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Archive for the ‘Endocrine Disruption’ Category

The Dark Side of the Perfectly Manicured American Lawn: Is It Giving You Cancer?  By McKay Jenkins from the book Contamination 

On a beautiful April day, I decided to meet outside with my students at the University of Delaware, where I teach journalism. We sat on the central lawn between two buildings that just happened to bear the names of two gargantuan chemical companies: DuPont and Gore. In the middle of a conversation about agricultural pesticides, a groundskeeper, dressed from feet to neck in a white chemical suit, drove by us on a mower. He wasn’t cutting the grass, though; he was spraying it. And not from one nozzle, but from half a dozen. Up and back he went, describing parallel lines as neat as those in any Iowa farmer’s cornfield. Not a blade escaped the spray. This became a perfect teaching moment.

“Who’s going to ask him what he’s spraying?” I asked my students. One young woman marched over to the groundskeeper. He turned off his engine, they spoke, and she returned.

“He said he’s spraying 2,4-D,” she said. “He said we didn’t need to worry, because he sprayed where we’re sitting at five this morning.”

Which would mean about seven hours earlier. My students chuckled uneasily. He was wearing a full-body chem suit, and they were sitting on the grass in shorts and bare feet?

They’d never heard of 2,4-D, or 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. But they had heard of Agent Orange, the notorious defoliant used in Vietnam, and 2,4-D, one of the most extensively used herbicides in the world, is a constituent of Agent Orange (it did not cause the bulk of the devastating effects associated with Agent Orange). It was developed during World War II, mostly as a weapon to destroy an enemy’s rice crops. Despite its history, 2,4-D has long been seen as safe for consumer use.

In the 1940s, botanist E. J. Kraus of the University of Chicago fed five and a half grams of pure 2,4-D to a cow every day for three months. The cow was fine, according to Kraus, as was her calf. Kraus said he himself had eaten half a gram of the stuff every day for three weeks and felt great. This was apparently good enough for the rest of the country; within five years, American companies were annually producing 14 million pounds of the stuff. By 1964, the number had jumped to 53 million pounds.

Today, annual sales of 2,4-D have surpassed $300 million worldwide, and it’s found in “weed and feed” products, like Scotts Green Sweep, Ortho Weed B Gon, Salvo, Weedone, and Spectracide. At first, its impact on humans seems mild—skin and eye irritation, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, stiffness in the arms and legs—and many lawn-care companies have dismissed health concerns. Plus, the businesses add that the amount of chemicals in sprays is very diluted.

With 80 million home lawns and over 16,000 golf courses, you get close to 50 million acres of cultivated turf in America.

But the effects are more worrisome when considered over time. Because 2,4-D is designed to mimic a plant’s natural growth hormone, it causes such rapid cell growth that the stems of treated plants tend to become grotesquely twisted and their roots swollen; the leaves turn yellow and die; and the plants starve to death (2,4-D does not have this effect on grass).

Unsurprisingly, 2,4-D also appears to affect human hormones. The National Institute of Health Sciences lists it as a suspected endocrine disrupter, and several studies point to its possible contribution to reproductive-health problems and genetic mutations. Although the EPA says there isn’t enough evidence to classify 2,4-D as a carcinogen, a growing body of research has begun to link it to a variety of cancers.

A 1986 National Cancer Institute (NCI) study found that farmers exposed to 2,4-D for 20 or more days a year had a sixfold higher risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Another NCI study showed that dogs were twice as likely to contract lymphoma if their owners used 2,4-D on their lawns.

Like flame retardants, this compound also tends to accumulate inside people’s homes even days after the lawn has been sprayed. One study found 2,4-D in the indoor dust of 63 percent of sampled homes; another showed that levels of the chemical in indoor air and on indoor surfaces increased after lawn applications. After 2,4-D was sprayed, exposure levels for children were ten times higher than before the lawns were treated—an indication of how easily the chemical is tracked inside on the little feet of dogs, cats, and kids.

