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New battlefront for petrochemical industry: benzene and childhood leukemia by Kristen Lombardi for The Center For Public Integrity

ATHENS, Georgia — It was December 29, 1998, six years after Jill McElheney and her family had moved next to a cluster of 12 petroleum storage tanks. Jill was escorting her son Jarrett, then 4, to the doctor again. He had spent the day slumped in a stroller, looking so pale and fatigued that a stranger stopped her to ask if he was all right.

It was an encounter Jill couldn’t shake. For the previous three months, she had noticed her once-energetic preschooler deteriorating. He complained of pain in his knee, which grew excruciating. It migrated to his shoulder and then his leg. His shins swelled, as did his temples. At night, Jarrett awoke drenched in sweat, screaming from spasms. Jill took him to a pediatrician and an infectious-disease specialist. A rheumatologist diagnosed him with anemia.

Now, as Jarrett lay listless, Jill found herself back at the pediatrician’s office. Tests confirmed a blood count so low that she was instructed to get him to an emergency room immediately. Within hours she was at a hospital in Atlanta, some 65 miles from her home in Athens, watching nurses rush in and out of Jarrett’s room. Doctors identified a common form of childhood leukemia. “I heard the words,” Jill recalled, “and I only knew the bald heads and the sadness.”

In the waiting room, family members heard more unsettling news: A neighbor’s child also had developed leukemia.

Days later, Jarrett’s doctor penned a letter to federal environmental regulators about the two cancer patients, highlighting their “close proximity” to Southeast Terminals, a group of 10,000-gallon tanks containing gasoline, diesel and fuel oil.

“Could you please investigate,” the doctor wrote, “whether high levels of chemicals could have contaminated the water, possibly contributing … to the development of leukemia?”

Only then did the McElheneys consider the possibility that living beside one of the nation’s 1,500 bulk-oil terminals — known sources of cancer-causing benzene — had triggered their son’s leukemia.

“It was one of those light-bulb moments for us,” said Jeff McElheney, Jarrett’s father. “You never get over it.”

New battlefront for industry

Jarrett McElheney does not represent the standard benzene plaintiff. He’s not among the hundreds of thousands of people who toil in American oil refineries or other workplaces contaminated with the chemical and run the risk of developing leukemia. In the rancorous world of toxic-tort litigation, he stands virtually alone. A lawsuit filed by his parents in 2011 against Southeast Terminals owners BP and TransMontaigne is among a relatively few alleging leukemia caused by environmental benzene exposure. Among these, the McElheney case is rarer still: Most have hinged on adult leukemia.

Yet the case may signal an emerging quandary for the petrochemical industry, according to tens of thousands of pages of previously secret documents that have come to light in lawsuits filed against benzene manufacturers and suppliers on behalf of those who suffered from leukemia and other blood diseases, including Jarrett McElheney.

Internal memorandums, emails, letters and meeting minutes obtained by the Center for Public Integrity over the past year suggest that BP and four other major petrochemical companies, coordinated by their trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, spent at least $36 million on research “designed to protect member company interests,” as one 2000 API summary put it. Many of the documents chronicle a systematic attempt by the petrochemical industry to influence the science linking benzene to cancer. Others attest to the industry’s longstanding interest in topics such as childhood leukemia.

“A number of publications in the last few years have attempted to link increased risks of childhood leukemia with proximity to both petroleum facilities and local traffic density,” another 2000 API memo warns. “Although these publications have had little impact to date, the emphasis on ‘Children’s Health’ may cause these concerns to resurface.”

“This is indeed a battlefront for the oil industry,” said Peter Infante, a former director of the office that reviews health standards at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, who has studied benzene for 40 years and now testifies for plaintiffs in benzene litigation. He has worked on a handful of cases involving children sickened by leukemia.

“It’s in the industry’s economic interests to refuse to acknowledge the relationship between benzene and childhood leukemia,” Infante said.

In May, in a sign of the chemical’s continuing threat, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that 5 million Americans — excluding workers — face heightened cancer risks from benzene and 68 other carcinogens spewed into the air by the nation’s 149 oil refineries. The EPA has proposed a rule that would require refinery operators to monitor for benzene, in particular, along their fence lines.

Aimed at curbing “fugitive” emissions from equipment leaks and similar releases, the proposal would set a fence line limit for benzene of 3 parts per billion — a fraction of the 10 ppb the agency recommends as the maximum chronic exposure level for the chemical.

Industry groups are pushing back. In written comments, the API’s Matthew Todd called the proposal “a major and significant Agency action [that] will dramatically increase the paperwork and recordkeeping burden on refineries. It includes several precedent-setting proposals, will cost our industry hundreds of millions of dollars per year, increase safety risk [and] may impact fuels production and cost …. Production outages will likely occur.”

