Poison Papers Reveal EPA Collusion With Chemical Industry
By Rebekah Wilce
The world of independent chemical testing has a shiny veneer. The public is reassured that chemicals they're exposed to on a daily basis are certified by technicians in spotless white lab coats who carefully conduct scientific studies, including on animals in neat rows of cages.
But a federal grand jury investigation that ended with convictions in the early 1980s discovered that Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories (IBT), the largest such lab in the U.S., conducted trials with mice that regularly drowned in their feeding troughs. The dead animals would decompose so quickly that "their bodies oozed through wire cage bottoms and lay in purple puddles on the dropping trays." IBT even invented an acronym "TBD/TDA" for its raw safety data, later discovered to mean "too badly decomposed."
That was just one of a host of problems uncovered at IBT which conducted an estimated 35 to 40 percent of all the toxicology tests performed in the U.S. including for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated products and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulated pesticides and chemicals. Scientists at the FDA were the first to spot the fraud and misconduct and blew the whistle on IBT in Senate hearings in the late 1970's. Soon after, the EPA was forced to deal with the issue and estimated behind the scenes that some 80 percent of the data provided to them for chemical registration from IBT was nonexistent, fraudulent or invalid.
The IBT scandal presented the EPA with a potentially immense crisis. Knowing that almost every IBT test it had looked at was seriously flawed and presumptively fraudulent, it could order retests and withdraw its approval from every IBT-tested chemical. This course of action would have been fully warranted, scientifically. But it would have had drastic effects on the chemical industry, on public confidence and on the newly-formed EPA itself.
What the EPA did instead is revealed in a transcript of a meeting that took place at the Howard Johnson Inn in Arlington, Virginia on Oct. 3, 1978. This secret meeting was between senior figures at EPA, Canada's Health Protection Branch, and executives of the chemical industry and was intended to solve the IBT "problem."
This transcript is part of more than 20,000 documents, weighing more than three tons, just released by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy, on the "Poison Papers" website. Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum, who used documents obtained through public interest lawsuits and open records requests to investigate chemical pollution and digitized by journalist Peter von Stackelberg. Van Strum's remarkable story was detailed this week in The Intercept.
The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides & Other Chemicals https://t.co/hmgtYCtt7b— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1501170415.0
A Conversation About Collusion
The Poison Papers represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920s. Collectively they shed light on what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves.
The Howard Johnson's transcript is a prime example of the materials in the trove. It allows us to "listen in" on a conversation that took place decades ago, but still has implication for us today.
The transcript "exemplifies as well as any other single document among the Papers the history of everyday regulatory failures and agency complicity that is the unknown story of the EPA and its enduring collusion with the chemical industry, and whose result is a systemic failure to protect the American public from chemical hazards," said Dr. Jonathan Latham, director of the Bioscience Resource Project.
"Not One" IBT Study Free of Errors
The Howard Johnson's meeting was called to discuss the IBT scandal and plan a way forward. No consumer groups, environmental groups or members of the public were present that day in Arlington under HoJo's cheerful orange roof when the topic of how to deal with the dead animals, the fraudulent and the corrupt data was discussed.
Near the outset of the meeting, the EPA's Fred Arnold, acting branch chief of Regulatory Analysis & Lab Audits, assured the chemical company representatives present that no chemicals would be removed from the market, even though the studies supposedly showing their safety had been proven fraudulent:
"We determined that [i]t was neither in EPA's interest or the public interest or the registrants' interest [to replace all IBT data] because a large number of studies, which were performed at IBT, were performed satisfactorily," Arnold said. (p. 6).
Yet Arnold's contention that some of the studies were "satisfactory" was contradicted multiple times in the same meeting. It was later stated, for example, that not one IBT study was free of errors (p. 16). Dr. Arthur Pallotta, consultant to the Special Pesticide Review Division in the EPA's Office of Pesticide Programs, stated that "there were few [IBT] studies that did not have discrepancies, errors and omissions" (p. 27). Elsewhere in the transcript, EPA accepted that more than 80 percent of the test results from IBT were invalid (p. 123).