Thanks to pressure from campus activists, my university replaced 2,4-D with “softer” herbicides and began putting signs on lawns that had just been sprayed. Of course, 2,4-D is one of scores of pesticides in use. According to David Pimentel, professor emeritus of entomology at Cornell University, 110,000 people suffer adverse health effects from pesticides every year, and 10,000 cases of cancer in humans may be attributable to pesticide exposure.

 

The Greening of America

In 1900, 60 percent of Americans lived in rural areas. Today, 83 percent live in cities or suburbs. With that change has come an astonishing shift in the landscape. Over the past half century, Americans have become obsessed with grass. When you add up the country’s 80 million home lawns and over 16,000 golf courses, you get close to 50 million acres of cultivated turf in the United States, an expanse roughly the size of Nebraska. This space is growing by 600 square miles a year.

By 1999, more than two thirds of America’s home lawns had been treated with chemical fertilizers or pesticides—14 million by professional lawn-care companies. A year later, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that Americans were spraying 67 million pounds of synthetic chemicals on their grass every year, and annual sales of lawn-care pesticides had grown to $700 million.

The landscaping trucks rolling through our suburban neighborhoods seem to represent something more than a communal desire for lush grass. Could it be relief from anxiety? (Why else call a company Lawn Doctor?) For one thing, hiring lawn-care specialists is a public declaration that you have the money not to take care of your yard yourself.

Diligent lawn maintenance and chemical use are also associated with approval and social status, Ohio State researchers reported in 2012: “The main factor influencing a homeowner’s decision to use lawn chemicals is whether neighbors or other people in the neighborhood use them. Homeowners crave acceptance from their neighbors and generally want their lawns to fit in with their surrounding community, so they adopt their neighbors’ practices.”

We also create manicured lawns to play the most chemically dependent of pastimes: golf. By 2004, there were just under 15,000 golf courses in the United States—a patchwork of chemically treated turf the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined.

Even grass seed comes coated with chemicals. A close look at a bag of Scotts grass seed reveals it has been treated with Apron XL fungicide, whose active ingredient is Metalaxyl-M, or methyl N-(methoxyacetyl)-N-(2,6-xylyl)-D-alaninate. The bag requests that the product be stored away from foodstuffs, kept out of the reach of children, and not be applied near water, storm drains, or drainage ditches. (A Scotts spokesperson says that its products are designed to be safe when used as directed.)

As the use of chemicals has become widespread, lawn companies have found an unexpected source of profits. Herbicides like 2,4-D preserve grass but kill weeds like clover. Clover, however, pulls nitrogen out of the air and fixes it in the soil. Without clover, soil becomes nitrogen poor and fails to support plant life. So chemical companies now replace the depleted nitrogen, which homeowners used to get for free from clover, with synthetic nitrogen, for which they have to pay.

In America’s watersheds, nitrogen runoff is considered among the worst problems for water quality. Since synthetic fertilizers are water soluble, a good amount runs off your lawn after a rain, where it mixes with runoff from other homes and ends up feeding the plants in bodies of water. Doused with chemicals, algae grow and grow, creating “algae blooms” that—as they decay and die—suck most of the oxygen out of rivers, lakes, and bays and lead to massive “dead zones,” in which neither fish nor plants can live.

In 2007, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation published a report card on the bay’s health that showed just how much trouble chemicals can pose. The bay received an F for nitrogen pollution, a D-minus for phosphorous, an F for water quality, an F for dissolved oxygen, and a D for toxics. On a scale of 100 (with 100 being the best), the bay’s health was rated at 28.

In California, scientists are discovering that algae blooms off the coast not only remove oxygen; they also release a toxin, domoic acid. It enters the food chain when fish eat algae, then moves into the sea lions that consume the fish. If a sea lion is pregnant, her fetus can be contaminated, and years later, that mammal may develop epilepsy.

 

One Man’s Chemical Conversion

Paul Tukey knows about pesticides; the man who invented 2,4-D was a distant cousin. When Tukey was a kid in the late 1960s, his grandfather hired a biplane to spray his 300 acres of fields in Maine a couple of times a year. The fields were mostly planted with cattle feed, not with crops intended for human consumption. For Tukey, spraying day was a thrill.

