CovertAction Quarterly Who Is Stealing our Future, continued.
|organization, the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, has just launched a three-year, $5 million research effort into how natural and synthetic chemicals affect the human hormone system. Cancer toxicology research which traditionally took up two-thirds of its program is now making way for the study of non-cancer effects such as neurotoxicity and endocrine effects. CIIT is funded by dues from about 40 member chemical companies including DuPont, Dow Chemical, Exxon Chemical, General Electric, and Hoechst Celanese. Not every major company is a member BASF, Elf Atochem have never paid dues to CIIT while other major players||
such as Amoco Chemical, BP America, Dow Corning, ICI
Americas, Olin, and Rhone-Poulenc, have dropped out.
In addition to sponsoring and promoting potentially sympathetic scientific studies, the affected industries are investing heavily in public relations campaigns designed to challenge the growing anti-chemical lobby. In 1993, the Chemical Manufacturers Association formed the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC) in Washington, DC, which in turn hired the aggressive public relations firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin
(MBD) to target environmental groups.
John Mongoven, co-founder of the DC-based firm, has taken up the
issue personally and publishes a monthly briefing for his
clients. His long-term strategy in countering those warning
of the dangers of disrupter chemicals, says Montague of
Rachel's Weekly, is to characterize the "phase out chlorine"
position as "a rejection of accepted scientific method," as a
violation of the chlorine industry's constitutional right to
"have the liberty to do what they choose," and thus a threat
to fundamental American values.
It is not the first time Mongoven has flacked for potentially
deadly products. He began his PR career in 1981 when he
was hired by the Nestl Corp. to organize its response to a
consumer boycott. Activists had charged that the company's
infant formula marketing practices in the Third World
encouraged poor women with no access to clean water to
abandon breast-feeding and switch to expensive infant
formula. Using dossiers that Mongoven compiled on the
churches and other groups leading the boycott, Nestl played
on divisions and rivalries within the activist coalition to talk
wavering "moderates" into abandoning the boycott.
MBD has often used similar strategies to neutralize activist
groups on behalf of a variety of corporate clients. For
example, after analyzing dioxin opposition, MBD picked the
New York-based environmental group INFORM as a
"moderate" group worth targeting for possible cooptation.
This kind of tactic is an MBD specialty according to PR
Watch editor John Stauber. He writes:
@XFDS = The field operatives who gather information for Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin are typically polite, low-key and do their best to sound sympathetic to the people they are interrogating. They have misrepresented themselves, claiming falsely to be journalists, friends of friends, or supporters
of social change. Most of the time, however, they
simply give very limited information, identifying their
company only by its initials and describing MBD
euphemistically as a "research group" that helps "corporate
decision makers ... develop a better appreciation of the public
interest movement" in order to "resolve contentious public
policy issues in a balanced and socially responsible manner."
FLACKING FOR SECRECY
impact of the pesticide atrazine
to counter evidence of health risks presented by the
Washington-based Environmental Working Group.
Industry lobbying groups have also quietly begun to work with government to change the way that emissions of toxic chemicals are reported to the public. Traditionally, all emissions of chemicals listed as toxic by the government must be reported in a form that is accessible to the public. In the last three years, 18 states have voted in various versions of laws that allow companies to avoid telling
authorities about such emissions if industry conducts systematic
environmental audits internally. The Wall Street Journal
says that the new laws "encourage companies to monitor
their own activities rigorously without fear that what they
discover will be used against them." The newspaper reports
that these laws have been promoted by several industry
lobby groups including the Compliance Management and
Policy Group, the Corporate Environmental Enforcement
Council, and the Coalition for Improved Environmental
One such law in Colorado allows
companies to withhold information about air pollution. Another, under debate in
Arizona, would implement the "broadest secrecy laws in the
nation preventing the public from knowing what has actually
happened at a facility,'' according to Felicia Marcus, regional
administrator for the EPA.
traditionally based on
their impact on adults, not children, who are at a far greater
risk; the assumption is that it is mostly adults who use these
products. But there is growing worry that the quantity of the
chemical is largely irrelevant; the crucial question is not how
much, but when exposure occurs. Thus one part in a million
of a certain chemical may be perfectly safe during 99.99
percent of the life-cycle of a normal human being, but
exposure to one part in a trillion at a particular time during
pregnancy may cause a life-long tragedy.
Given this danger, some activists say the only way to prevent
widespread sickness and disease is to question the
course of human "progress."
chemicals on human health
for 10 years,advocates questioning
Given this danger, some activists say the only way to prevent widespread sickness and disease is to question the current course of human "progress."
the use of all such substances. "The studies show
that the strange new
chemicals that govern our current patterns of lifestyle and
consumption are killing us and making us sick," he says.
"There is a clear pattern in our history that shows that every
time we discover a dangerous chemical, we substitute it with
a different one that we know very little about. We can't
continue to do this. We have to stop using these chemicals
and start living simpler lives."
Some institutions have already suggested that entire classes of chemicals be banned. Studies by the International Joint Commission, a scientific body set up to study water quality in the Great Lakes in Canada and the US, have shown that of the toxic substances found in the lakes,half of those that cause cancer and other health problems contain chlorine. As a result, the Commission recommended
phasing out all
chlorine-based chemicals. This conclusion was endorsed by
the American Public Health Association.
While most scientists and government agencies are taking a "wait and see" approach, some local communities around the country are organizing to get answers for themselves. Last year a grassroots group of women in Marin County, California, a region that has the highest rate of breast cancer in the nation, decided to stop waiting for the medical community and commissioned its own research. The Marin Breast Cancer Watch is currently preparing a survey of the county to try to determine if
environmental causes can
explain the high cancer rates.
In Seattle, groups including the Women's Health Action Network and the Washington Toxics Coalition meet monthly to talk about issues of reproductive health and synthetic chemicals. Major environmental organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund and Greenpeace have also begun to lobby government and industry on these matters in national capitals.
While industry claims we don't know enough to justify action, many activists and researchers warn that if we wait for definitive answers, it may be too late. The
cost of doing
nothing will be illness and death for individuals, devastation
of the environment, and serious genetic damage for many
species, including humans. Many of the estimated 100,000
chemicals on the market today have not undergone rigorous
testing and about 1,000 new ones are added every year. The
burden of proof must shift so that the individual and
combined impact of these chemicals is assessed and those
that are not proven safe are banned. A phase-out period may
be necessary to find natural substitutes and alternatives for
substances already in use, but the ultimate goal must be a
ban on such substances.
In addition, no new chemicals should be introduced until complete testing is completed.
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