(Beyond Pesticides, August 1, 2017) A collection of long archived documents dating back to the 1920s were released last week showcasing the efforts of the chemical industry and the federal government to conceal from the public the real dangers associated with the use and manufacture of chemical products. The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy released more than 200,000 pages of these documents now accessible on the “Poison Papers” website.
First reported in The Intercept, the project, “Poison Papers,” makes publicly available documents obtained through legal discovery in lawsuits against Dow, Monsanto, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Forest Service, the Air Force, and pulp and paper companies, among others. Activist Carol Van Strum stored much of these documents in her rural Oregon barn. Ms. Van Strum’s activism on pesticides and other toxic chemicals began in the mid-1970s, when she and her neighbors in Oregon filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service to stop the spraying of 2,4,5-T, a dangerously toxic herbicide that made up one-half of the ingredients in the deadly Agent Orange (the other ingredient was the still widely used herbicide 2,4-D). The spraying directly doused her four children, who developed headaches, nosebleeds, and bloody diarrhea. Miscarriages among local women and deformities in the wildlife were also seen after the spraying. Between 1972 and 1977, the Forest Service sprayed 20,000 pounds of 2,4,5-T in the 1,600-square-mile area that included Ms. Van Strum’s house and the nearby town of Alsea. Ms. Van Strum’s suit led to a temporary ban in 2,4,5-T in their area in 1977. 2,4,5-T, which is unavoidably contaminated with the carcinogenic dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD, was formally banned in the U.S. by 1985.
Over the years, Ms. Van Strum conducted research and assisted others in lawsuits against chemical companies, and accumulated hundreds of documents on chemical industry practices in the manufacture, disposal, and marketing of these products. According to the Intercept, there are two documents that detail experiments that Dow contracted a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to conduct on prisoners in the 1960s to study the effects of TCDD.
Another 1985 document shows that Monsanto sold a chemical that was tainted with TCDD to the makers of Lysol, who, apparently unaware of its toxicity, used it as an ingredient in their disinfectant spray for 23 years. A never-released study undertaken by EPA on the relationship between herbicide exposure and miscarriages showed the samples from water, various animals, and “products of conception” were significantly contaminated with TCDD. In one transcript from the cross-examination of Monsanto’s George Roush, PhD, in Kemner et al. v. Monsanto No.80-I-970, Dr. Roush admits that data from TCDD-exposed workers were deliberately included with data from the unexposed workers to purposely weaken any association between the chemical and cancer deaths.
The Poison Papers include documents featuring dioxins, pesticides like 2,4-D, dicamba, permethrin, atrazine and Agent Orange, all, with the exception of Agent Orange, are still used in the U.S. The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, which obtained Ms. Van Strum’s collection, said that the project offers a unique opportunity for researchers, the public, and the media to discover what exactly was known about chemical toxicity, when, and by whom.
Specifically, the papers (1) disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high-level dioxins working group that identifies dioxins as extraordinarily poisonous chemicals, (2) demonstrate EPA collusion with the pulp and paper industry to “suppress, modify or delay” the results of the congressionally-mandated National Dioxin Study, which found high levels of dioxins in everyday products, such as baby diapers and coffee filters, as well as pulp and paper mill effluents, (3) show that EPA colluded with pesticide manufacturers to keep pesticide products on the market by covering up massive problems with many of the tests conducted for these chemicals by concealing and falsifying its own studies that found high levels of dioxin in environmental samples and human breast milk.
These documents provide tangible evidence of EPA’s and other agencies’ close relationship with the industries they are regulating. EPA’s failure to take action against chemicals that are known to pose harms to humans and wildlife continues today. Just this past spring, EPA’s new administrator Scott Pruitt rejected the scientific conclusions and reversed a proposed decision from 2015 to revoke food residue tolerances of chlorpyrifos, even though it has been shown to lower IQ, mental development delays, attention problems, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder problems, and pervasive developmental disorders in children. It was revealed that Administrator Pruitt met privately with the CEO of Dow, maker of chlorpyrifos, several weeks before reversing EPA’s tentative decision to ban on the chemical. In a similar case, the New York Times reported on Monsanto’s internal emails and email traffic between the company and federal regulators, which suggested that Monsanto had ghostwritten research on glyphosate (Roundup) that was later attributed to academics. There is now an investigation by the Inspector General for EPA into whether or not an EPA official engaged in collusion with Monsanto regarding the agency’s safety assessment of glyphosate.
Poison Papers are just one part of the larger DocumentCloud, which contains over a million documents. “Cloud” is truly appropriate because the site is filled with documents, with little structure to aid users beyond that supplied by their own searches. Searches that go beyond the dioxin and related chemicals will be more fruitful on the larger database.
As for Ms. Van Strum, she lost her four children in a house fire in 1977, an investigation into which was never completed. She suspects some of her opponents might have set the fire. But her commitment to the battle against toxic chemicals survived the ordeal, and she now feels it is time to pass on her collection of documents, some of which pertain to battles that are still being waged, so “others can take up the fight.” The seeds of many of the fights over chemicals still going on today can be traced to the documents in her barn.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.