“My grandfather would go out in the field, dressed in his wool underwear and thick heavy pants, and wave the biplane over his field,” Tukey recalled. “They’d drop this white powder, and he’d get back in the truck looking like Frosty the Snowman. Then we’d drive to the next field, and he’d do it again. My grandfather was getting doused 20 times a day, but he would never let me get out of the truck. I always wondered why I couldn’t go out and get dusted.”

Tukey’s grandfather died of a brain tumor at 60.

Tukey also followed his family’s agricultural tradition but charted his own course. For years, he operated one of southern Maine’s largest landscaping services and considered his job ideal. He worked outside in shorts and sandals. He never bothered with putting on protective gear.

In 1993, he started getting nosebleeds. His vision became blurry. But with business booming, Tukey was too busy to worry. One of his jobs was tending the grounds of a hospital where he hired university students for the work. One day, their professor, an eminent horticulturist named Rick Churchill, came by to say hello to his students. Tukey went out to greet him.

Churchill’s eyes were focused on the weeds, which Tukey’s crew had doused with herbicides and which were curling up and turning brown.

Churchill said, “I asked him how anyone in good conscience could be applying pesticides on the grounds of a hospital where there were patients being treated for cancers that could be linked to their exposure to pesticides. I asked whether he knew anything about the toxicity ratings of what he was applying and how dangerous many of these compounds were to an individual compromised by illness.”

The words cut deeply. “It was devastating,” Tukey told me. “In Maine, Rick Churchill is an icon.”

“You have broken bags of poison,” Tukey told the manager. “They all say, ‘Keep out of reach of children’!”

Tukey did some reading, and what he found was troubling. Pediatric cancers in Los Angeles had been linked to parental exposure to pesticides during pregnancy. In Denver, kids whose yards were treated with pesticides were found to be four times more likely to have soft-tissue cancers than kids whose yards were not. Elsewhere, links had been found between brain tumors in children and the use of weed killers, pest strips, and flea collars.

Tukey also learned that exposure to lawn chemicals was particularly alarming for people who spread them for a living. One study showed a threefold increase in lung cancer among lawn-care workers who used 2,4-D; another found a higher rate of birth defects among the children of chemical appliers. When he finally went to the doctor for his rashes and deteriorating eyesight, he learned that he had developed multiple chemical sensitivity. And his son—conceived in 1992, during the height of Tukey’s use of synthetic chemicals—was diagnosed with one of the worst cases of ADHD his physician had ever seen. (Several recent scientific reports suggest that toxic chemicals may play a role in ADHD.)

“All the evidence indicates that you don’t want pregnant women around these products, but I was walking into the house every single night with my legs coated with pesticides from the knees down,” he said. “Even when my son was a year or two old, … [he] would greet me at the door at night by grabbing me around the legs. He was getting pesticides on his hands and probably his face too.”

Tukey’s Breaking Point

In the midst of his research, Tukey was driving one day when he saw a sign: A store was having a big sale on Scotts Turf Builder. Tukey made a beeline. He was going to buy the store’s entire stock. Once inside, he walked to the lawn-care section. Tukey noticed a woman standing by the lawn chemicals. At her feet, a girl was making sand castles from a broken bag of pesticides. Suddenly, something in him burst—the DDT squirting over his grandfather’s fields, the chemicals that he’d sprayed outside the hospital, and now a child in a pile of pesticides.

Tukey told me, “I said, ‘Ma’am, you really shouldn’t let your child play with that. It’s not safe.’ I’m fundamentally shy, but this just came out of me.”

The store wouldn’t sell the stuff if it wasn’t safe, she told Tukey. She took her child and walked away. A manager came up and asked him if there was a problem. Tukey said there was.

“You have broken bags of poison on the floor,” Tukey said to the manager. “All those bags say, ‘Keep out of reach of children’!”

Those labels are there because of government formality, the manager said. The stuff isn’t dangerous. The store wouldn’t carry it if it was.

“That really was the stake in the heart of my chemical career,” Tukey said. “By then, I’d already made myself sick. I’d already been questioned by Rick Churchill. When I saw that girl making sand castles out of the pesticides, [there] was just a sudden gut-level reaction I couldn’t have anticipated. I was shaking when I left the store.”

