Glyphosate Cancer Risks Come Full Circle With Nebraska Roundup Lawsuits
Larry Domina, a third-generation Nebraska farmer, was one of the first people to file a U.S. lawsuit against Monsanto alleging non-Hodgkin lymphoma from Roundup weed killer.
In June, Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, was granted permission to have cases heard in Nebraska. The litigation’s move to that state is fitting since it is where the link between farm chemicals and non-Hodgkin lymphoma was first made by researchers, including Dr. Dennis Weisenburger.
Weisenburger has been serving as an expert witness on behalf of Roundup lawsuit plaintiffs. He is probably best known for his statement that using Roundup more than two days per year doubles the risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma. But Weisenburger has been examining links between herbicides and cancer since the 1980s, when he was a researcher at the University of Nebraska.
Domina and Weisenburger will play important roles as Monsanto looks to reverse its legal fortunes with upcoming litigation in America’s heartland.
Nebraska Farmer Third to File Roundup Lawsuit
When Monsanto Roundup Ready crops were introduced in the 1990s, Larry Domina was an early fan. Using such crops, which are genetically modified to resist Roundup herbicide, meant that farmers like Domina could spray Roundup all over their fields without fear of it damaging their produce and without the need for spot-spraying weeds.
But when Domina was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2012, he began to wonder whether the agricultural chemicals he used on his farm might be to blame.
“There were many, many chemicals that I used, and I knew there were many, many times that I didn’t wash my hands after being in all kinds of stuff,” he said.
Domina’s cancer is now in remission. Since his recovery, he has narrowed down the list of chemicals that might have caused his cancer to just one: glyphosate, Roundup’s main active ingredient.
Larry Domina’s brother, David, filed a lawsuit against Monsanto after learning about a report from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Filed on behalf of Larry Domina and three other Nebraskans who had been treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, it is the third U.S. Roundup lawsuit.
“Monsanto people told us [Roundup] was safe,” said David Domina. “In fact, they told us it was so safe, you can drink it. But if Roundup is a cause [of cancer], we need to do something about that. We need to get it off the market. Or for sure, Monsanto needs to do a much, much better job of educating people and tell them to be careful.”
After suffering three huge trial losses in California, Bayer asked the judge overseeing federal Roundup litigation to allow trials in other states. Bayer may be betting that juries in the heart of farm country will be more sympathetic than California jurists, who awarded plaintiffs more than $2 billion.
From UNMC Researcher to Key Plaintiff Expert
When testifying on behalf of Alva and Alberta Pilliod, Weisenburger said the question of whether Roundup causes cancer is “not a hard call.”
“Your risk is increased twofold for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma if you used it more than two days per year,” Weisenburger claimed at the Pilliods’ trial. “The more you used it, the more your risk is increased. Being exposed a little bit didn’t increase your risk, but being exposed more increased your risk.”
Weisenburger worked for 28 years at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha before moving to the City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles. As a young doctor at UNMC, Weisenburger was one of the researchers looking into the question of why farmers were showing an increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
“People told me that there was a high rate of lymphoma in Nebraska. So that really piqued my interest,” Weisenburger said while testifying for Edward Hardeman.
Weisenburger first published a paper on the topic in 1985, and by his estimate, about a dozen papers came out of the Nebraska study. Some of the Nebraska data was combined with other studies to perform more thorough research, including a study from the National Cancer Institute published in 2003. According to its findings, farmers who used glyphosate had a cancer risk that was twice as high as that of the general population.
When asked at trial by a plaintiff’s attorney whether he thought Roundup can cause cancer, Weisenburger replied, “To the best of medical certainty, I believe that Roundup is a substantial cause of cancer in people who are exposed to it in the workplace or in the environment.”
Weisenburger further explained, “When you get Roundup on your skin, just like the Roundup will penetrate the plant cells, it will penetrate the cells of the skin, and it will get into the tissues, and it will then get into the lymph system and into the blood. All those tissues do get exposed to glyphosate as it’s going through the body.”
Bayer has accused plaintiffs of using cherry-picked data to prove their cases. It claimed in Mr. Hardeman’s case that Weisenburger’s testimony was made “purely for this litigation.” Bayer’s attorneys filed a Daubert motion to try to exclude Weisenburger’s testimony, but their efforts failed.