The EPA also heard from the people the rule is designed to protect. “We live near a refinery, and as a result my son can’t breathe,” a woman from Fontana, California, wrote in Spanish. “My cousin had respiratory problems while living near a refinery for more than 10 years,” a woman from Houston wrote, also in Spanish. “Unfortunately, he died 2 years ago from bone cancer. We believe this was a result of the ambient air where he lived.”

In June, California officials lowered the long-term exposure level for benzene from 20 ppb to 1 ppb — among the lowest in the country — setting the stage for further emissions cuts at refineries and bulk-oil terminals in that state. Officials say such regulatory actions aim to protect children, who are more susceptible to benzene’s toxic effects than adults because their cells aren’t as developed. California is considering classifying benzene not just as a human carcinogen, but as a “toxic air contaminant which may disproportionately impact children.”

“The fact that benzene impacts the blood-forming organs when you’re a developing child is a big deal,” said Melanie Marty of the state’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Hidden menace

ill McElheney agrees. A warm, garrulous mother of five who has schooled herself in the health effects of pollution, she has spent the past 16 years seeking the cause of her son’s leukemia. She has filed open-records requests and contacted state and federal agencies, piecing together a history of gasoline spills and diesel-fuel leaks at Southeast Terminals. She can cite endless details about lingering benzene contamination on terminal property — extensively catalogued in state enforcement files — located “a stone’s throw away” from the trailer park where her family lived for seven years.

Jeff, Jarrett and Jill McElheney stand in the former site of the Oakwood Mobile Home Park, where the family was living when Jarrett was diagnosed with a form of childhood leukemia. Phil Skinner for the Center for Public Integrity
Now vacant and overgrown with brush, the former site of the Oakwood Mobile Home Park lies across a residential street from Southeast Terminals, its tanks rising above a thicket of pines and oaks. All day, every day, trucks drive in and out of the facility’s gates, filling tankers with gasoline and other products.

What can’t be seen is the plume of benzene that has worked its way into the groundwater beneath the tanks. “It’s not like Cancer Alley, with smokestacks belching crap in your face,” Jill said. “It’s hidden — literally.”

When she and Jeff moved to Oakwood in 1992, they saw the 14-trailer community as something of an oasis — quiet, tight-knit. Nestled under shady trees, near churches and schools, it seemed like the perfect location. Even the park’s water supply, drawn from an unpermitted well dating back decades, appeared idyllic: Its pump house served as a beacon on park property, visible for all to see — including, court depositions later confirmed, terminal employees.

“We saw Oakwood as an opportunity,” recalled Jeff, a mustachioed, genial man who operates a roofing company and managed the park for his father, its previous owner.

Jarrett McElheney, center, with 3 of his 4 siblings. Courtesy of the McElheney family
Jarrett arrived two years later and, by his fourth birthday, had grown into an adventurous boy with an abiding love of water. His parents remember him splashing in the tub for hours. Often, he swam in an inflatable pool in their yard, dressed in what he called his “little blue [wet] suit.” He slurped on Kool Aid and popsicles made from well water whose purity his parents never questioned — until his 1998 diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL, a form of the blood cancer found overwhelmingly in children.

Within days of hearing the news, Jarrett’s parents tested their water. Samples from the Oakwood well revealed a brew of such chemicals as carbon tetrachloride and 1,2-dichloroethane, sparking a state investigation. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) found benzene in the water of Oakwood’s well at levels up to 13 ppb — 26 times higher than the federal safety standard. In response, the agency shuttered the well and connected residents to public water.

Over the next year, state geologists worked to identify the contamination’s source. They dug monitoring wells and collected soil samples. Their initial investigation linked at least one pollutant in the park well — not benzene — to nearby abandoned grain silos. Geologists eventually eyed Southeast Terminals as a likely source of the benzene contamination, records show.

“The terminals are certainly suspects for the benzene detected in the [Oakwood] well,” one posited in a 2000 email. “The probable path is deep ground water.”

Another noted the presence of “a possible plume (with benzene) moving by Oakwood … and within a few hundred feet of the [park]’s former well, [thus] too close for comfort for a public-water supply well.”

Two years later, EPD investigators were still documenting high levels of benzene, ranging from 8,000 to 12,000 ppb, on terminal property — as well as the likelihood that, one 2002 EPD memorandum states, “the benzene contamination found in the trailer park well came from the Southeast Terminals.”

Ultimately, though, the state’s two-year, nearly $200,000 investigation yielded few answers. By 2008, groundwater monitoring results revealed only trace amounts of benzene at Oakwood. Today, EPD officials say they lack definitive proof tying the well’s benzene pollution to any source.