Tukey issued a decree to his employees: His business was going organic. It was time to start weaning his company—and customers—off synthetic chemicals. Most clients were fine with his decision, just as long as it didn’t cost any more and as long as their lawns continued to look the same.

More than 170 municipalities in Canada have banned lawn pesticides, especially on public spaces like school yards and sports fields. Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have banned 2,4-D. In 2009, the European Parliament passed laws banning 22 pesticides that can cause cancer or disrupt human hormones or reproduction.

 

How to Bring Back Butterflies

Certainly, switching to a less toxic lawn company can reduce your family’s—and neighbors’—exposure to synthetic chemicals. It would also reduce the pollutants you contribute to the watershed. But there is another option, one that gets into the more inspiring realm of restoration. There is a way to think of your yard as more than a burden that needs to be mowed and weeded. There is a way to think of your yard as transformational, even magical. Doug Tallamy can show you how.

When Tallamy, former chair of the entomology department at the University of Delaware, walks around his yard, he sees things most of us would not. He can look at a black cherry tree and spot the larvae of 13 tiger swallowtail butterflies. He has planted scores of trees: sweet gums, tulips, white oaks, river birches, and sugar maples. But he’s really interested in bugs and birds—and boosting their numbers.

Suburban development has been devastating to avian populations. Most of the birds we see in our yards are probably house sparrows and starlings, invasive species from Europe. If you study the population numbers for native birds, you’ll find the wood thrush is down 48 percent; the bobwhite, 80 percent; bobolinks, 90 percent. An estimated 72 million birds are killed each year in America by direct exposure to pesticides, a number that does not include baby birds that perish because a parent died from pesticides or birds poisoned by eating contaminated insects or worms. The actual number of birds killed might be closer to 150 million.

In mid-Atlantic gardening circles, Tallamy is a bit of a prophet, his message freighted with both gloom and promise. It is the promise of ecological renewal that he most wants people to understand. His vision is based on three ideas: If you want more birds, you need more native insects; if you want more native insects, you need more native plants; and if you want more native plants, you need to get rid of—or shrink—your lawn.

Tallamy says that when we wake up in the morning to birdsong, it’s often being made by hungry migratory birds that may have just flown 300 miles. What is there to eat? Too frequently, ornamental trees that bear none of the insects the birds need—and chemically treated grass. Tallamy’s prescription: Put in native plants that will make your yard a haven for caterpillars, butterflies, and birds. In the mid-Atlantic region, this can mean swamp milkweed, butterfly weed, buttonbush, joe-pye weed, and a rudbeckia species like black-eyed Susans. At the University of Delaware, Tallamy and a team are restoring native species to the campus.

And me? I ripped up 20 percent of my lawn and planted two flower gardens, two sets of flowering shrubs, and seven vegetable beds. Now my daughter helps me pick eggplants, tomatillos, okra, and Swiss chard. My son can identify not only monarchs and tiger swallowtails but also which plants they like to eat. How? Because last year the butterflies were not here, and this year they are. We replaced the grass, which monarch caterpillars can’t eat, with native flora they can consume. It’s as simple as that. Milkweed and joe-pye weed were born to grow here. All you have to do is plant them and wait for the butterflies.

 

Wise Moves for a Lush Lawn

1. Get tested. “Spending money on fertilizer without a soil test is just guessing,” says Paul Tukey. Good soil is key to a great lawn, and a soil test can tell you what’s in the dirt and what’s missing. For a test, call your county extension office (a national network of agriculture experts).

2. Plant clover with your grass. Clover competes with weeds and fixes nitrogen in the soil. John Bochert, a lawn and garden specialist in York, Maine, recommends a seed mix of white clover, perennial rye (it germinates quickly), fescue, and bluegrass.

3. Mow high, and leave the clippings. Taller grass provides more leaf for photosynthesis, develops deeper roots, and resists weeds. The clippings act as fertilizer. “Lawns mowed at four inches are the most weed-free,” Tukey says. “If you did only one thing, adjusting your mower height would be it.”

4. Cut back on watering. Frequent watering leads to shallow roots, so “water once a week if at all,” says Tukey

5. Apply compost. “Weeds need light to grow,” Tukey says. “Spreading compost on a lawn in the spring prevents weed seeds from germinating.”