David Domina plans to use Weisenburger as an expert witness for the upcoming Nebraska Roundup trials. If he does, Weisenburger will find himself back where his research began. And once again, his testimony may play a crucial role in securing justice for Roundup cancer victims.
More than 13,000 people have filed lawsuits against Monsanto/Bayer in the United States alleging they developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma due to the glyphosate-based weed killer Roundup. Glyphosate is the most heavily used agricultural chemical in the history of the world; Americans have applied around 2 million tons of it since its introduction in 1974. The herbicide has worked its way through the food chain and is now found in nearly every common U.S. food. Such ubiquity has led many Americans to wonder whether they should be concerned about Roundup cancer risks.
As the debate rages in courtrooms, it is also on the minds of farmers, gardeners, and others who used Roundup for years. If you were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup, contact us today for a free, no-obligation case review.
Research Draws Different Conclusions About Glyphosate and Cancer
There’s no question that glyphosate is everywhere and that all of us have likely been exposed. According to one report, 93% of people may have the herbicide in their bodies. Other research has found glyphosate in a range of common food products.
Less consensus exists, however, about the effects of glyphosate on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency recently concluded that the chemical is noncarcinogenic, while the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), meanwhile, issued a report in April saying it could not “rule out” an association between glyphosate exposure and cancer risk.
In July, glyphosate registrants issued a response to the ATSDR in which they defended their products as safe. This is the same line that Bayer has taken — despite losing three straight Roundup lawsuits. On its website, Bayer states: “Glyphosate and our glyphosate-based formulated products can be used safely and are not carcinogenic.”
Roundup Plaintiffs and Glyphosate Exposure
The notion that Roundup is not carcinogenic isn’t shared by Edwin Hardeman, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, and Dewayne Johnson. Each of these individuals won sizable jury verdicts against Bayer for non-Hodgkin lymphoma they allege was caused by Roundup use.
Johnson received $289 million in damages (later reduced to $78 million) from Bayer last August, although he may not live to see the money. His terminal cancer is causing worsening health, and the appeals process could go on past his life expectancy. In his own words, he is “all messed up.”
Johnson was exposed to Roundup as a school district groundskeeper. He routinely sprayed chemicals, which he refers to as “juice,” but pointed to one incident in particular that he believes caused his cancer. Johnson described in Time an accident that left him “soaked to the skin” in Monsanto’s glyphosate. “I got a little rash. Then it got worse and worse and worse. At one point, I had lesions on my face, on my lips, all over my arms and legs.” A biopsy would reveal that Johnson had cancer.
Hardeman was awarded $80 million in damages from a San Francisco jury in March 2019 when it found that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing his cancer.
Hardeman and his wife lived for decades on a 56-acre property in Sonoma County, California, where he used Monsanto herbicides from 1986 to 2012 to treat poison oak, overgrowth, and weeds. He learned in 2015 that he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After struggling through multiple rounds of chemotherapy, he made the connection to his Roundup use from a TV report.
“I hope this is a significant turnaround in Monsanto’s history,” said Hardeman, whose cancer is now in remission. He believes Roundup should at least have a stronger warning about cancer risk. “Give us a chance to decide whether we want to use it or not … Have some compassion for people.”
The third and latest verdict against Monsanto was awarded to the Pilliods in the amount of $2 billion. They used an estimated gallon of Roundup per week for more than 30 years on their Northern California property. Both were diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma — Alva in 2011 and Alberta in 2015.
She told the jury in an Oakland courtroom: “The doctors gave me 18 months to live at most.” Her first symptoms were vertigo, which prompted a visit to the doctor. Doctors found that Alberta had B-cell lymphoma in her brain. The cancer left her with scar tissue and has impaired her cognitive abilities and motor functions.
Alberta testified that she never wore protective clothing when spraying Roundup because “I really thought it was safe. The ads made me feel like it was safe.”
You May Be Eligible for a Lawsuit
Growing Roundup health concerns have prompted cities, counties, and countries to ban glyphosate products. Many individuals have also moved to non-glyphosate herbicides to protect themselves and their families. And litigation may prompt stronger Roundup health warnings. Already, Bayer is investing billions in weed killer research to reduce its environmental impact.
