TRADE SECRETS - Rachel's #554, Toxic Deception, Part 2
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Source: Rachel's Environment & Health News
Rachel's Environment & Health News
#554 - Toxic Deception -- Part 2, July 10, 1997
Toxic Deception -- Part 2
TOXIC DECEPTION, the must-read book by investigative reporters Dan
Fagin and Marianne Lavelle, is subtitled, "How the chemical industry
manipulates science, bends the law, and endangers your health." (Available
from Carol Publishing Group in Secaucus, N.J.: phone: (201) 866-0490;
ISBN No. 1-55972-385-8; and see REHW #553.)
The book delivers on the promise in its subtitle: it tells --and documents --a
chilling story of corporate manipulation of science, government (at all
levels), the media, and public opinion. It paints a picture of the modern
corporation out of control. Here we will focus on only one aspect of
corporate power: the way science is used and abused so that corporations
can continue to sell dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals to consumers
who are kept clueless.
Chapter 3, "Science for Sale," documents the following techniques used
routinely by chemical corporations:
** Falsifying data.
** Subtly manipulating research results.
** Creating front groups with names like the American Crop Protection
Association (formerly called the National Agricultural Chemicals
Association) to conduct PR campaigns to convince the public that
dangerous chemicals are safe and that life would be impossible without
** Co-opting academic researchers to control the research agenda and get
the desired research results.
** Attacking independent scientists.
These techniques have allowed the chemical manufacturers to keep
dangerous products on the market, set the fundamental direction of
scientific research, and define the terms of the scientific and policy debates.
Here is some of the evidence:
Falsifying data. "The U.S. regulatory system for chemical products is
tailor-made for fraud," say Fagin and Lavelle. They tell the story (among
others) of Paul Wright, a research chemist for Monsanto. In 1971, he quit
Monsanto and went to work as the chief rat toxicologist for Industrial
Biotest (IBT), a laboratory which at the time was conducting 35% to 40%
of all animal tests in the U.S. Wright then conducted a series of apparently
fraudulent studies of the toxicity of Monsanto products. Eighteen months
later, Monsanto hired him back with a new title, manager of toxicology. On
Monsanto's behalf Wright then approved the very studies he had conducted
on Monsanto products. When he was testing Monsanto's herbicide called
Machete, Wright added extra lab mice to skew the results --"a bit of
trickery that was left out of the final report to EPA [U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency]," according to Fagin and Lavelle. In two studies of
monosodium cyanurate, an ingredient in a Monsanto swimming-pool
chlorinator, Wright replaced raw data with after-the-fact invented records,
concealed animal deaths, and filed reports describing procedures and
observations that never happened. Wright got caught because an alert FDA
scientist smelled something fishy; a federal investigation ensued. According
to Fagin and Lavelle, "In all three cases, the [team of federal] investigators
wrote in an internal memo, there was evidence that Monsanto executives
knew that the studies were faked but sent them to the FDA [U.S. Food and
Drug Administration] and the EPA anyway." If true, this would be a serious
federal crime. The Monsanto executives were never prosecuted and a
company spokesperson claims this is evidence of Monsanto's innocence.
Manipulating scientific research results. Fagin and Lavelle document that
this is "part of the everyday strategy of chemical companies enmeshed in
regulatory battles." They describe a typical case: formaldehyde. In 1980,
the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) released a study
showing that rats that inhaled formaldehyde got cancer. Formaldehyde is a
common glue in wood products such as plywood and particle board. Kip
Howlett, then director of safety and environmental affairs for
Georgia-Pacific (a giant wood products manufacturer) laid out a strategy
for countering the bad news:
** Claim that rats aren't the right animal to study because they breathe
through their noses, never through their mouths;
** Claim that the exposure levels were unrealistically high (even if they
were scientifically too low);
** Pay for new studies that will produce different results;
** Hire academic researchers to give "independent" testimonials to the
safety of formaldehyde and to put a positive spin on any studies that shows
cancer in rats;
** Attack any scientist who says formaldehyde is dangerous;
** Move aggressively to fund universities and other research institutions to
steer research in directions that play down formaldehyde's dangers.
This is a fairly typical corporate strategy for using "science" to achieve
corporate goals. Together, these tactics are often called "sound science" by
corporate polluters and anything else is often called "junk science."
Georgia-Pacific needed to counter the bad news about formaldehyde and
Kip Howlett laid out a game plan that would be followed by all
formaldehyde manufacturers for years to come. It worked. Howlett then
graduated to a much more important position: he now heads the Chlorine
Chemistry Council where he oversees teams who manipulate science for
the purpose of keeping numerous dangerous chlorine compounds on the
The keystone of the formaldehyde strategy was to get new data that cast
doubt on the CIIT study. Once there is doubt, the regulatory process slows
to a crawl or stops entirely. And scientific doubt is relatively easy to create.