For Jill McElheney, the outcome of the inquiry was anything but satisfying. “It just seems to me that when you’ve got benzene in a well and a major source of it next door, you’d make the connection,” she said.

In fact, Jill already had been seeking answers elsewhere. In 2000, she turned to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, or ATSDR, petitioning it for a public health assessment. Instead, the agency launched a less-thorough public health consultation, meant to ascertain the risk to human health posed by the contaminated well water at Oakwood.

The results brought little clarity. In a 2001 report, the ATSDR determined that “the groundwater contaminant plume” initially sampled in the Oakwood well “is a public health hazard.” At the same time, it singled out a pollutant other than benzene as the threat. For benzene, the agency found that “the likelihood someone would get cancer as a result of their exposure is very low.”

In a 2000 draft filed with the state, however, the ATSDR concluded that the highest concentrations of benzene in the water were of concern. “This risk DOES exceed an acceptable risk level,” the draft states, “and may result in an elevated risk of cancer for exposed individuals.”

An ASTDR spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Mounting evidence on benzene and leukemia

The science linking benzene to cancer — particularly leukemia, in all its forms — has preoccupied the petrochemical industry for more than half a century. As far back as 1948, the API’s toxicological profile of the chemical discussed “reasonably well documented instances of the development of leukemia as a result of chronic benzene exposure,” cautioning that “the only absolutely safe concentration … is zero.”

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

Within months, the API task force overseeing the program was enumerating “developing issues.” Topping its list, according to minutes from a meeting in 1993, was this notation: “link to childhood leukemia?”

That possible link appeared on the industry’s radar again in 2000, documents show. At the time, API representatives were drumming up financial support for an unparalleled study of workers exposed to benzene in Shanghai, China, delivering what amounted to a sales pitch for the project. They touted what one 2000 API overview described as its “tremendous economic benefit to the petroleum industry” — helping to combat “onerous regulations” and “litigation costs due to perceptions about the risks of even very low exposures to benzene.” Childhood leukemia was mentioned explicitly.

Five years later, industry representatives grew concerned enough to bankroll their own research. Documents show the API task force approved funding for what minutes of one meeting in 2005 dubbed a “benzene regulatory response,” comprising a “childhood leukemia review” and “child-to-adult sensitivity to benzene” analysis, for a total of $30,000.

By then, the scientific evidence on benzene and leukemia in adults was well-established. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, studies of Italian shoe and leather workers indicated a relationship between the chemical and the cancer. Then, in 1977, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, launched a seminal study of two Goodyear plants in Ohio that made Pliofilm, a thin rubber wrap. The research quantified for the first time the leukemia risk for workers exposed to benzene, prompting OSHA to work on a stricter standard that took effect in 1987.

In years since, the science has solidified. Recent research has shown lower and lower levels of the chemical — less than the OSHA limit of 1 part per million — can cause leukemia as well as other blood and bone marrow disorders.

By contrast, experts say, the research on benzene and childhood leukemia isn’t as conclusive. Multiple studies have indicated that children whose mothers were exposed to benzene-containing solvents during pregnancy experience elevated risks of developing the disease. Others have shown that children living near gas stations or highways — breathing in benzene in the air — face heightened risks. One 2008 study reported a significant spike in the rate of the disease in Houston neighborhoods with the highest benzene emissions.

Taken together, the nearly four dozen publications on the topic strongly suggest the carcinogen can cause leukemia as much in children as adults, experts say.

“Children aren’t another species,” said Infante, the former OSHA official who has reviewed the scientific literature for medical associations and governmental agencies. “If benzene causes leukemia in adults, why wouldn’t it cause leukemia in children?”

The scientist behind the API-commissioned analysis would likely disagree. In 2009, David Pyatt, a Colorado toxicologist with long-standing ties to the petrochemical industry, published a journal article about his review, in which he reported examining 236 studies on the relationship between benzene and childhood leukemia. Many of the studies suggesting a link “suffer from the same limitations,” he concluded, such as poorly quantified exposure estimates.

“At this point,” Pyatt wrote, “there is insufficient epidemiologic support for an association or causal connection between environmental benzene exposure … and the development of childhood [leukemia].”

Some say the review reflects a common industry tactic: Compile studies on a subject, and then shed doubt on each one by claiming the data aren’t good enough.

Pyatt did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls from the Center seeking comment; nor did the API.

In depositions, Pyatt acknowledged that he has never testified for a plaintiff in a benzene exposure case. He has worked as a consultant and defense expert for such petrochemical giants as BP, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell, he has said; the API has financed additional work of his on benzene, as has the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main lobby.

