Health hazards toxic topic
On March 26, PBS (known in my household
solely for their Lawrence Welk reruns) ran a documentary, Trade Secrets,
that focused on the chemical industry.
While it's no great secret that corporations
routinely poison us and show a blatant disregard for our well-being on
a regular basis, the documentary indicated that the results of this behavior
are more pervasive than previously imagined.
Of the more than 750,000 chemicals registered
with the Environmental Protection Agency, only a fraction have undergone
testing to determine their potential dangers to human beings.
The current regulatory system is structured
to allow chemicals in the marketplace until they're proved beyond a doubt
to be hazardous. However, the behavior of the chemical industry goes beyond
even that. It is tantamount to a conspiracy.
In 1959, a Dow Chemical memo concerning
vinyl chloride noted that it would "produce rather appreciable injury when
inhaled seven hours a day, five days a week for an extended period."
The memo stated that this information should
be kept secret. Even after a 1973 test by the Ethyl Corporation, which
found that vinyl chloride "certainly indicates a positive carcinogenic
effect," no real precautions were taken.
The results of this can be seen in the
case of Dan Ross, highlighted in the PBS documentary, who died recently
of a rare strain of brain cancer after decades of working in the Conoco
vinyl chloride producing plant in Lake Charles, La.
Equally as troubling was the decision by
the 3M Corporation to withdraw the key ingredient in their heavily marketed
Scotchguard, since it concerned the EPA.
3M failed to mention that this chemical
was not just applied to carpet and furniture, but was also used in candy
wrappers, fast food containers and numerous other products.
The corporations bought protection through
political contributions to both parties that resulted in an umbrella of
At least 25 states have adopted "audit
privilege" laws. These laws allow industries to keep problems like pollution
and worker safety a secret. Since 1998 many corporations have initiated
"voluntary testing" as a method to avoid scrutinized mandatory testing.
After decades of abuse, we are finally
seeing the ravages of the shortsighted avarice of the chemical industry.
Exposure to DDT, Dioxin, and PCB has left workers and residents with outbreaks
of cancer, infant death, birth defects, and mental retardation on a grand
It should be also noted that these plants
are usually positioned in poor, minority neighborhoods, the residents of
which are unable to muster much protest against the corporations.
In 1998, the city of Venice, Italy charged
31 chemical executives with manslaughter in the deaths of workers exposed
to vinyl chloride and other carcinogens (the case is still pending). I
think it's time we took a cue from the Italians.