Toxic Deception:
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From Chapter 3:
Science for Sale

Copyright © 1997 by Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity. The following text is excerpted with permission from the authors. All Rights Reserved.

The rats gnawed at Clifford T. "Kip" Howlett.

"The issue is more than weak rats--it's dumb rats," Howlett wrote in an internal memo to his superiors at Georgia-Pacific Corporation in September 1980. Howlett was in charge of safety and environmental affairs for the Atlanta-based forest-products giant.

Now, some rats threatened to make that a very difficult job indeed. Cancerous cells had begun to multiply in the tiny nasal passages of rats in a laboratory test chamber in Ohio. A second group of rats, bred carefully to be their genetic equals, twitch ed their tumor-free noses in an identical chamber nearby. The only difference between the two chambers was in the air: The tumor-ridden rats were breathing formaldehyde six hours a day, five days a week.

Georgia-Pacific had a lot on the line. It was the nation's No. 1 manufacturer of particleboard and other low-cost wood products. If the Environmental Protection Agency judged the Ohio study a valid test of the human cancer risk from formaldehyde, it mi ght require warnings or restrictions, or even ban formaldehyde outright, because the chemical was such a pervasive presence indoors, where Americans spend 90 percent of their lives. With so much riding on the outcome of the study, it is no wonder Howlett that was feeling the pressure, and plotting an elaborate counterattack.

In the 1980 memo, Howlett was already laying out the essential elements of a strategy that he and others in the industry would pursue for years to come. They would argue that the rats were "weak"--that they developed the nasal tumors because of their p oor physical condition, not because of formaldehyde. They would also argue that no one in his or her right mind would stay in a room with a formaldehyde concentration as high as that inflicted on the laboratory animals. Even the mice in the experiment, wh ich had fewer tumors than the rats, knew enough to slow their breathing and "tuck their noses under their legs," as Howlett put it. The others rats were "dumb," he said, because they maintained their normal breathing rates.

To bolster both points, the industry scientists would rely on a four-pronged plan. They would arrange for an industry-financed institute to conduct a competing rat study that would be carefully designed to minimize the chance of another damaging findin g. They would hire academic researchers to give "independent" testimonials to formaldehyde's safety and put the most favorable spin possible on test results. They would attack any scientist who said that formaldehyde was dangerous. And they would move agg ressively to steer research in directions that would play down the chemical's risks.

In short, they would use the trappings of laboratories and the language of science in a decidedly unscientific venture: to stave off any real regulation of formaldehyde.

And, ultimately, they would win.


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From Chapter 4:
Keeping the Watchdogs on a Short Leash

Copyright © 1997 by Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity. The following text is excerpted with permission from the authors. All Rights Reserved.

The walls were closing in on Monsanto in early 1984. The EPA was moving aggressively against the company's top pesticide, alachlor, which had just been definitively unmasked as a cancer-causer in lab animals, and would soon be officially classified as a probable human carcinogen.

At a May 24 meeting in Washington, EPA regulators huddled with their Canadian counterparts "to make sure both countries are headed in the same direction," according to an internal agency memo summarizing the meeting that was obtained through the Freedo m of Information Act. The EPA told the Canadians that in mid-July it would issue a notice "proposing cancellation of all alachlor registrations"—in other words, a complete ban on what was at the time one of America's best-selling pesticides—and the Cana dian regulators told the EPA that they were planning to do the same.

Just a few months earlier, the EPA had even considered an emergency ban that would have taken effect immediately, but it decided to wait until summer to avoid disrupting the spring spraying season. "There were a lot of folks on our team who wanted to c ancel that sucker," remembers Paul Lapsley of the EPA, who attended the meeting with the Canadians and is now the agency's director of regulatory management. In that role he supervises the process under which the EPA establishes 300 to 500 new environment al rules per year.

When a trade newsletter reported that the participants in the closed-door meeting were ready to ban alachlor, a Wall Street analyst downgraded his rating of Monsanto's stock and the company's share price fell so quickly that, on June 7, the New York St ock Exchange briefly suspended trading of Monsanto stock. "Whenever we had a news leak like that it was always a mess," Lapsley says. "You get calls from the White House and Congress and everybody's going crazy. They realize something's going to happen, a nd everybody wants to know what it is you're going to do."