In a deposition taken last year, Pyatt said he wouldn’t discount benzene’s link to childhood leukemia — at least, not to acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, a type rarely found in children.

“There is no reason to think that [children] are going to be protected,” he testified. “So I would certainly think that a child can develop AML if they are exposed to enough benzene.”

In other depositions, Pyatt has conceded no link between benzene and ALL, the type that attacked Jarrett McElheney.

‘They have to stop this practice’

For the McElheneys, the extent of the benzene contamination from Southeast Terminals only came to light years after Jarrett’s chemotherapy regimen had beaten back his leukemia. Yet state and federal enforcement records pinpoint on-site releases of the chemical in 1991, a year before the family moved to the area. At the time, managers of the terminal — jointly owned and operated by BP and Unocal Corp. — discovered a leak of diesel fuel seeping through soil where an underground pipeline was buried.

Terminal employees removed 40 cubic yards of “petroleum contaminated soils,” according to a report filed by BP with the state, and recorded benzene on site at levels as high as 81 ppb. Groundwater samples showed even higher concentrations: 12,000 ppb.

State regulators found such pollution “exceeds our ‘trigger’ levels,” a 1991 letter to the company states, and requested further action.

Under Georgia law, the company was required to develop what the EPD calls a “corrective action plan,” which, among other things, would have delineated the terminal’s benzene plume, as well as identified nearby public water wells.

In a 1991 reply, BP promised the EPD it would file its plan in four months.

Nine years later — after the McElheneys had tested their well water and the EPD had issued a 2000 citation against BP for failing to submit a “timely” corrective action plan — the company finally carried out that requirement, records show.

BP, in charge of the terminal’s daily operations, declined to comment for this article. At different times, Unocal, Louis Dreyfus Energy and TransMontaigne have been BP’s partners at the site. TransMontaigne, its current partner, did not respond to repeated emails and phone calls. TransMontaigne purchased Louis Dreyfus Energy in 1998. Chevron, which merged with Unocal in 2005, declined to comment.

Today, state regulators attribute their own delay in cracking down on the diesel leak to an internal debate over which EPD division had authority over the terminal’s benzene contamination — its underground storage tank program, which has purview over the pipeline; or, its hazardous waste branch. For years, compliance officers in that branch, along with their counterparts at the EPA, had been monitoring the facility’s practice of dumping benzene-laced wastewater on site — a practice later confirmed by terminal employees in court depositions.

In 1990, the EPA issued new rules classifying benzene as hazardous waste and requiring bulk-oil terminals to have permits for discharging the “bottoms water” in petroleum tanks. This wastewater can become tainted by the chemical when mixed with gasoline. Rather than treat the water, Southeast Terminals funneled it through an “oil/water separator” to skim off fuel, and then dumped it into a ditch on the ground.

Company records at the time show that terminal supervisors admitted they drained the wastewater “direct into streams” or “a dike area which eventually drains offsite into a stream.”

“I remember thinking, ‘They have to stop this practice,’” said John Williams, an EPD environmental specialist who inspected the terminal in 1993 and documented the dumping.

Three months later, the EPD issued a notice of violation against Southeast Terminals, forcing supervisors to test the bottoms water. Regulators found benzene at levels four times greater than the legal limit of 0.5 ppb, prompting the EPA to take action.

“We saw an issue there,” said Darryl Hines, of the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta, explaining why officials initiated a 1997 civil enforcement action against the facility.

In its complaint, the EPA accused BP and then-partner Louis Dreyfus Energy of violating federal hazardous-waste law — disposing waste without a permit, and failing to categorize it as hazardous. The agency ordered the companies to shut down the oil/water separator, and implement a plan addressing “any groundwater contamination.”

By the time Jarrett developed leukemia a year later, the EPA had negotiated a settlement with the companies and laid out a series of requirements for cleaning up the benzene. Without admitting fault, BP and Louis Dreyfus agreed to spend at least $100,000 to remove leaking underground pipelines and install above-ground infrastructure. They also paid a penalty of $15,000.

When BP finally filed its long-delayed action plan, it revealed the presence of what EPD project officer Calvin Jones described as a “dissolved hydrocarbon” plume containing benzene — “a bigger problem than we had thought.” The chemical, concentrated at 500 ppb and counting, had spread beyond the immediate spill areas. Of greater concern to regulators, the plan identified “free product” in groundwater.

“There was actually gasoline floating on the water,” explained Jones, of the EPD’s underground storage tank program, who oversaw the facility’s protracted cleanup. Referring to gasoline’s ability to dissolve in water, he said, “You can’t get higher concentrations of benzene … than free product.”

