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

In everything from mother's milk to water bottles, to half of
all cans, estrogen mimickers are sparking calls for bans.

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."

But perhaps the most far-reaching lobbying efforts are those directed at changing government regulations. In January, Ciba-Geigy's Crop Protection division met with the EPA's Office of Water and Office of Pesticide Programs to present its own studies on the health

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 Audits.

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.

Even when health authorities and governments make a conscientious effort to set safety standards, they face considerable difficulties. One of the main problems is that the "safe" levels for chemicals in emissions and in everyday products such as pesticides have been

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 current course of human "progress."
Montague, who has been tracking the effects of synthetic

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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