol. The BPA effect on PR induction was blocked by tamoxifen. In addition, BPA (25 nM) increased the rate of proliferation of MCF-7 cells assessed by [3H]thymidine incorporation. Thus, BPA exhibited estrogenic activity by both RRA and two functional bioresponse assays. Finally, MCF-7 cells grown in media prepared with water autoclaved in polycarbonate exhibited higher progesterone receptor levels than cells.grown in media prepared with water autoclaved in glass, suggesting an estrogenic effect of the water autoclaved in polycarbonate. Our findings raise the possibility that unsuspected estrogenic activity in the form of BPA may have an impact on experiments employing media autoclaved in polycarbonate flasks. It remains to be determined whether BPA derived from consumer products manufactured from polycarbonate could significantly contribute to the pool of estrogenic substances in the environment.

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