Despite a decade-long cleanup — 35.2 million gallons of contaminated groundwater and 1,009 pounds of benzene were collected — the chemical still saturates much of the nearly 19-acre Southeast Terminals site, records show. Last year, the EPD issued a letter declaring “no further action required,” which released the companies from remediation. At the time, the state-sanctioned benzene count remained at 1,440 ppb.

Over the years, enforcement records show, company consultants and regulators alike have tried to trace the path of the wastewater at the terminal. One company analysis details a trail beginning at the property line and then spilling into adjacent woods before hitting a tributary. Another document, produced by the EPA, depicts the discharge as moving offsite through woods and into a resident’s backyard.

“It’s where the drainage flows,” said Jeffrey Pallas, deputy director of the agency’s hazardous waste division in Atlanta, who oversaw the case against BP and Louis Dreyfus, explaining that the document, complete with photographs, was only intended to verify the hazardous-waste law violations.

“We cannot substantiate from the documentation we have that the benzene left the site,” he said.

Seeking accountability

The McElheneys have seen the evidence they need to connect Southeast Terminals to the benzene in the Oakwood well — and Jarrett’s suffering. They believe all the state and federal enforcement actions have yielded few consequences for the facility’s owners. If Jarrett hadn’t gotten sick, they say, they might never have known about the benzene hazard. “The companies would have paid off their small fines,” Jill said, “and nobody would have been the wiser.”

Seeking some accountability, the family filed a lawsuit three years ago against BP, TransMontaigne and seven other previous owners, alleging that the “illegal discharge and release of toxic chemicals” at Southeast Terminals contaminated the surrounding environment and caused Jarrett to develop leukemia.

In court filings, the companies denied the allegations and dismissed any link between benzene and childhood leukemia. Last year, defense lawyers invoked a familiar tactic: They cited the Pyatt review to support their claims that the chemical couldn’t have caused Jarrett’s illness. The family recently has agreed on a settlement in principle and is working toward resolving the litigation.

“I thought, ‘This is par for the course,’” said Jill, who has read some of the industry documents uncovered by the lawsuit. “The oil industry has fought regulations and lawsuits for workers and adults. Now they’re going to do it with children.”

Jarrett is now a slight, reserved 20-year-old in remission. He remembers his bout with leukemia through a child’s eyes — the “really cool” ambulance rides, the nurses with coloring books, swinging golf clubs in hospital hallways. “I remember being stuck over and over again by needles” while getting a bone-marrow aspiration or a chest catheter or countless blood draws, he said. “But it wasn’t until much later I realized what happened to me didn’t happen to other kids.”

Today, he has had to grapple with cancer’s lasting effects — the feebleness, and the fatigue — as well as its lingering fears. As a leukemia survivor, he is at risk for developing osteoporosis, cataracts, or even another cancer. Sitting in an Olive Garden in Athens, sandwiched between his parents, Jarrett came across as exceedingly shy, uncomfortable in the limelight. Often, his parents did the speaking for him.

Moments earlier, Jill had explained how leukemia had changed her son, taken an emotional toll.

“He had a really loud voice as a toddler but that voice has mellowed,” she said. “I’ll take that voice over anything.”

Maryam Jameel contributed to this story.

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

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/12/08/16356/new-battlefront-petrochemical-industry-benzene-and-childhood-leukemia

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A dozen dirty documents
Twelve documents that stand out from the Center’s new oil and chemical industry archive

By Kristen Lombardi for The Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity, along with researchers from Columbia University and the City University of New York, on Thursday posted some 20,000 pages of internal oil and chemical industry documents on the carcinogen benzene.

This archive, which will grow substantially in 2015 and beyond, offers users a chance to see what corporate officials were saying behind the scenes about poisons in the workplace and the environment.

Here are 12 examples of what the petrochemical industry knew about benzene; the impetus behind industry-sponsored science; and the corporate spin that often occurs when damning evidence against a chemical threatens companies’ bottom lines.

What the industry knew:

The industry knew the dangers of benzene exposure at both high and low concentrations, as illustrated by this 1943 report for Shell Development Company by a University of California researcher.

“Inasmuch as the body develops no tolerance to benzene, and as there is a wide variation in individual susceptibility, it is generally considered that the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.” That was a conclusion reached in a 1948 toxicological review of benzene prepared for the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association.

Benzene’s dangers known in 1943 (pg 2)
This 1943 report, prepared for Shell, is among the earliest to suggest that any prolonged exposure to benzene may be harmful.

No safe exposure level (pg 4) This 1948 review, prepared for the oil industry’s main trade group, the American Petroleum Institute, continues to torment the industry in litigation alleging benzene can cause various types of leukemia and other diseases of the blood-forming organs. In essence, it says the chemical is so potent that there is no safe exposure level.

