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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.

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.

https://twitter.com/EcoWatch/statuses/890599387667210240 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.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

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.

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.

Access: You can access the papers at PoisonPapers.org. Important instructions on how best to search these old documents are also available here and on the website.

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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By Chris Taylor

The best part of my 9th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference so far was trying to get into the host hotel in Denver.

By Chris Taylor

The best part of my 9th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference so far was trying to get into the host hotel in Denver.

When I pulled up in my cab, it was surrounded by hundreds of protestors marching on the sidewalk and shouting some of my favorite chants. Any possible entrance into the hotel was blocked by yellow police tape or a barricade. So I marched with them for a bit, pulling my suitcase behind me, and then ducked under the tape to get into the hotel.


Now that’s the way to start an ALEC conference.

This is going to be interesting. Donald Trump has had six months to show what kind of a president he is going to be, and I wonder what those at ALEC think of him now. Unlike many other Republican presidential candidates during the last election, including Vice President Mike Pence, Donald Trump never appeared and kissed the ALEC ring. I don’t think he was the first (or second or third) choice of most ALEC members.

But Big Coal, which drives ALEC’s energy and anti-environmental model policies, is burning bright for him now. The fracking industries and king coal producers Noble Energy and ARCO dominated the first day of the 44th ALEC conference. The terms “clean coal” and “clean fossil fuels,” oxymorons if I ever heard one, were uttered so many times by the gas and oil industry that I lost count. And dirty coal dominated the day, with the gas and oil industry, including ExxonMobil, paying tens of thousands of dollars to host the first lunch and an entire afternoon of workshops.

The big coal producers can barely contain their glee at the gutting of environmental policies rolling out of the White House. At the opening lunch, Noble Energy executive Chip Rimer extolled that the “oil and gas industry is an example of what good policies can do.”

At the afternoon workshops paying homage to fossil fuels, a Colorado state senator exclaimed how “great” it is to see the federal government shifting back to fossil fuels. Yikes. A Colorado commissioner talked about burdensome, “purely political” state regulations while simultaneously bemoaning that some of her constituents are living surrounded by intrusive sound barriers erected by the fracking industry. Exactly whose rights are being infringed upon?

A gas and oil representative lamented that all the public hears about is when something goes wrong, like the “Firestone event.” Turns out the “Firestone event” was a deadly house explosion that recently occurred in Firestone, Colorado where two people were killed. The conflagration was caused when a well owned by Anadarko Petroleum was still attached to an abandoned, leaking gas line. Anadarko, a big fracking company, is a sponsor of the ALEC conference. What a nuisance that the public remembers such an event and that the state would step in to require additional safety precautions!

Renewable energy technologies are the enemy at ALEC. The Colorado Senator stated that renewable energies can’t even be considered an industry because of the subsidies needed and because “we can’t afford charities.” Totally ignored are the massive public subsidies handed out to the gas and oil industry. Even one of the presenters had to remind the audience that the fracking industry had received billions of dollars in public subsidies. You could hear a pin drop in response.

And on the docket today is the consideration by the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force of a model policy resolution condemning Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs, pushed by Americans for Tax Reform. PACE programs allow property owners to receive low-cost commercial loans to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects with long-term repayment options.

Sigh. So much for the free market.

Chris Taylor is an American lawyer and a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from the 76th District (in and around Madison, Wisconsin).

Reposted with permission from our media associate Center for Media and Democracy.

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