But the enormous amounts of glyphosate used in the past could mean many years of problems ahead. If you or a loved one used Roundup and have a cancer diagnosis, you can do your part to hold Monsanto accountable.
Bayer maintains that Monsanto’s weedkiller Roundup does not cause cancer. So far, juries in three separate cases have disagreed with the agro-giant, most recently in the form of a $2 billion California verdict against Bayer in May 2019. And based on the argument used in that case, the safety of glyphosate—Roundup’s key ingredient—may not be the key issue moving forward.
Bayer looks to reverse its courtroom losing streak in the next Roundup trial, scheduled for August in St. Louis County Court, where legal precedence is not on their side. In the meantime, their huge losses to date, as well as plunging stock prices and court-ordered mediation talks, are putting pressure on Bayer to settle with the roughly 13,400 plaintiffs who allege that Roundup caused their cancer.
Three Trials, Three Losses for Bayer
Juries have not been kind to Bayer in the three Roundup cancer lawsuits that have gone to trial.
In August 2018, a jury at San Francisco’s Superior Court found that Roundup caused groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson’s cancer and ordered Bayer to pay $289 million in damages (later reduced to $78 million). The second trial—the first federal Roundup trial—resulted in a verdict of more than $80 million. But these verdicts pale in comparison to the $2 billion awarded to plaintiffs Alberta and Alva Pilliod by a California jury on May 13, 2019.
Following the verdict—the eighth-largest product defect jury award in U.S. history—Bayer issued a statement saying it was “disappointed with the jury’s decision and will appeal.” The company reiterated its stance that “glyphosate-based products can be used safely and that glyphosate is not carcinogenic,” citing a recent review from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA’s stance on glyphosate’s non-carcinogenicity, however, stands in contrast to not only the view of jurists, but also that of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a division of the World Health Organization, which says, Roundup is “probably carcinogenic.”
‘Roundup Cocktail’ Argument Proves to Be Potent
Bayer’s latest Roundup trial defeat is significant beyond just monetary terms. A new argument advanced in the trial about Roundup’s non-glyphosate ingredients could have something to do with the result. If so, it would appear to spell trouble for Bayer in future trials.
As Law360 explains, attorneys for Mr. and Mrs. Pilliod argued that Roundup contains “highly more toxic” components that “have a synergistic effect with glyphosate.” A toxicologist expert witness for the plaintiffs testified that one of those components is a surfactant known as polyoxyethylene tallow amine, or POEA, that helps Roundup evenly coat leaves’ waxy surfaces. According to the toxicologist, POEA, which is banned in Europe, makes up 10 – 15 percent of Roundup, while glyphosate makes up 40 – 60 percent. He also testified that POEA is about 40 times more toxic than glyphosate, and that when the two are combined, POEA is 50 times more toxic. This combination effect is known in toxicology as “synergy.”
Shareholders Up In Arms
The day after a jury handed Bayer a $2 billion defeat, the company’s stock price dropped to its lowest level since June 2012. Bayer’s management is reportedly unhappy with Bayer inheriting Monsanto’s Roundup liabilities with the companies’ merger in June of last year. Some investors are calling for the resignation of Bayer CEO Werner Baumann, who championed the Monsanto acquisition. Financial website Seeking Alpha reports that Bayer could end up paying $20 billion to resolve Roundup Lawsuits.
Judge Appoints Feinstein to Mediate Roundup Settlement Talks
The federal judge overseeing the consolidated Roundup cancer trials has ordered Bayer to begin mediation talks aimed at possibly settling the approximately 13,400 Roundup lawsuits filed in the United States.
U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria appointed Kenneth R. Feinberg to mediate settlement talks. During a hearing on May 22, Judge Chhabria instructed Feinberg to meet with lawyers for Bayer and plaintiffs within 14 days. Feinberg has led mediation talks in high-profile mass torts that include 9/11 first responders, Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate,” the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Catholic priest sex abuse, and General Motors ignition switches.
What’s Next for Bayer
Two more Roundup cancer trials are scheduled for August and September 2019, both in St. Louis. The shift from California to Monsanto’s hometown would seem to benefit the herbicide maker, but the dynamics are complicated. Consumer watchdog U.S. Right To Know points out that, despite Monsanto’s deep roots in the St. Louis community that could improve its chances with local jurors, St. Louis is known as a plaintiff-friendly forum, with a history of large verdicts against corporations.