A 1950 consultant’s memo to Shell lists benzene as having “established carcinogenic qualities.”

Benzene recognized as a well-known carcinogen (pg 1)

This 1950 memorandum from a consultant for Shell Development Company notes that benzol — an obsolete name for benzene — is a well-known carcinogen. As the author states, the memo was prompted by “an increased concern about the incidence of cancer” among Shell workers.

Motivations for industry involvement in research:

In 1995, a benzene study by the National Cancer Institute caught the attention of Exxon scientists, who closely monitored it.

Industry interest in cancer research (pg 1)
An Exxon scientist, B.F. Friedlander, explains that he and industry colleagues are “monitoring” a series of studies by the National Cancer Institute because of their focus on “health risks at low benzene exposures.” The memo shows the petrochemical industry’s early interest in the work of the NCI, which has examined the effects on Chinese workers exposed to benzene at levels below the legal occupational limit in the United States.

While attempting to gain support for a proposed study of benzene toxicity in Shanghai, China, the American Petroleum Institute cites “a tremendous economic benefit” to companies, which could gain data to combat “onerous regulations.” A project overview explains that publications linking benzene to childhood leukemia may cause concerns about the chemical to “resurface.”

‘Tremendous economic benefit’ from the industry study (pg 1)
The six-page overview touts the proposed Shanghai research as a way for the petrochemical industry to gain an “accurate understanding” of benzene’s health effects, which, in turn, would bring “tremendous economic benefit.”

A 2000 summary of the API’s research strategy, drafted by the group’s Benzene Task Force, explains that the research program “is designed to protect member company interests.” The anticipated results could “significantly ameliorate further regulatory initiatives” to curb benzene emissions.

Protecting industry interests (pg 2)

The summary describes the intent of the API’s research program as being “designed to protect member company interests.”

An email exchange explains how “HSE [health, safety and environment] issues surrounding benzene as well as the litigation claims” against the industry compel companies to participate in the industry-sponsored study.

Motivations for research (pg 2)
An email from one Shell executive argues that the “litigation claims we continue to see” are prime reasons for the company to spend millions of dollars on the proposed Shanghai research.

A PowerPoint presentation from 2001 lists “significant issues of concern” to encourage financial support for the API’s research on benzene-exposed workers in China. Among them is “litigation alleging induction of various forms of leukemias and other hematopoietic diseases.” The study, according to the presentation, could provide “strong scientific support for the lack of a risk of leukemia or other hematological diseases at current ambient benzene concentrations to the general population.”

Significant issues of concern (pg 3)
This PowerPoint slide suggests “significant issues of concern” that the proposed Shanghai research might help combat, which would save the petrochemical industry “millions of dollars in expenses.” The issues include more stringent regulations and litigation from benzene exposure.

“Litigation support” and “risk communication” are listed as goals in this 2007 memorandum describing an API risk management program. Further objectives are to establish current regulations as “protective” and avoid additional action.

Oil lobby’s risk management program (pg 1)
The memorandum details the oil lobby’s benzene “risk management” program, intended to “develop scientific data” for it and its member companies to use for “science advocacy” and “litigation support.”

Corporate spin

An undated litigation defense guide written by a senior Shell attorney acknowledges the 1948 report on leukemia and offers a “comprehensive strategy” on how to respond to litigation, including releasing benzene-related documents only on court order.

Acknowledgement of the science showing no safe levels of benzene (pg 4)

Here the author, Richard O. Faulk of Shell Oil’s legal department, references a 1948 Toxicological Review prepared for the American Petroleum Institute. The review found that “the only absolutely safe concentration for benzene is zero.”

After a draft of an API recruitment brief reminds potential study sponsors of “personal injury claims,” an email exchange among members of the Benzene Health Research Consortium urges deletion of “the reference to legal liabilities.”

Don’t mention the legal liabilities (pg 3)

This email from a Shell executive responds to an attached draft of a 2002 recruitment brief that reminds prospective donors about benzene liability costs. In the email, the executive urges colleagues to delete “the reference to legal liabilities” and emphasizes that “the only reason we are doing this is in support of protecting workers.”

A 2001 email from the consortium’s communications committee explains that the perception of the study “needs to be that this is not being done to protect against litigation”

Controlling the message on benzene (pg 1)

The email shows the companies behind the Benzene Health Research Consortium working hard to control their message. It lays out the “scope of public affairs” for the consortium’s communications committee, which includes countering any “perception” that the Shanghai study was “done to protect against litigation.”

Click on the link below to access original article and archival documents.