6. Listen to weeds … “Weeds are nothing if not messengers,” says Tukey. “Dandelions are telling you the ground needs more calcium. Plantains are telling you the ground is too compact and needs aerating.”

7. … and to insects. Beneficial nematodes, which are microscopic worms, eat some 200 species of insects, including grubs that become Japanese beetles; you can buy them from farm and garden stores. Mix them in water, and spray them on your lawn.

 

 

 

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Trade Secrets Documentary by Bill Moyers

 

 

Trade Secrets – Transcripts

TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT

TEASE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRADE SECRETS: A Moyers Report

PROLOGUE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: Love at first sight?

ROSS: Uh huh.

MOYERS: Did he think that?

ROSS: No.

MOYERS: You had to, had to…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NARRATION: There was also a hand-written instruction.

MOYERS: And then there’s writing that says?

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

MOYERS: Don’t send this to the headquarters?

ROSS: Right.

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

MOYERS: What did you take that to mean?

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

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

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

DOCUMENT WAREHOUSE

NARRATION: And this is the result of that vow.

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

WILLIAM BAGGETT, JR, ATTORNEY: Ten years.

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

In these rooms is the legacy of Dan Ross.

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

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

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

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

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

The industry boomed.

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

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

MT. SINAI SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

MOYERS: In this arm?

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

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

MOYERS: And you’re looking for chemicals?

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

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

McCALLY: Oh yes…no question. No question.

DOCUMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: ’55.

SKAGGS: Uh-huh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SKAGGS: At the start, no.

NARRATION: BF Goodrich would discover the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SKAGGS: I was really shocked.

MOYERS: What did you see?

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

MOYERS: In a normal x-ray.

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

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

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

MOYERS: Dissolving?

SKAGGS: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 6, 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARKOWITZ: Absolutely.

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

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

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

MOYERS: Politically.

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

WASHINGTON, D.C.

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

Confidential. Recommendations.

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

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

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

NARRATION: Instead, they changed the report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: That was describing the condition you had.

SKAGGS: Right, right.

MOYERS: At the same time they were –

SKAGGS: They were resisting anything –

MOYERS: They didn’t say they knew anything –

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

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

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

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

SKAGGS: Makes me more bitter than I was.

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: How would you characterize the industry discussion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARKOWITZ: Exactly. They…

MOYERS: …to anybody? To the workers?

MARKOWITZ: To the workers.

MOYERS: To the doctors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WASHINGTON, DC

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

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

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

March 26, 1973

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

MCA BUILDING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: But they didn’t.

MARKOWITZ: No, they certainly did not.

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA

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

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

MOYERS: He was eager for hard work or…

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

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

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

MOYERS: You were breathing it?

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

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

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

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

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

NARRATION: But the companies were worried.

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

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

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

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

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

ROSNER: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Charles, Louisiana. PPG/Vista.

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

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

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

MOYERS: You knew that chemicals had caused it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Carbide. Internal Correspondence. Confidential.

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

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

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

MOYERS: Unlimited liability.

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

Interoffice Memo. Ethyl Corporation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: If those guys hadn’t died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BENZENE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 11, 1977

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

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

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

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

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

DBCP

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

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

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

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

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

Dow Chemical Company Biochemical Research Laboratory. July 23, 1958

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

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

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

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

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

April 29, 1975. Inter-office memo.

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: How many?

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

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

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

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

September 8, 1980. Report to the Board.

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

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

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

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

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

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

REAGAN INAUGURATION

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

The industry was ready to play hardball.

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

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

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

CHANGES FOR THE BETTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: Because?

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

MOYERS: Chemicals have more rights than people?

MEYERHOFF: Far more rights than people.

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: Regulating itself?

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

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

INSTITUTE, WEST VIRGINIA

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

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

MAN: India. Because you’re so helpless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 4, 1986 California Toxics Initiative.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: But you didn’t know about this?

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: 4.8 million.

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

MOYERS: By the industry.

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

MOYERS: So the industry spent 4-point–

BUCHANAN: 4.8 million dollars on the ballot.

