By Leigh Davis
In his Academy Award-winning
film, An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore -- discussing why so many
in the corporate world have resisted the obvious about climate change -- quotes
Upton Sinclair: “You can't make somebody understand something if their
salary depends upon them not understanding it.”
Case in point: The continuing story of the ubiquitous hormone-disrupting chemical BPA, which is found in consumer products from baby bottles to dental sealants, to microwave-ware, refillable water bottles and the inside of food cans, and implicated in such modern maladies as precocious puberty, obesity and diabetes, low sperm counts, miscarriages and breast cancer. (We reported on the problems with BPA in the second installment of Toxic New Jersey: Dimilin and its Dangers.)
Dow manufactures plastics, chemicals including agricultural chemicals such as pesticides, genetically-modified plant seeds, and consumer products. Dow is associated with the Bhopal, India disaster (see Union Carbide, below), and is held responsible by Amnesty International for the persistence of the contamination there and refusal to make its now wholly-owned subsidiary Union Carbide to face trial for the disaster. Dow was also the maker of silicone breast implants (and sued by more than 3550 women victims of the implants), manufactured the notorious anti-personnel weapon napalm and the dioxin-containing defoliant Agent Orange (along with Monsanto) during the Vietnam war, and marketed the hormone-disrupting, carcinogenic reproductive toxin chlorpyrifos (Dursban), previously the most widely used home and garden pesticide in the U.S. (withdrawn from that use here in 2000, but still marketed as “safe” in the industrializing world), and found by the CDC at four times the EPA’s acceptable long-term exposure in the tissues of 6- to 11-year olds. Author Jack Doyle documented Dow’s history in his 2004 book Tresspass Against Us: Dow Chemical and The Toxic Industry.
The BPA story came to light when a nonprofit environmental organization, the Environmental Working Group, criticized a report prepared by the CERHR on BPA, saying that the report was “inaccurate and biased toward industry.” The EWG took the case to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Representative Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles).
On March 5, the EWG released a report on U.S. tests showing unsafe levels of BPA in over half of the tested samples of a variety of canned foods, including vegetables, soda, and baby formula, purchased at chain supermarkets in California, Connecticut, and Georgia. The foods included 27 name brands and three store brands. The highest levels of BPA were in canned pasta and soup; canned infant formula had high levels as well. The EWG stated that, “Just one to three servings of food with these BPA levels could expose a pregnant woman or infant to harmful doses of the chemical.”
The EWG report points out that BPA has been found in various human body fluids including “breast milk, serum, saliva, urine, amniotic fluid, and cord blood from at least 2200 people in Europe, North America, and Asia,” and that the CDC found that 95% of almost 400 American adults and children had detectable levels.
On March 15, the industry trade association, Can Manufacturers Institute, fought back with its own report, contesting that the levels of BPA in the EWG report were 10 times lower than the European Union Standard of 5 mg/kg of body weight (the United States has set no standards for food dosage levels), and “five times lower than doses that harm lab animals.” Demonstrating the truth of Upton Sinclair’s statement, what they forgot (fail to understand? neglect to mention?) is that endocrine (hormone) disruptors function differently from other toxics, potentially causing more harm at very low doses. The EWG cites 94 of 115 peer-reviewed studies confirming the toxicity of BPA at low exposure levels, stating, “Few chemicals have been found to consistently display such a diverse range of harm at such low doses.”
According to the LA Times, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the federal agency charged with overseeing the work of the CERHR, “removed Sciences International from overseeing the advisory panel's bisphenol A evaluation while it reviews whether the company's connections to chemical manufacturers pose a conflict of interest.”
Is there any real question about that here? Apparently, the NIEHS thinks so, as their communications director, Christine Bruske, said, “We don’t believe there’s a conflict of interest at all.”
The LA Times reported
that Sciences International oversees CERHR “risk evaluations for at
least eight other chemicals” for its clients, which include:
- DuPont, makers of Teflon, who were allowed to dump the persistent chemical by-product of manufacturing Teflon, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), at their Pascagoula, Miss. plant last year. The people of Pascagoula have a high incidence of cancer and immune disorders. PFOA was recently discovered in human blood and has been found to cause cancer, liver damage and birth defects in animals;
- Union Carbide (associated with the 1984 Bhopal, India chemical spill). Union Carbide was purchased by Dow Chemical in 2001;
- The agribusiness giant Syngenta (makers of the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine);
- The petrochemical companies Chevron (associated with human rights violations in the Niger Delta and toxic dumping in places like Chalmette, La., and the Amazon rainforest) and ExxonMobil (accused of funding “junk science” and using PR to mislead the public about climate change; and causing serious air pollution leading to health problems such as cancer in Chalmette, La.;
- Technology giant 3-M (like DuPont, makers of Teflon, among many other chemical products), which operates a maquiiladora in Juarez, Mexico, where women employees of a number of Fortune 500 companies have been murdered or are missing;
- Amvac Chemical, manufacturers of the fumigant dibromo-chloropropane (DBCP), which was banned in the U.S. in the 1980s, but Amvac, along with Dow and several others, exported their inventory of the chemical to Nicaragua for use on banana plants. Amvac is also reported to have hired an English lab to test insecticide by feeding it to people; and
- The corporate trade associations, the anti-union National Association of Manufacturers (NAM),
whose president argued against the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and whose blogger joked
about lead poisoning in children, and the American Chemistry Council (responsible -- with Ogilvy PR Worldwide -- for the $35 million “essential2living” ad campaign and major opponents of the “precautionary principle” being championed by environmentalists), according to SourceWatch
So these folks are Sciences International’s clients. Who does Sciences International represent more? Their corporate clients or the CERHR? Is this not the fox guarding the hen house?
In an all-too-typical case of U.S. government-corporate revolving-door syndrome, the founder and former president of Sciences International, Elizabeth Anderson, had come from a position as director of the Carcinogen Assessment Group and the Office of Health and Environmental Assessment at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and gone on to Exponent Inc., a “product defense” group.
During her period in office, the company was hired by the Commodity Industry Coalition for Phosphine Fumigation, a lobbying group comprised of “the Tobacco Association, RJ Reynolds, Philip Morris and more than 150 other organizations with a stake in the continued use of phosphine” to oppose a 1998 U.S. EPA proposal to establish limits on phosphine’s use, according to a 2005 article in Environmental Health Perspectives. Phosphine is used not just by the tobacco industry on finished cigarettes, but also on stored commodities such as nuts, seeds, grains, and coffee to kill insects. In the early 1990s, several cases of fatal phosphine poisoning were reported in workers and others.
How often do we find good people
working in companies that are doing bad things? The scientists working
for Sciences International have sterling scientific reputations.* Still,
giving them the benefit of the doubt, they have got to understand, (with
apologies to Ben Franklin) you lay down with dogs, you get up smelling
like a dog. They could take a page from University of California-Berkeley researcher Tyrone
Hayes, whose story was told last month in Toxic
New Jersey: Seventy Years of Endocrine Disruption, who went
public when the company he worked for tried to quash his findings.
And we all could be taking a much closer look at such common everyday items as the containers we use for feeding our children and storing our food. Not to mention, what is happening at the highest levels of the agencies charged with protecting us from toxins and pollutants.
Again, Al Gore: “Future
generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, What were our
parents thinking? Why didn't they wake up when they had a chance? We
have to hear that question from them, now."
* Sciences International, Inc. Scientists:
Anthony Scialli, MD
Annette Iannucci, MS
Gloria Jahnke, DVM
James Kim, PhD
Jessie Poulin, BA, MPH