Friday, April 6, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 127


 
 









 

Health hazards toxic topic today 

Brandon Lacour

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 government statutes.

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 scale.

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.

Lacour, a senior (but young at heart) creative 
writing major, can be reached at jlacour@bayou.uh.edu.

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