The plaintiff in the upcoming August trial is Sharlean Gordon. Gordon was allegedly diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 2006 and has undergone years of debilitating treatment. Gordon’s attorneys plan to subpoena Monsanto scientists to testify live before a jury, something that did not occur during the three California cases.
A few generations ago, asbestos was viewed as the perfect material. It was used in construction and in clothing, car parts, and plumbing systems. It’s strong and resists heat and chemicals. Unfortunately, the fibers can be easily inhaled, which can cause the fatal cancer mesothelioma.
This is why several countries have taken steps to ban the product, some completely. While the U.S. began placing bans on certain asbestos products as far back as the 1970s to protect human health, some forms of asbestos are still permitted. A full ban was rejected in 1991, although some products still face restrictions.
Despite any degree of ban, there are still a variety of ways that Americans are exposed to asbestos, thereby putting them at risk of developing mesothelioma. Here are five common sources of asbestos exposure.
1. Imported Products
A variety of imported products have been found to carry some degree of asbestos in them, including makeup, toys, and even crayons. An August 2018 report by the United States Public Interest Research Group showed that some green crayons in packs made by Playskool—available from retailers like Dollar Tree, Amazon, and eBay—contained asbestos. In their report, they demanded that Playskool act.
“Dollar Tree and Playskool should recall the asbestos-tainted crayons and remove them from store shelves,” PIRG wrote in the report. “They should also contact customers to warn them about the crayons.” The report came three years after the Environmental Working Group also found asbestos in crayons, citing talc sometimes used in the manufacturing process as the possible cause of the asbestos.
2. Talcum Powder
Talc is a natural soft mineral that may have some connections to cancers when inhaled. Some talc naturally contains asbestos, because they’re often mined in the same place. While most talc-based products aren’t supposed to include asbestos, they may contain other hazardous chemicals that can affect the body, especially with extended use.
Talc users have sued Johnson & Johnson over cancer they’ve allegedly developed from longtime use of talc powder products. In one trial in California earlier this year, a jury awarded $25 million to a woman who said J&J talc gave her mesothelioma. In July, a Missouri jury awarded 22 women $4.6 billion in connection to their claims that talc had asbestos that gave them ovarian cancer.
3. Old Buildings
Asbestos was ubiquitous in insulation and other building materials in the mid-20th century, and many are still standing, including homes and schools. At the time, asbestos was used because of its malleability and its effectiveness as a flame retardant. The side effects of asbestos exposure weren’t as widely well known as they are now, whether that was intentional or not.
Teachers are particularly susceptible to asbestos exposure.
There’s the possibility of occupants breathing in “legacy asbestos” in dust as the building gradually deteriorates. Teachers are particularly susceptible to asbestos exposure, possibly from spending long periods in older schools, according to the Environmental Working Group. Old buildings not in use, such as locations that are abandoned, condemned, or poorly maintained, can harbor higher levels of dust due to decaying walls, tiles, and insulation.
When buildings are taken down deliberately or damaged, they can potentially release all sorts of toxins, including asbestos insulation and other materials. This was seen following the terrorism attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the collapse of several buildings in downtown NYC spread dangerous items through the region—and into the lungs of citizens. In more routine scenarios, demo crews are supposed to follow regulations to mitigate exposure to asbestos, but that doesn’t always happen.
Hurricanes and wildfires can also risk spreading asbestos in the air. In Montana, there are even specialized firefighters who have experience tackling blazes alight in asbestos-addled areas.
5. Auto Parts
The ability of asbestos to be durable and heat-resistant still makes it a useful component in car parts. In some cases, items such as disk brake pads, drum brake lining, brake blocks and transmission machinery may improve an auto’s performance. Precautions may still be required to safely install, maintain, or replace these components.
Did Asbestos Exposure Give You or a Loved One Mesothelioma?
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be able to file a lawsuit. Contact our attorneys for a free, no-risk case evaluation to find out if you could be owed money for asbestos exposure. Asbestos funds have awarded almost $20 billion to mesothelioma patients.
Alarm bells have been ringing since agribusiness giants Bayer and Monsanto announced their proposed merger in September 2016.