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2014/12/05/16361/dozen-dirty-documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exposed: Decades of denial on poisons

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

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

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

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

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

How to search the documents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Our Stolen Future,” by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers.
Hand-Me-Down Poisons Excerpt

Gilbertson had given Colborn complete access to his meticulously organized collection of material on each animal species that breeds in the Great Lakes basin–data that he had gathered over the years and arranged in chronological order in three-ring binders. Colborn was awed by the elegance of the effort and by the years of dedication and scholarly consideration that it reflected. With a sense of history, Gilbertson had gone to great lengths to collect papers and studies dating back a half century or more–literature documenting that the problems seen today in the birds and wildlife along the lakes had not been reported before World War II. In the bald eagle file, she found evidence of parallel declines in the postwar period in the bald eagle in North America and in its European cousin, the white-tailed sea eagle, along with a collection of reports detailing the concentrations of synthetic chemical contaminants found in both species. Photocopies from Gilbertson’s archive had greatly enriched Colborn’s files, but their conversations, during which Gilbertson generously shared his broad experience, had proven even more valuable.

Over lunch in the Canadian Wildlife Service cafeteria, Colborn, Gilbertson, and Fox had discussed the wildlife evidence contradicting the frequent claims that the lakes had been cleaned up. The two Canadians shared the conviction the wildlife work had likely implications for human health and constituted a warning humans ought to heed. In her survey of the scientific literature, Colborn had been fascinated by some of Fox’s work, which reported evidence of behavioral changes in wildlife as well as signs of physical damage.

In herring gull colonies, particularly in highly polluted areas of Lakes Ontario and Michigan, Fox and his colleagues had found nests with twice the normal number of eggs–a sign that the birds occupying the nests were two females instead of the expected male-female pair. The phenomenon, which persisted in some areas, had been particularly prevalent in the mid to late 1970s. During this period, Fox had collected and preserved seventeen near-term embryos and newly hatched chicks from the affected colonies in hopes that he might eventually discover what was causing this unusual behavior and other reproduction problems.

A few years later, Fox encountered a scientist who might help him find the answer. Michael Fry, a wildlife toxicologist at the University of California at Davis, had investigated how the pesticide DDT and other synthetic chemicals disrupt the sexual development of birds after hearing reports of nests with female pairs in western gull colonies in southern California. While some looked for an evolutionary explanation for the phenomenon, Fry had suspected contamination. Reports in scientific literature indicated that a number of synthetic chemicals, including the pesticide DDT, could somehow act like the female hormone estrogen.

To test his theory, Fry had injected eggs taken from western gull and California gull colonies in relatively uncontaminated areas with four substances–two forms of DDT; DDE, the breakdown product of DDT; and methoxychlor, another synthetic pesticide that had also been reported to act like the hormone estrogen. The experiment showed that the levels of DDT reported in contaminated areas would disrupt the sexual development of male birds. Fry noted a feminization of the males’ reproductive tracts, evident by the presence of typically female cell types in the testicles or, in cases of higher doses, by the presence of an oviduct, the egg-laying canal normally found in females. Despite all this internal disruption, the chicks had no visible defects and looked completely normal.

As soon as he could make arrangements, Fox shipped the preserved embryos and chicks off to Fry in California. In his examination of the birds’ reproductive tracts, Fry found that five of the seven males were significantly feminized and two had visibly abnormal sex organs. Five of the nine females showed significant signs of disrupted development as well, including the presence of two egg-laying canals instead of the one that is normal in gulls. Such disruption, Fry noted, could indicate that the birds had been exposed to chemicals that acted like the female hormone estrogen.

Earlier experiments by other researchers had shown that exposing male birds to estrogen during development affects the brain as well as the reproductive tract and permanently suppresses sexual behavior. When chicken and Japanese quail eggs received estrogen injections, the males that hatched never crowed, strutted, or exhibited mating behavior as adults.

Taken together, the evidence in the Great Lakes suggested that the females were nesting together because of a shortage of males, which might be absent because they were disinterested in mating or incapable of reproducing. Though most eggs in these same sex nests were infertile, these females sometimes managed to mate with an already paired male and hatch a chick. The female pairs appeared to be an effort to make the best of a bad situation.

Fox and others had noticed other behavioral abnormalities as well, particularly in birds that had high levels of chemical contamination. In Lake Ontario colonies, the birds showed aberrant parental behavior, including less inclination to defend their nests or sit on their eggs. In unsuccessful nests, the incubating eggs were unattended for three times as long as in the nests where birds successfully produced offspring. A study comparing reproduction in Forster’s terns nesting in clean and contaminated areas reported that nest abandonment and egg disappearance, often due to theft by predators, was substantial in the contaminated area on Lake Michigan but virtually nonexistent in the clean colony on a smaller lake in Wisconsin. Parental inattentiveness clearly diminished the chances that the eggs would hatch and the chicks would survive.