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

BUCHANAN: Oh, about 150,000.

MOYERS: I would say you were outspent.

BUCHANAN: About 50 to 1 or so, yeah.

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

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

MOYERS: It would cost them money if people knew.

BUCHANAN: It would absolutely cost them money.

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

TEST RESULTS

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

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

MOYERS: So what’s the news?

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

MOYERS: Wow. Eighty-four.

McCALLY: Eighty-four.

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

McCALLY: No. No. With one exception.

MOYERS: What’s that?

McCALLY: Lead.

MOYERS: Lead.

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

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

McCALLY: Yes.

MOYERS: — over the last sixty years.

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

MOYERS: What kind of chemicals?

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

MOYERS: And dioxins?

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

MOYERS: You tested for some pesticides.

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: Young man.

McCALLY: A young man? Yes. Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 15, 1992:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LAKE CHARLES, LOUISIANA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t know why.

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

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

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

PANEL DISCUSSION

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

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

Mr. Yosie, thank you very much for coming.

TERRY YOSIE: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: You don’t want to answer?

COOK: So you’re testing?

YOSIE: I want to respond to the issues that…

MOYERS: Before you do…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: The documents suggest they didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MOYERS: What about that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(laughs)

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANDRIGAN: Children…

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOSIE: Three months ago…

VOORHEES: Can I respond to that?

MOYERS: Sure.

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

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

YOSIE: Three months ago…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOSIE: That’s underway.

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

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

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

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

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

YOSIE: We support that objective.

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

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

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

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

That’s what America’s kids need.

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

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

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

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

LANDRIGAN: No, it’s not.

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

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

YOSIE: I’m quoting to the CDC, Phil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LANDRIGAN: Why is there…

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

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

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

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

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

LANDRIGAN: When you were at EPA.

YOSIE: When I was at EPA.

COOK: Yeah, but the companies you represent…

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

MOYERS: What was that, Ken?

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

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

MOYERS: What’s your web site?

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

MOYERS: And yours is…

LANDRIGAN: Childenvironment.org.

MOYERS: Covington & Burling?

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

MOYERS: (laughs) Ours is pbs.org.

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

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

YOSIE: I think you have your facts wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

YOSIE: We supported those measures.

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

MOYERS: We have about 45 seconds.

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

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

COOK: About 40 years late.

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

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

YOSIE: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

By NATHANIEL RICHJAN. 6, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But his father, who late in life enrolled in law school, encouraged Bilott to do the same. Surprising his professors, he chose to attend law school at Ohio State, where his favorite course was environmental law. ‘‘It seemed like it would have real-world impact,’’ he said. ‘‘It was something you could do to make a difference.’’ When, after graduation, Taft made him an offer, his mentors and friends from New College were aghast. They didn’t understand how he could join a corporate firm. Bilott didn’t see it that way. He hadn’t really thought about the ethics of it, to be honest. ‘‘My family said that a big firm was where you’d get the most opportunities,’’ he said. ‘‘I knew nobody who had ever worked at a firm, nobody who knew anything about it. I just tried to get the best job I could. I don’t think I had any clue of what that involved.’’
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At Taft, he asked to join Thomas Terp’s environmental team. Ten years earlier, Congress passed the legislation known as Superfund, which financed the emergency cleanup of hazardous-waste dumps. Superfund was a lucrative development for firms like Taft, creating an entire subfield within environmental law, one that required a deep understanding of the new regulations in order to guide negotiations among municipal agencies and numerous private parties. Terp’s team at Taft was a leader in the field.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘‘I was irritated,’’ he says.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bilott never represented a corporate client again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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The Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols

By the time the PCB problem was isolated in January 1976, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency believed that Outboard Marine was delivering approximately nine to ten tons of PCBs to the harbor each day. The PCB content of the sludge at the bottom of the harbor ranged from 240,000 to 500,000 parts per million depending on when and where the sample was taken. That means that either one in two or one in four grains of sand or silt at the bottom of the harbor was not actually sand or silt, but was a PCB instead. page 43