The deal is the latest in a series of multibillion-dollar agriculture mergers that, if approved, would give a few multinational corporations unprecedented control over the chemicals and seeds on which farmers rely. While Bayer and Monsanto say the merger will lower prices, allow for greater innovation, and boost crop yields, many in the industry expect the exact opposite to occur. There are also concerns about the effects of the megamerger on consumers and the environment.
Bayer and Monsanto have long histories of pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet.
Separately, Bayer and Monsanto have demonstrated a willingness to single-mindedly pursue profits, sometimes at the expense of people and the planet. Together they have the potential to do even more harm, yet their consolidated power could allow them to escape consequences through regulatory capture.
At the heart of the Bayer-Monsanto merger controversy is a simple question: Who benefits from large corporations having enormous influence over our food supply?
To better understand the future marriage between Bayer and Monsanto—which Friends of the Earth Europe has called “a marriage made in hell”—one must examine these companies’ pasts. Each of their histories contain dark episodes that should give pause to anyone concerned about the environment and public health.
For starters, it’s worth asking how Bayer—a German pharmaceutical company best known for products like Aspirin and Alka-Seltzer—and St. Louis-based Monsanto, a former chemical company, got into the agriculture business.
A Brief History of Bayer
Bayer was founded in the 1860s. Its first major products were the pain reliever Aspirin and (believe it or not) heroin, the latter of which was marketed as a cough suppressant and non-addictive morphine substitute. “Heroin” was a Bayer trademark for decades.
During World War I, Bayer was involved in the development of chemical weapons such as chlorine gas. After the war ended, German chemical giant IG Farber took over Bayer. Dozens of IG Farben board members and executives were sentenced to prison at the Nuremberg Trials for alleged war crimes of the Nazi regime, including mass murder and slave labor.
The Allies broke up IG Farben following World War II and Bayer was reestablished as an independent business. An IG Farben board member sentenced at Nuremberg was elected the head of Bayer’s supervisory board in 1956.
Bayer’s postwar period products have included the neuroleptic Chlorpromazine, Primodos—a controversial pregnancy test pulled from the market in the mid-1970s for alleged birth defects—and the clotting agent Factor VIII. Recent reports suggest that in the 1980s, Bayer knowingly sold HIV-contaminated Factor VIII to Asia and Latin America after the agent was pulled from U.S. and European markets. Bayer’s statin drug Baycol, introduced in the 1990s, was linked to more than 50 deaths.
As the website Corporate Watch details, Bayer has also drawn scrutiny for its monopoly on the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, suing South Africa to protect profits from its patented AIDS medication, funding health and environmental groups that affect public policy pertaining to many of Bayer’s products (including pesticides), the heavy use of antibiotics in livestock that has led to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the production of toxic pesticides and insecticides. Neonicotinoids (neonics), a type of pesticide produced by Bayer, has been linked to the collapse of bee populations.
The proposed deal would give Bayer control over one-quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supply.
Bayer is one of the companies that has profited from the so-called “Green Revolution” that replaced traditional agriculture with high-yield patented seeds and agrochemicals. During the 1990s the company sold millions of dollars of agrochemicals to developing countries with the help of loans secured through the World Bank.
Bayer became a market leader in GMOs and agribusiness when it acquired Aventis CropScience and merged it into their CropScience agrochemical division in 2002. That same year, Bayer acquired one of the top five seed companies in the world (at the time), the Netherlands-based Nunhems.
Bayer offered $66 billion last year to acquire Monsanto. If approved by regulators, the deal would make Bayer the world’s largest seed and agriculture chemicals company, with control over roughly one-quarter of the world’s seed and pesticide supply.
A Brief History of Monsanto
Founded in 1901, Monsanto’s first major product was the artificial sweetener saccharin, which has been linked to cancer in mice and rats.
During the 1920s Monsanto moved into chemical production, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a known human carcinogen that the United States banned in 1979. Monsanto claimed that it was not aware of PCB toxicity until the late 1960s, but internal company memos show that the company knew about the dangers early on and engaged in an extensive disinformation campaign.
The company that helped bring us nuclear weapons, PCBs, and dioxins shifted its focus in the 1970s to agricultural chemicals.
In the 1940s, Monsanto played a role in the Manhattan Project (which produced the first atomic weapon), became one of the first manufacturers of the insecticide DDT (banned in the 1970s for its toxicity), and began promoting the use of agricultural pesticides containing dioxins (one of the so-called “dirty dozen” environmental pollutants).