What Colborn remembered afterward about the conversation was how cautious they had all been. Despite the shared view that wildlife findings had implications for humans, no one wanted to acknowledge the unspoken question hanging in the air. No one dared ask whether synthetic chemicals might be having similar disrupting effects on human behavior. Those were treacherous waters they all preferred to avoid.

pages 20 – 22

For additional information – http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/

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John Warner’s Lecture at the 2010 Bioneers Conference on Green Chemistry & Intellectual Ecology

Nature teaches us that no system is truly isolated and positive synergies are often at work. Yet the isolation of the various technological disciplines in our educational and industrial institutions has limited synergy in the human-built world. These walls are starting to break down.

A seminal founder of Green Chemistry, Dr. John Warner explores the opportunities to learn from nature about materials and the very process of innovation and creativity. He co-founded the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, and was formerly a professor of Community Health and Sustainability and of Plastics Engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Author of over 100 patents, papers and books including Green Chemistry: Theory and Practice, he serves on the board of the Green Chemistry Institute in Washington DC

John Warner | Intellectual Ecology Part 1

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Green Chemistry: Theory & Practice

3.1 Alternative feedstocks/starting materials

Currently, 98% of all organic chemicals synthesized in the United Sates are made from petroleum feedstocks. Petroleum refining takes up 15% of the total energy used in the US, and its energy usage is rising because the low quality raw petroleum available now requires more energy for refinement. During conversion to useful organic chemicals, petroleum undergoes oxidation, the addition of oxygen or an equivalent; this oxidation step has historically been one of the most environmentally polluting steps in chemical synthesis. As a result of these consideration, it is important to reduce our use of petroleum-based products by using alternative feedstocks….

The exploration of biological sources of alternative feedstocks need not be limited to agricultural products: agricultural waste or biomass, and non-food-related bioproducts, which are often made up of a variety of lignocellulosic materials, may provide important alternative feedstocks.

Other classes of alternative feedstocks are also emerging, such as light. For example, heavy metals, which are often used in petroleum oxidation processes, are also quite toxic and are carcinogens or cause damage to neurological systems. Recently discovered alternative syntheses replace the heavy metal reagents with the use of visible light to carry out the required chemical transformations.

3.3 Alternative Solvents

An important area of green chemistry investigations has centered around the selection of a medium in which to carry out a synthetic transformation. Because the dominant paradigm of chemical synthesis has been around solution chemistry, the question is often phrased as ‘What solvent should be used?’. This phrasing, of course, begs the question, ‘Should a solvent be used at all?’. Many of the solvents commonly used are some of the volatile organic compounds known to cause smog when released to air. These solvents are listed in the United States’ Clean Air Act as substances to be avoided. Research is being is conducted that pursues chemistry that has previously been done in a solvent and discovers a way to do the same chemistry in various solventless systems….

3.4 Alternative product/target molecule

While a synthesis is often driven by the pursuit of a particular target molecule, it is also commonly the case that what is actually being pursued is the ability to make any chemical that can serve a particular function or have a certain performance criterion. For many years the pharmaceutical industry has been doing research into designing safer chemicals. With pharmaceuticals, the object is to maximize the therapeutic benefits of a molecule while minimizing or eliminating the toxic side-effects. These same principles can be applied to the full range of chemical applications.

In the cases where function is the primary motivation, molecular manipulation that preserves efficacy of function while mitigating toxicity or other hazards is the goal of green chemistry. Through these efforts and other toxicological research, it is often possible to identify the part or parts of a molecule that produce toxic effects. Similarly, through chemical research, we are able to identify those parts of a molecule that are required to give the chemical the desired function – to allow it to serve a specific, desired use.

In designing safer chemicals, one identifies the undesirable, toxic portion of a molecule and lessens or eliminates its toxicity, while maintaining the function of the molecule. In many cases, the overlap of the toxic and functional portions creates a worthy challenge for the synthetic chemist….

3.6 Alternative catalysts

Some of the major advances in chemistry, especially industrial chemistry, over the past generation have been in the area of catalysis. Catalysis has not only advanced the level of efficiency but has also brought about concurrent environmental benefits. Through the use of new catalysts, chemists have found ways of removing the need for large quantities of reagents that would otherwise have been needed to carry out the transformations, and would ultimately have contributed to the waste stream. It is true that various classes of catalysts, such as the heavy metal-based catalysts, have been found to be extremely toxic.

excerpts from pages 22 – 27

Click on the link below for sales and additional information regarding this groundbreaking book.


Green Chemistry: Theory & Practice

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