The Poison Papers: Secret Concerns of Industry and Regulators on the Hazards of Pesticides and Other Chemicals
The Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy released a trove of rediscovered and newly digitized chemical industry and regulatory agency documents Wednesday stretching back to the 1920s. The documents are available here.
Together, 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.
"These documents represent a tremendous trove of previously hidden or lost evidence on chemical regulatory activity and chemical safety. What is most striking about these documents is their heavy focus on the activities of regulators," Dr. Jonathan Latham, executive director of the Bioscience Resource Project, said. "Time and time again regulators went to the extreme lengths of setting up secret committees, deceiving the media and the public, and covering up evidence of human exposure and human harm. These secret activities extended and increased human exposure to chemicals they knew to be toxic."
The Poison Papers are a compilation of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests and public interest litigation. They include scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions and sworn testimonies.
The majority of these documents have been scanned and digitized for the first time and represent nearly three tons of material. The regulatory agency sources of these documents include: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense. Chemical manufacturers referenced in the documents include: Dow, Monsanto, DuPont and Union Carbide, as well as many smaller manufacturers and the commercial testing companies who worked for them.
The Poison Papers catalogue the secret concerns of industry and regulators over the hazards of pesticides and other chemicals and their efforts to conceal those concerns.
Most of the Poison Papers were collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum.
"In total, the stark truth revealed by these 50 years of documents is that the entire pesticide industry could not exist without lies, coverups, rampant fraud, and government enablers," said Van Strum, who authored the 1983 book Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights.
Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is the 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; and 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.
The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include dioxins, herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dicamba, Permethrin, Atrazine and Agent Orange) and PCBs. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic and persistent ever manufactured. Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold today, either as products or as product contaminants.
"The Poison Papers will be a tremendous resource for researchers, the media, and everyday Americans worried about many of the chemicals used on farm fields and in common consumer products," said Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy.
Explore: Some of the 20,000+ documents in this repository have surfaced over the years. Many have never been seen online or publicly written about. The Poison Papers therefore offer a unique opportunity for researchers, the public and the media to discover much more about what was known about chemical toxicity, when and by whom.
Poison Papers Reveal:
Secrecy — They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high-level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. 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 massive 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 —Show that EPA concealed and falsely 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 — Show that 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 dioxins. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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