Waukegan would take its turn on the national stage two years later, in 1984,when a U.S. Environmental Protection official, Rita Lavelle, was accused of secretly meeting with lakefront polluters in an effort to strike a cleanup deal that heavily favored industry… In the aftermath of the scandal, the full extent of Waukegan’s chemical contamination was revealed… Eventually, three separate Superfund sites, named after the 1980 federal legislation that allocated funds to clean them up, were designated in Waukegan. Two of the sites are adjacent to the lake… In addition, more than a dozen other sites form what federal and state regulators call an expanded study area, which stretches along the lakefront from one end of town to the other. These smaller sites contain the waste products from a tannery, a steel company, a paint factory, a pharmaceutical company, and a scrap yard. Together these sites contain not just PCBs, but an alphabet soup of pollutants. “Just about every chemical we know to be dangerous to human health is in one of those sites,” Says Margaret Quinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who specializes in human exposure assessment. In addition to PCBs, these chemicals include benzene and other volatile organic compounds, arsenic. lead, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, vinyl chloride, and ammonia. Various chemicals among these have been associated with reproductive diseases, learning and attention deficits in children, birth defects, immune system deficiencies, and some forms of cancer.

Was there a relationship between my sister’s cancer and the toxins of our childhood? My sister certainly thought so. And many other people have suspected, often correctly, that elements in their environment have had an effect on their health. Yet because of the long time it takes for a cancer to develop and because of relative mobility of our lives today, it can be challenging to establish a casual link between a disease and its origin.

pages 5 -6

“Ovaries are approximately three centimeters long by one and one-half centimeters wide by one centimeter thick,” writes Ethel Sloan in, “The Biology of Women.”… Whichever edition you consult will tell you that the ovary is about the size of an almond and that it produces the female hormone estrogen. During the monthly menstrual cycle, each ovary forces an egg through a wall of tissue and afterward repairs that rupture in a process called ovulation. “The ovary is no beauty,” writes Natalie Angier in “Woman: An Intimate Geography, “It is scarred and pitted, for each cycle of ovulation leaves behind a blemish where an egg follicle has been emptied of its contents. The older the woman, the more scarred her ovaries will be. It is this continual bursting and repairing–part and parcel of the ovarian life cycle–that makes the ovary vulnerable to cancer.

Scientists have long theorized that as cells multiply each month to repair the breach in the ovarian wall, more opportunities are created for mistakes in the DNA copying process, which in turn increases the chances of a malignant mutation. More ovulations, in other words, mean more chances for mistakes.

Risk factors for the disease therefore include never giving your ovaries a break by being pregnant or having a child. The other risk factor is having a close relative with the disease. That would be my sister, of course, and that would bring our story back home….

Doctors at this hospital and elsewhere have long speculated that there were significant environmental factors associated with ovarian cancer. The vagina provides a runway to the ovaries not simply for sperm but for many other substances as well. Significantly, women who have their tubes tied experience a lower rate of ovarian cancer than those who do not. Some have theorized that this may be because the pathways to the ovaries has been blocked, keeping outside agents at bay.

For example, some researchers have found a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer–though several other studies have produced conflicting results. Some early forms of talcum may have contained asbestos and thus given researchers their positive findings. Indeed, at least one retrospective study found a much higher disease rate among women who used talc prior to 1960 than those who used is after–giving at least some credence to the idea that the use of asbestos-laden talc increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

My sister speculated that asbestos had contributed to her illness. A group of naturally occurring fibrous materials that are fire-resistant, asbestos has been thought to cause adverse health effects since the first century. Yet, as writer Paul Brodeur tells us in his book on asbestos, Outrageous Misconduct, its role in causing the disease asbestosis, a noncancerous condition in which the lungs scar so badly that they won’t expand and contract properly, was not well established in medical literature until the 1970s.

In the years before my sister died, when I was an editor for the Harvard Business Review, I worked on a piece written by Bill Sells, the man who had run the Johns-Manville plants in Waukegan in the early 1970s–a time when deaths from asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases were beginning to occur in the workforce at an alarming rate. After noting that his job included the unenviable task of visiting his sick and dying employees at the local hospital, he offered this description of his first visit to the factory: “The plant lay at the back of a sprawling complex built in the 1920s. Its view of Lake Michigan was obscured by a landfill several stories high. A road wound through this mountain of asbestos-laden scrap, and as I drove through it for the first time I stopped to watch a bulldozer crush a 36-inch sewer pipe. A cloud of dust swirled around my car.” Inside the plant, he said, he found “asbestos-laden dust coating almost every visible surface.”