But Arnold's assertion that it wasn't in anyone's interest to demand new studies had striking ramifications. It was the grounds for not removing any chemicals from the market, for reassuring the public, and for kicking the IBT mess down the road. By 1983, EPA had determined that more than 90 percent of IBT's studies submitted to them had serious, invalidating problems.
A "Salvage Operation": Ignoring Scientific Controls
Early in the meeting, EPA made a list of IBT errors that it planned to ignore to make the task of "validating" IBT's studies manageable.
It planned to ignore whenever animals were missing from (or added to) studies. No statistic existed—nor does it now—to compensate for such measurement irregularities, but this difficulty was glossed over by the EPA.
Just as bad, many IBT studies appeared to be shorter in time than protocols called for. As David Clegg of Canada's Health Protection Branch explained to the meeting:
"Now, we have come across the 90-day study where the study started on, let's say, the 1st of June. The invoice for shipment of the test material from the firm was the 9th of June, and the diet preparation sheets are for the 12th of June.
"In other words, by the time the diet was prepared, according to the raw data, the study has been underway for 12 days for a 90-day study.
"This does not necessarily invalidate the study, of course. You can still get some information from it, but the whole base line, which you are working from, has to be altered to deal with an 88-day [sic] study or whatever length it is and conclusions have to be drawn on this sort of basis." (pp. 34-35).
EPA also noted that IBT had major problems with its controls. It had run a system known as "common controls." These controls were often in different rooms or carried out at different times, presumably with rats from different batches. EPA proposed cobbling such experiments together and thus making use of these controls. Clegg's tone was apologetic:
"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," he said (p. 41).
EPA Adopts Unsigned Studies
EPA's Arnold also admitted at the meeting what appeared to be EPA's own historical fraud. In revisiting original data sent to them by IBT, manufacturers might find that, in the past, EPA had itself examined the tissue samples and determined there to be "no significant finding" when in fact "the truth of the matter is the organ was never examined" (Arnold, p. 102).
By the time the FDA and EPA had taken a strong interest in the testing lab, IBT had begun a "policy not to sign" its own reports, according to the transcript, indicating that staff were unwilling to stand behind the findings.
As Fred Arnold told the attendees, "A number of scientists, who may have been involved in the early states of a test, are no longer there and nobody can state, categorically, that everything reflected in the report, in fact, is borne out by the raw data" (pp. 63-64).
Arnold admitted that EPA had in the past sometimes accepted unsigned studies. So he stated that its remedy to the new signature problem would be to adopt such unsigned studies in order not "to create a double standard now" (p. 64), effectively adopting IBT's unprecedented practices as its own.
It was later uncovered in court proceedings that IBT also forged signatures.
The Howard Johnson Take-Home
Three IBT officials went to prison, closing a chapter on a massive scientific fraud, but the book was never closed.
"As the Howard Johnson transcript reveals, a majority of the IBT studies were never intended to be redone, and still underlie the U.S. chemical regulatory system," said Latham.
Author Carol Van Strum commented on the significance of the transcript for Center for Media and Democracy:
"The 1978 Howard Johnson transcript records a crucial meeting of EPA, Canadian, and pesticide industry officials to discuss EPA's response to massive fraud in the safety tests for pesticide registrations. At the meeting, Fred T. Arnold, chief of EPA Regulatory Analysis and Lab Audits, assured industry that EPA's discovery of fraudulent, invalid, or nonexistent safety tests would 'not interfere with the ability to control pests and market pesticides.' This document was the linchpin of my book, A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights, documenting the government's acceptance of phony industry studies while dismissing reports of human illness, death, involuntary abortions, birth defects, and other effects of pesticide exposure."
The Poison Papers website and document trove is a project of the Bioscience Resource Project of Ithaca, New York, and the Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wisconsin. You can explore the Poison Papers documents at PoisonPapers.org. You can read the illuminating Howard Johnson's manuscript here.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
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By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.
By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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