In this case, the Formaldehyde Institute hired a small laboratory to conduct
a new rat inhalation study. They limited the concentration of formaldehyde
to 3 parts per million (ppm) whereas the CIIT study had used 15 ppm. EPA
scientists said they believed even 15 ppm was too low, but the
Formaldehyde Institute used 3 ppm and got what it wanted. In 1980, long
before the 3 ppm study was completed, the Institute issued a press release
saying, "A new study indicates there should be no chronic health effect
from exposure to the level of formaldehyde normally encountered in the
home." When the study was published three years later, it showed that,
even at 3 ppm, rats suffered from "severe sinus problems" and had early
signs of cancer in their cells. Furthermore, they had decreased body and
liver weights -- sure signs of ill effects. The Formaldehyde Institute did not
issue a press release about these unwanted findings.
The Formaldehyde Institute then entered into a contract with the National
Cancer Institute (NCI) to conduct a joint study of 26,000 workers exposed
to formaldehyde. The study eventually showed a 30% increase in lung
cancer deaths among workers exposed to formaldehyde, but the Institute
put its own "spin" on the results and got the NCI to go along: the excess
cancers may have been caused by something besides formaldehyde, the
NCI concluded. (The study design made it impossible to rule out other
causes.) Formaldehyde was thus seemingly exonerated.
What was never revealed (until TOXIC DECEPTION told the story) was
that the contract between the Formaldehyde Institute and NCI contained
the following clauses:
** The Formaldehyde Institute, not NCI, would select which workers that
would be studied;
** NCI researchers were denied access to the raw data: job histories,
death certificates, information about plants, processes or exposures -- in
sum, the basic data needed to conduct and evaluate such a study.
Thus NCI had no way to judge the accuracy or the reliability of the data
being handed them by the Institute, and no way to check what assumptions
and judgments had been made in gathering the data.
Despite this, NCI helped the Institute explain away the 30% cancer
increase that the study revealed. It was a clear demonstration of the raw
power of the corporation over a federal agency's science.
Corporations assert their influence over academia as well. In the field of
weed science, for example, there are few independent scientists. The
federal government has 75 weed scientists on staff and the nation's
universities have 180. The chemical corporations have 1400. Furthermore,
most of the university scientists are not independent researchers. Rather
than seeking less-dangerous alternatives, the vast majority conduct studies
that promote the continued use of dangerous chemicals. The chemical
companies give at least a billion dollars to universities and foundations for
agricultural research. "If you don't have any research [funding] other than
what's coming from the ag chem companies," says Alex G. Ogg, Jr., former
president of the Weed Science Society, "you're going to be doing research
on agricultural chemicals. That's the hard, cold, fact."
If academic researchers become too independent, they are attacked. Peter
Breysse, a professor of environmental health at the University of
Washington gathered evidence that people were being harmed by exposure
to formalde-hyde in mobile homes and elsewhere. The Formaldehyde
Institute hired a consultant to visit Breysse's superiors at the University to
criticize and discredit his work.
Criticizing scientific studies is a standard, even a knee-jerk, corporate tactic.
Often any criticism --no matter how far-fetched -- serves industry's
purpose of deflecting attention away from the real problem.
Fagin and Lavelle describe a study that carefully evaluated exposure to
formaldehyde through inhalation, taking into account smoking and exposure
through drinking water. Nevertheless, in scientific conferences, corporate
scientists attacked the study for failing to take into account smoking and
exposure through drinking water.
It is easy to criticize a scientific study, whether the criticisms have any
basis or not. The effect on government regulators is predictable: no one
wants to base a regulation (which will almost certainly be challenged in
court) upon scientific studies that have been criticized. So criticism
--whether valid or not --helps derail the regulatory process.
Most importantly, these corporate tactics for manipulating the regulatory
process have succeeded in tying up the chemical industry's only
nationally-visible adversaries --the mainstream environmental movement.
The movement is caught up in endless unsuccessful attempts to regulate
corporate behavior around the edges, never tackling the central issue, which
is the illegitimacy of corporate power.
Grass-roots environmentalists, on the other hand, are usually engaged at the
local level in a power struggle with one corporation or another, directly
challenging the corporation's right to poison the local environment. THIS IS
THE KEY ISSUE, but eventually it will need to be moved from the local
level to larger arenas. When we do that, we will find the larger arenas
already occupied by the mainstream environmental movement which seems
never to ask fundamental questions. They never ask, "By what authority do
corporations spread their poisons into the environment?" and, "What will it
take for the American people to reassert the right they used to take for
granted, the right to DEFINE corporations, not merely try to regulate
them?" After more than 100 years of regulation, we now know without
doubt that it does not work and cannot work. Yet the mainstream
environmental movement seems unable to think of other, more fundamental,
No wonder the environment is continuing to deteriorate.
--Peter Montague (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)
 Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle, and the Center for Public Integrity,
TOXIC DECEPTION (Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1996).
Descriptor terms: Descriptor terms: chemical industry; regulation;
environmental movement; formaldehyde; toxic deception; cancer;
carcinogens; monsanto; dupont; corporations; formaldehyde institute; dan
fagin; marianne lavelle; georgia-pacific; kip howlett; junk science;
corporations; chlorine chemistry council; mci; national cancer institute;
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