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[GreenYes] The Chemical Industry and PVC
> The Chemical Papers: Secrets of the Chemical Industry Exposed
> Don Hazen, AlterNet
> March 15, 2001
> Viewed on March 20, 2001
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
> Bill Moyers TV special to reveal how the public was kept in the dark about
> the dangers of toxic chemicals.
> Every powerful story about fighting for truth and justice has its heroes.
> This story, a tale of the secrets and lies behind America's chemical
> industry, is no exception.
> Like Erin Brockovich, the paralegal-turned-movie icon who fought against
> toxic polluters in California, Elaine Ross was determined to uncover the
> truth. Ross wanted to know what had killed her husband, a chemical plant
> worker in the bayous of Louisiana, at the untimely age of 46. She teamed up
> with crusading lawyer William "Billy" Baggett, Jr, the son of a famous
> Southern litigator, and together they have become central figures in a
> David-and-Goliath battle to protect the health of all Americans, especially
> workers.
> Now, in the latest chapter of the story, a team led by Bill Moyers has
> created a PBS special report called "Trade Secrets" that will air on Monday
> evening, March 26. The special, based on a secret archive of chemical
> industry documents, explores the industry pattern of obfuscating, denying
> and hiding the dangerous effects of chemicals on unsuspecting workers and
> consumers.
> At its core, the Moyers show asks a deeply troubling question: With more
> than 75,000 synthetic chemicals having been released into the environment,
> what happens as our bodies absorb them, and how can we protect ourselves? As
> part of the report, Moyers took tests designed to measure the synthetic
> chemcials in his body -- a measurement known as "chemcial body burden."
> Moyers learned that his body contained 31 diffferent types of PCBs, 13
> different toxins and pesticides such as malathion and DDT.
> When it hits the air, the Moyers special is expected to re-energize veteran
> health activists and medical professionals in their fight against a growing
> problem -- unregulated and untested chemicals flooding the commercial market
> place. This public heat, coupled with a burgeoning grassroots resistance to
> chemical producers, may set the industry on the defensive like never before
> ... but that's getting ahead of the story.
> Legal Battle in the Bayou
> Elaine Ross's husband, Dan, spent 23 years working at the Conoco (later
> Vista) chemical plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana. After being diagnosed with
> brain cancer, according to Jim Morris of the Houston Chronicle, "Dan Ross
> came to believe that he had struck a terrible bargain, forfeiting perhaps 30
> years of his life through his willingness to work with vinyl chloride, used
> to make one of the world's most common plastics."
> "Just before he died [in 1990] he said, 'Mama, they killed me,'" recalled
> Elaine. "I promised him I would never let Vista or the chemical industry
> forget who he was."
> And she hasn't. She teamed up with Billy Baggett to file a wrongful death
> suit against Vista. Baggett won a multimillion-dollar settlement for Ross in
> 1994, but she wasn't satisfied with just the money. She knew that her
> husband's death wasn't an isolated incident -- that many other chemical
> plant workers were dead, dying or sick because their employers weren't
> telling them about potential health hazards. And Vista certainly wasn't the
> only culprit.
> So Ross told Baggett to take the fight to the next level. Baggett did, suing
> 30 companies and trade associations including the Chemical Manufacturers
> Association (now called the American Chemistry Council) for conspiracy,
> alleging that they hid and suppressed evidence of vinyl chloride-related
> deaths and diseases.
> As a result of the litigation brought on Ross's behalf, Baggett has been
> able to obtain what he says is more than a million previously secret
> industry documents over the past decade. These "Chemical Papers," as they
> are becoming known, chronicled virtually the entire history of the chemical
> industry, much of it related to vinyl chloride -- minutes of board meetings,
> minutes of committee meetings, consultant reports, and on and on.
> According to Jim Morris of the Chronicle, the documents suggested that major
> chemical manufacturers closed ranks in the late 1950s to contain and
> counteract evidence of vinyl chloride's toxic effects. "They depict a
> framework of dubious science and painstaking public relations, coordinated
> by the industry's main trade association with two dominant themes: Avoid
> disclosure and deny liability." The chemical companies were hiding the fact
> that they had "subjected at least two generations of workers to excessive
> levels of a potent carcinogen that targets the liver, brain, lungs and
> blood-forming organs."
> "Even though they (the chemical companies) may be competitive in some
> spheres, in others they aren't," Baggett told Morris. "They have a mutual
> interest in their own employees not knowing (about health effects), in their
> customers not knowing, in the government not knowing."
> "There was a concerted effort to hide this material," said Dr. David Rosner,
> a professor of public health and history at Columbia University who has
> reviewed many of the documents as part of a research project. "It's clear
> there was chicanery."
> And while the documents show that the industry freely shared health
> information among themselves, "the companies were evasive with their own
> employees and the government," wrote Morris. "They were unwilling to disrupt
> the growing market for polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, used in everything
> from pipe to garden hoses." The whole case and others like it "accentuate
> the problem of occupational cancer, which, by some estimates, takes more
> lives (50,000) each year than AIDS, homicide or suicide, but receives far
> less attention."
> "What I hope to achieve, through Billy, is that every man who works in a
> chemical plant is told the truth and tested on a regular basis in the proper
> manner," Elaine Ross told the Chronicle. "I want the chemical companies to
> be accountable for every little detail that they don't tell these men."
> In a prepared statement, the Chemical Manufacturers Association called such
> charges "irresponsible." The group said that it promotes a policy of
> openness among its members.
> >From Courtroom to Television Set
> Award-winning TV producer Sherry Jones, who got access to the treasure trove
> of chemical company archives, started deeply probing the industry and its
> secret ways. She brought her findings to Bill Moyers, with whom she had
> previously worked.
> Moyers agreed that the story needed to be told. The result of their
> collaboration is "Trade Secrets," the 90 minute special that will be
> followed by a 30 minute roundtable discussion among industry representatives
> and advocates for public health and environmental justice. 
Peter Anderson
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705
(608) 231-1100/Fax (608) 233-0011

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