Did you know that the chemical industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries by government? The process to be approved for new chemicals can take more than a decade and result in billions. This makes it incredibly difficult to enter this market, which has resulted in an over-supply of certain products. Companies like Monsanto have been able to maintain their dominance through political lobbying and advertising campaigns, but what if there were another way?
The “chemical plant” is a place where chemicals are made. The industry has been known to have some of the most toxic substances in existence. However, there is a lot that people don’t know about these chemicals and the effects they can cause on humans, animals, and the environment.
For decades, a collection of internal papers, emails, and chemical safety assessments had been tucked away in an Oregon barn, exposing the extent to which the chemical industry went to hide the hazards of its products.
The “Poison Papers” papers suggest fraudulent chemical safety testing, corporate concealment of chemical risks, and cooperation between the industry and regulators who were intended to safeguard the people and environment. Herbicides including Roundup (glyphosate), dicamba, atrazine, and 2,4-D, as well as practically every major chemical firm, are prominently featured in the papers.
This collection is now accessible online for the first time, due to the collaborative efforts of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Bioscience Resource Project (BRP).
We talked with Lisa Graves is a writer who lives in Los Angeles., CMD’s executive director, about what the collection exposes and how the consequences of earlier chemical approvals are still being felt now.
(For clarity, this dialogue has been trimmed and reduced.)
What is the purpose of the Poison Papers? What papers are included in the collection, and how did this initiative come to be?
Lisa Graves is a writer who lives in Los Angeles.
PoisonPapers.org was founded this summer as a collaboration between the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy.
The Poison Papers are the result of the digitalization of almost three tons of papers from Monsanto lawsuit, Dow Chemicals litigation, open records requests, and Freedom of Information Act requests to the federal government and state authorities. It contains documents uncovered throughout the last 40 years, albeit some of them, such as scientific papers, are older than that since they were obtained via litigation.
They indicate the extraordinary amount of engagement of these large chemical corporations in attempting to weaken public safeguards against their products. They reveal collaboration with government authorities in several cases. There are also extremely striking examples during the Reagan administration, when his EPA worked hand in hand with businesses to attempt to lower product limitations.
“What they indicate is the extraordinary amount of engagement of these major chemical corporations in attempting to weaken public safeguards against their products.”
There’s also a slew of documentation from research demonstrating the dangers of a variety of chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, and others. What we’re left with is a scenario in which many of these chemicals are still on the market, are in consumer and government goods, and continue to represent a threat to human health and the health of our environment.
One of the reasons we were so keen to get these information out into the public domain was because we live in a kind of pre-Google, post-Google environment. Many individuals will be unable to locate information if it is not Googleable.
These documents were discovered in the barn of Carol Van Strum, one of the key campaigners on these issues who pushed a lot of the effort to bring to light what was going on with the poisoning of woods and farmland. The items in the barn were rotting, and we were worried that unless they were digitized, they would perish.
The Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories controversy is covered in this collection. What was it again? How are we dealing with the fallout from the scandal?
“More than 800 experiments on more than 140 compounds were conducted by 38 chemical producers as part of the IBT controversy. Those studies were either non-existent, phony, or unreliable.”
This testing controversy is one of the historical narratives presented by the papers. It comes out that many of the tests used to justify enabling chemicals to be marketed in the United States were based on fraudulent or fabricated test findings. However, one thing that emerges from the records is that in many cases, despite the controversy, some of the compounds were not subjected to further testing.
Rigged testing that enable particular chemicals to reach the marketplace (not just in the United States, but worldwide) have a long-term influence on human health. How can you believe the conclusion that some items were or are safe if they weren’t adequately examined in the first place and then weren’t subjected to really independent testing later on?
Despite the fact that the IBT affair occurred in the late 1970s, it encompassed over 800 research on over 140 compounds conducted by 38 chemical corporations. Those studies were either non-existent, phony, or unreliable. The records indicate how, in the 1980s, the EPA cooperated with pesticide producers, in our opinion, to keep illegally registered chemicals on the market and to obfuscate the flaws with many of those chemical tests.
Manipulation of these agencies in the United States has essentially enabled businesses to choose the testers, what is tested and what is not tested, and make their case to the agencies that regulate those substances. Those agencies are often populated by former industry executives, whether they are political appointees or burrowed in personnel, in many cases. Too frequently, I believe, those organizations allow chemicals to be used based on what amounts to attestations from corporations or companies’ hired firms that the goods are safe.
Have you received any correspondence from companies attempting to minimize or discredit the papers since you began the collection?
One of the most noteworthy aspects was that Scott Partridge, the vice president of Monsanto’s worldwide strategy, first indicated in a Guardian piece that he didn’t doubt the papers’ legitimacy. However, later on, another Monsanto official questioned the papers’ legitimacy, which is ridiculous.