An EPA official charged with overseeing the cleanup of the Johns-Manville plant, Brad Bradley, has a similar recollection. Standing at the edge of the 350-acre Superfund site that overlooks Lake Michigan, Bradley recalled his first visit there in 1982. He remembers asking an asbestos expert where he thought they would find the fibers. “I think they are everywhere,” said the expert. Indeed, virtually anywhere on the site that Bradley scuffed the ground with his boot, he found the telltale fibers.

People are more likely to connect the fiber with asbestosis than with ovarian cancer. However, a thirty-year study of nearly two thousand women who worked with asbestos while manufacturing gas masks during World War II showed these women to be seven times more likely to die from ovarian cancer than a control group. My sister’s medical history seems to tell a different story, though, and the link between asbestos and ovarian cancer in general does not appear to be a strong one. The ovarian cancer specialist I saw at the clinic was quick to point out that my sister’s record indicated that her cancer was preceded by endometriosis.

The phrase “painful periods” does not begin to describe the torture that my mother and sister endured during menstruation. White and sweating, doubled over with pain, they retreated to the bed or the couch until the pain and the bleeding passed. When I recounted my mother’s experience, the ovarian cancer specialist suggests that my mother also likely suffered from endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a once rare disease that is now common. When the disease was first named and discovered in 1921 by a New York physician, there were only twenty reports of the illness in the medical literature. Today, the National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 5.5 million women suffer from the disease in the United States, and as many as 89 million women may have it worldwide. An exact number is hard to come by, since the disease can only properly be diagnosed during surgery. Still, about one-third of women of childbearing age suffer some symptoms–including pelvic pain and infertility–and in the United States at least, the average age of onset has been declining…

Endometriosis is a complex condition, and no one is certain what causes it. Some scientists believe it is an immune system disorder. Others believe that women with endometriosis lack the ability to shed cells that have migrated and are growing where they should not be. Other scientists have focused on a genetic component of the disease since it can run in families. A woman with a sister or mother with endometriosis, for example, is three to seven times more likely to get the disease.

The mechanisms of endometriosis are not that different from those that create cancer: they involve cell proliferation, the migration of cells, and a change in their cellular nature. Endometriosis grows unchecked and invades surrounding tissues, and the body’s immune system fails to rid itself of the misplaced lesions. In the same way, the body fails to rid itself of cancerous lesions.

It is often but not always the case that the kind of cancer my sister suffered from, ovarian clear-cell adenocarcinoma, is preceded by endometriosis, and many believe that there is a relationship between the two diseases. Some scientists believe that endometriosis–in certain cases–is a kind of precancerous condition, and others believe that the two diseases spring forth in unison. Other experts theorize that the endometrial cells themselves drive the proliferation of cancer once it has started by producing their own estrogen. Each lesion is capable of increasing the local production of estrogen, so that once the disease takes hold it is capable of feeding itself.

In my sister’s case, cancerous growths arose within her endometrial lesions. Whatever the exact mechanism of disease development, women with the type of ovarian cancer that my sister suffered from have higher rates of endometriosis that the general female population. In one study, about 70 percent of the women with clear-cell ovarian cancer also had endometriosis.

Scientists have long suspected that chemicals of the type found in Waukegan–dioxins, PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)–play a role in human endometriosis.

pages 75 – 81

Carson died in 1964, but her work and her life serve as a warning to everyone who struggles with cancer. “As we pour millions into research and invest all our hopes in vast programs to find cures for established cases of cancer,” she wrote, “we are neglecting the golden opportunity to prevent, even while we seek to cure.”

Carson’s favorite quote, from Abraham Lincoln, can be found snuggled into her almost daily letters to Freeman, where she explains what keeps her going through her treatments and on to finish her groundbreaking book. It reads: “To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

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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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