In the 1960s Monsanto used dioxin to manufacture the defoliant Agent Orange. Agent Orange was sprayed extensively by U.S. forces in the Vietnam War to clear jungle and is estimated to have contaminated millions of Americans and Vietnamese, resulting in countless deaths, disabilities, and birth defects. As with PCBs, Monsanto used questionable science to present dioxin as safe, but internal company documents later showed that Monsanto had long known about dioxin’s deadly effects.
The company that helped bring us nuclear weapons, PCBs, and dioxins shifted its focus in the 1970s to agricultural chemicals, with a focus on herbicides—in particular the herbicide glyphosate (Roundup).
Marketed to farmers and consumers as environmentally friendly, evidence is emerging that Roundup—the most-used agricultural chemical of all time—is a human carcinogen. There is also evidence that Monsanto colluded with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conceal Roundup’s risks.
The World Health Organization has named glyphosate a probable human carcinogen, and California recently added glyphosate to a list of potentially cancerous chemicals and may add warning labels to products containing the chemical.
Use of Roundup increased dramatically when Monsanto introduced genetically modified “Roundup Ready” crops. These crops contain a gene that allows them to survive glyphosate as it kills surrounding weeds.
Despite widespread public skepticism about GMO safety, the scientific consensus is that GMOs do not pose a threat. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicines released a report in May 2017 declaring GMOs safe for both humans and the environment. But critics point out that the National Research Council—the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences—has financial ties to Monsanto, the world’s biggest seller of GM crops, and other GMO-friendly businesses.
Image Source: Occupy Sonoma County
Who Benefits from the Merger?
When top executives at Bayer and Monsanto are asked to defend the companies’ merger, they argue that consolidation is necessary to drive agricultural innovation, increase crop yields, and reduce farming input costs.
Shortly after Bayer’s bid to acquire Monsanto was announced, Bayer CEO Werner Baumann and Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant were interviewed by CNBC. Mr. Baumann said of the deal, “We can bring better solutions, faster to the growers so they can help contribute to feeding an ever growing world. That’s what this is all about.”
Mr. Grant echoed these sentiments, telling CNBC that the Monsanto-Bayer combination would “unlock future innovation growers desperately need at the moment.” He pointed to a ten-year low for corn prices and a five-year low for wheat prices.
“The mergers are as much about maintaining profit and staying financially healthy as they are about the development of new technologies.”
The merger, says Fraley, “allows us to make more investments, have more capabilities and build better products for farmers, that they can use to grow crops with higher yields… and farm better, farm smarter.”
While it is true that the agriculture industry is in the midst of a recession—American farm revenue dropped from $120 billion in 2013 to $62 billion this year, and the costs of seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers have risen by double digits over the last 4-5 years—it is also true that Monsanto and other agricultural giants are going through a sales slump. Monsanto said in 2015 that it would lay off 12 percent of its employees.
“From that perspective,” writes Quartz, “the mergers are as much about maintaining profit and staying financially healthy as they are about the development of new technologies.”
Tucked away in an Oregon barn for decades was a collection of internal documents, correspondence, and chemical safety studies detailing the lengths the chemical industry took to conceal the dangers of their products.
The documents in this collection—dubbed the “Poison Papers”—allege fraudulent chemical safety testing, corporate concealment of chemical dangers, and collusion between the industry and the regulators who were supposed to be protecting the public and environment. Commonly used herbicides like Roundup (glyphosate), dicamba, atrazine, and 2,4-D feature prominently among the papers, as do nearly every large chemical corporation.
Now, thanks to the combined efforts of the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and the Bioscience Resource Project (BRP), this collection is available online for the first time.
We spoke with Lisa Graves, CMD’s executive director, about what the collection reveals and how we’re still feeling the effects from improper chemical approvals from decades past.
(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
What are the Poison Papers? What kinds of documents are in the collection and how did this project come about?
We launched PoisonPapers.org this summer as a project of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy.
The Poison Papers are the digitization of about three tons of files from litigation against Monsanto, litigation involving some of the Dow Chemicals products, open records requests, and Freedom of Information Act requests to the federal government as well as state agencies. It represents documents that were discovered over the past 40 years but some of the documents, including scientific studies, are older than that because they are from litigation.
