Secrecy, collusion, deception, cover-up, concealment. These are some of the words used in a bombshell report to describe how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal regulators sacrificed human and environmental health on the altar of corporate profit.
Through the determined work of watchdogs at the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, over 20,000 hidden documents have come to light proving that U.S. regulatory agencies betrayed the public trust to unleash highly toxic chemicals – many of which are still in use today.
“The “Poison Papers” represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920s. Taken as a whole, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment…
Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is abundant evidence that EPA and other regulators were, often, knowing participants or even primary instigators of these cover-ups. These regulators failed to inform the public of the hazards of dioxins and other chemicals; of evidence of fraudulent independent testing; even of one instance of widespread human exposure. The papers thus reveal, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves, an elaborate universe of deception and deceit surrounding many pesticides and synthetic chemicals.”
Many Americans believe the EPA and agencies like the FDA work in the best interest of the public, giving peace of mind as we breathe the air, drink the water and buy food and consumer products.
However, while obvious environmental calamities like acid rain and burning rivers were being addressed in the 1970s – only after massive public outcry – a less noticeable assault was taking place. Highly toxic chemical compounds made by Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and other companies were being developed and marketed in ever greater quantities, and federal agencies were rubber-stamping their approval based on fraudulent safety testing.
These included herbicides, pesticides, dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), some of the most toxic and persistent chemicals ever manufactured. A large portion of toxicology tests for these regulated products and chemicals was based on “nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid” data.
Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT), which conducted up to 40 percent of all toxicology tests on regulated products and chemicals in the U.S., had “serious, invalidating problems” with 90 percent of their studies submitted to regulators. The fraud was exposed in the 1970s, and three IBT officials went to jail.
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But EPA still had the problem of countless chemical products being on the market based off the fraudulent data. Recalling them would have had profound impacts on the chemical industry and would have been highly embarrassing for the newly formed EPA.
The Poison Papers reveal that, instead of acting to protect the public and reassess the chemicals, EPA held a secret meeting with chemical companies to assure them that their products would continue being sold.
At the meeting, regulators determined they would bend over backward to validate the faulty studies, including accepting unsigned studies from IBT. David Clegg of Canada’s Health Protection Branch was also at the meeting, and summed up the sentiment.
“I can’t say that I am very happy about this on scientific grounds, but we are trying to run this as a salvage operation and, if we can come up with something which gives us a reasonable base line for controls which may be applicable to a number of studies, then, when controls are not available, we’ll compare them against those controls.”
A majority of the IBT studies were never redone, and they still underlie the U.S. chemical regulatory system.
The secret meeting between EPA and chemical companies is the most poignant example of a long history of collusion at the expense of human and environmental health. The Poison Papers reveal several other disturbing realities, as outlined in the introductory briefing.
“Secrecy — They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. The internal minutes contradict the Agency’s longstanding refusal to regulate dioxins or set legal limits.
Collusion — They 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.
Deception — They provide important new data on the infamous Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) scandal. By the late 1970s, it was known that more than 800 safety studies performed by IBT on 140 chemicals produced by 38 chemical manufacturers were nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid. The Poison Papers, however, show that EPA and its Canadian counterpart, the Health Protection Branch (HPB), colluded with pesticide manufacturers, to keep invalidly registered products on the market and covered up problems with many IBT tests.
Cover-up — The papers also show that EPA staff had evidence that this IBT scandal involved more independent testing companies and more products than ever officially acknowledged.
Concealment — The papers show that EPA concealed and falsely discredited its own studies finding high levels of dioxin — 2,3,7,8-TCDD — in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange) by the federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
Intent — They show Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers were written up untruthfully for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects. These fraudulent studies were heavily relied upon by EPA to avoid regulating dioxin. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.”
The significance of the Poison Papers cannot be understated, as EPA remains one of the primary agencies supposedly keeping us safe from chemical threats. We continue to see evidence that the agency puts corporate interests above the public interest, as evidenced by its report on hydraulic fracturing which downplayed the risks to the U.S. water supply.