If you go to the library, you can see for yourself that the materials are definitely historical documents. The marks from lawsuits and newspaper cuttings may be seen on them. Carol Van Strum was thorough in gathering information regarding Monsanto’s activities, and we believe her files much more than any claims made by Monsanto’s public relations team.
I’m not surprised in the least. For a long time, their tactic has been to deny.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes However, we stand behind the papers and believe that the public should be aware of them.
We’ll see what happens next in an industry that has a long history of controversies and major product issues—certainly Monsanto has a long history of such difficulties. However, we believe that the public has a right to know the information contained in these files, and we are thankful to the activists who spent decades gathering it via their own lawsuits and attempts to bring these concerns to light.
These files include references to a variety of corporations’ papers, materials, or viewpoints. You may search for papers by business name or chemical name to get all of the papers that mention that chemical, product, or firm.
Documents detailing the presence of dioxins in human breast milk after the application of pesticides such as 2,4-D to forestlands managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are available (BLM). A variety of investigations have been conducted to demonstrate how some of these substances affect animal reproductive capability, including gonad atrophy. If this is true, what effect would these chemicals have on human health if they bioaccumulate in human fat or in our food supply system?
These materials raise severe concerns regarding pesticides that have been used and sprayed in our agricultural areas and in people’s personal backyards for many years.
You’ve already brought up a few alarming aspects, but was there anything else that surprised you when you initially looked over the collection?
We completed a study on atrazine, which is a pesticide that is sold in part by Syngenta, a few years ago. To ensure that the public could examine papers from the atrazine case, we built an atrazine exposed webpage. Some studies demonstrate significant levels of pollution of water sources in areas where atrazine was used, such as corn fields.
The company essentially assaulted a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, for his scientific study—his independent, not corporate analysis—of the possible implications of this herbicide on frogs, which is important for human health. When you look at atrazine, you can see that it has an affect on animals, plants, and the environment.
Several of these substances are still being litigated by attorneys seeking to safeguard their clients’ health, whose clients believe or are worried that the evidence suggests that they or their children have been injured by these goods. Lawyers do have access to things that have been filed in the public records, but with the atrazine exposed project and this Poison Papers project, we’re making sure that documents that may only be known to a few attorneys, litigants, or concerned citizens are made available to the press and public as widely as possible.
Have you noticed that these initiatives have piqued the public’s curiosity in what’s going on?
Yeah. We’ve had a number of requests from reporters concerning the documents and the narrative they tell since the publications that broke the news of the Poison Papers, including those from The Intercept and The Guardian.
We won’t be able to recount all of the tales, much alone the majority of them. The public service we are attempting to provide is to make the documents available for anyone to explore and reveal those stories, as well as to connect the dots to current battles, particularly with Scott Pruitt at the helm of the EPA and his efforts to basically roll back anything they can get their hands on.
We’re at a period in American history when regulation is being attacked. However, in many cases, these restrictions, which they are attempting to portray as a bad term, are really designed to safeguard our health, water, air, and food supply. Nonetheless, this government has shown that it is eager to do the bidding of business and companies that want to reduce safeguards. Many of these firms are the same ones that are mentioned in these records, and they have worked for years to be able to sell their goods without limits, as well as to modify public policy to benefit their private interests rather than the wider public good.
It’s fantastic that the public has access to these papers and may use them to empower themselves.
“We’re experiencing so much amazing impact by businesses on our democracy right now, and it’s not in a healthy manner.”
My aim is that as more people become aware of what’s going on, and the attempts to effectively hand over the store to chemical firms, people will react, and the fight to preserve our health and the environment will become even stronger. I hope that in the future, there will be possibilities to not just restore safeguards, but also to develop greater protections for our health and the environment, because some of those measures were, in my opinion, insufficient.
This is a time when businesses are exerting unprecedented influence on our democracy, and it is not in a healthy manner. But I believe there is a rising movement of people—certainly, there are a lot of attorneys who have worked tirelessly over the years to safeguard people’s rights and the environment. My aim is that by working together, we can all become more educated and combat the corporate skewedness of our democracy that these records demonstrate in many ways.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the impacts of chemical industry?
A: The impacts of the chemical industry are many, and they all depend on what you’re looking for. For example, if you want to know about how pollution can affect humans or animals living near factories producing chemicals, then this is a good question. If there is an accident that occurs at one of these plants or any other type of industrial site with chemicals in it like a mine or oil rig, then let’s say people could be affected by toxic gases released into the atmosphere and water sources nearby could also become contaminated.
Which industry uses the most chemicals?
A: The chemical industry uses the most chemicals.
Which chemical is used in chemical industry?
A: The chemical industry uses a wide variety of chemicals as raw materials. These include water, air, gas and solids.