Amid the tumult, Monsanto arranged a quick meeting with EPA officials and pressed them to slow down their review. The officials assured Monsanto that, despite what they had told the Canadians, they still had not decided what to do about alachlor. By th en, Monsanto was conceding that alachlor was an animal carcinogen. But it was promising better training programs for alachlor applicators and was pouring money into studies designed to show, among other things, that the alternatives to alachlor were less effective and just as dangerous, that the costs of a ban would be tremendous, and that farmers were exposed to less of the chemical than the EPA was estimating--especially if they used new pre-packaged containers of alachlor instead of dispensing it thems elves.

"Oh yeah, that was the crux of the debate," says Joseph Reinert, a longtime EPA official who at the time was in charge of calculating the risks alachlor posed to farmers who spray it. "Since Monsanto made such a profit on alachlor—this was a very, very profitable chemical for them—the company came up with a lot of information."

"They spent millions of dollars doing studies," adds Diane Ierley, who was the manager of the EPA's alachlor review in 1984. "Under the law, the agency has to give the company the right to rebut the agency's concerns. We did, and they did."


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From Chapter 5:
Making Friends in High Places

Copyright © 1997 by Dan Fagin, Marianne Lavelle and the Center for Public Integrity. The following text is excerpted with permission from the authors. All Rights Reserved.

A "dry-cleaning breakfast" may not sound like the most appetizing morning meal, but it was an important event for members of that industry who gathered in a Capitol Hill dining room in October 1994. They knew what was on the menu: access.

The International Fabricare Institute, financed by Dow as well as by small dry cleaners, also had a message to deliver that day. It handed to Hatch and the other members of Congress who attended the breakfast a three-page briefing paper on the EPA's re cent efforts to regulate the dry-cleaning business. It was titled "Fast Facts," a term that seemed only 50 percent accurate to several EPA staffers who, unbeknownst to the institute, had been invited to the breakfast by a group of dry cleaners from Califo rnia. Knowing their agency's glacial progress on developing tougher dry-cleaning regulations, they sat stunned to read that EPA's "recent initiatives . . . could threaten the existence of the dry-cleaning industry as we know it."

The IFI said that the EPA was considering the "possible elimination of perchloroethylene in favor of other untried non-solvent-based cleaning methods." In fact, the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxic Substances had done nothing more than t o test and analyze the cost and effectiveness of alternatives to perchloroethylene--much to the dismay of others in the agency who felt that the cancer risks demanded urgent action. The only additional step that the EPA had contemplated, with great hesita tion, was the publication of its analysis of risks and benefits of various cleaning technologies. But that report would spell out those cancer risks clearly to the public for the first time, and the industry groups had no intention of letting it go forward.....

Within weeks of the October 1994 breakfast, four members of Congress, Martin Frost of Texas, Jon Christensen of Nebraska, Jim Ramstad of Minnesota and Rob Portman of Ohio, requested a meeting with top officials of the EPA to talk about the agency's wor k on the dry-cleaning risks and benefits report. The record of the meeting shows how effectively the chemical industry has obscured the way lawmakers lobby for big business in the name of small business.

Lawmakers do not want to be seen as water carriers for corporate America; they would rather be seen as doing favors for the little guy. Consequently, the chemical industry typically turns to farmers, shop owners, homebuilders, and the like to do their bidding. The EPA's planned report would tell for the first time the stark numbers about the cancer risks of dry-cleaning chemicals, as well as the economic advantages of the alternatives—information that presumably would benefit small-business owners mor e than anyone. But the four lawmakers who met with EPA officials invoked mom-and-pop shopowners—their "constituents"—in their argument about "science" and "risk" that otherwise was a page right out of the chemical industry's lobbying book.....

Two months before the dry-cleaning breakfast, one of the four lawmakers, Republican Jon Christensen of Nebraska, received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the PAC operated by Dow, a manufacturer of perchloroethylene. Christensen and another attende e, Martin Frost, a Democrat from Texas, got lots of dry-cleaning money in the months following the breakfast. In April 1995, Frost received $2,000 from a couple who owned a dry-cleaning establishment in Irving, Texas. Christensen got a total of $4,000 fro m a couple in Omaha who listed themselves as "Martinizers," a class of franchisees who have been particularly active on the lobbying front.


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