What they reveal is just the exceptional level of involvement of these big chemical companies in trying to limit public protections against their chemicals. They show in some instances collusions with government officials. There’s some very telling episodes from the Reagan administration with his EPA working hand in glove with companies to try to limit the limits so to speak on products.
“What they reveal is just the exceptional level of involvement of these big chemical companies in trying to limit public protections against their chemicals.”
And there’s an array of documents from studies that show harms by a number of chemicals, including PCBs, dioxins, and more. What we’re left with is a situation in which many of these chemicals remain on the market, are in products that are being used by consumers and by government agencies, and continue to pose a risk to human health and to the health of our ecosystem.
One of the reasons why we were so eager to get these materials more broadly out into the public realm is because there’s sort of this pre-Google, post-Google world we live in. If it’s not Google-able, many people can’t find the information.
In this instance, these materials were in the barn of one of the leading activists on these issues, Carol Van Strum, who really spearheaded a lot of the work to drag into light what was happening in terms of spraying of forests and fields with these poisons. The materials in the barn were spoiling so we were concerned that they may not survive if they weren’t digitized.
The collection includes information on the Industrial Bio-Test Laboratories scandal. What was that? How are we still feeling the effects of the scandal?
“The IBT scandal…involved more than 800 studies on more than 140 chemicals by 38 chemical manufacturers. Those studies were either non-existent, fraudulent, or invalid.”
One of the historical tales told by the documents is this testing scandal. It turns out that a substantial number of the tests that were used to justify allowing chemicals to be sold in the U.S. were based on false or fake test results. But one of the things that is apparent from the documents is that in many instances some of the chemicals were not subject to other testing in the face of the scandal.
When there are rigged tests that basically allow certain chemicals to enter the marketplace (and not just in the U.S. but globally), that has a longstanding impact on human health. If the chemicals weren’t properly tested in the first instance and then weren’t really subject to truly independent testing subsequently, how can you trust the determination that certain products were safe or are safe?
Even though the IBT scandal was in the late 1970’s, it involved more than 800 studies on more than 140 chemicals by 38 chemical manufacturers. Those studies were either non-existent, fraudulent, or invalid. What the documents show is how the EPA in the 1980’s colluded in our view with the pesticide manufacturers to keep invalidly registered products on the market and basically helped cover up the problems with many of those chemical tests.
In the U.S., manipulation of these agencies has basically allowed the corporations to select the testers, what’s tested, what’s not tested, and sort of make their case to the agencies that are regulating those chemicals. In many instances those agencies are too often staffed by former industry officials, whether they are political appointees or whether they are burrowed in employees. Too often those agencies are I think allowing chemicals to be used based on what amounts to attestations by the companies or the firms hired by the companies to say that the products are safe.
Since you launched the collection have you heard anything from corporations trying to downplay or discredit the documents?
One of the things that was interesting was that initially Scott Partridge, who is the vice president of Monsanto’s global strategy, admitted in a Guardian article that he didn’t dispute the authenticity of the documents. But then subsequently some other official at Monsanto questioned the authenticity of the documents which is pretty absurd.
The documents are plainly historical documents—you can see for yourself if you go to the library. You can see the markings on them from litigation and the clips from newspapers. Carol Van Strum was meticulous in collecting information about what Monsanto was up to and we certainly trust her files far more than whatever assertions Monsanto PR flacks are making.
I’m not surprised. That’s been their strategy for a while: To deny.
Yeah, deny, deny, deny. But we stand by the documents and we think that they’re important for the public to know.
This is an industry that has a well-documented history—and certainly Monsanto has a well-documented history—of scandals and serious problems with products, so we’ll see what happens next. But we think the public has a right to know the information in these materials and we are very grateful for the activists who spent decades collecting them through their own litigation and efforts to try to shine a light on these issues.
There are a number of companies whose documents, materials, or positions are referenced in these files. You can do a search by name of the company or by the name of the chemical and find all of the papers that reference that chemical, product, or corporation.
You can see documents about how dioxins were in human breast milk after certain chemicals like 2,4-D were applied to forestlands under the management of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). There are a number of tests that show how some of these chemicals impact reproductive capacity of animals, including the shrinkage of gonads. If that’s true, what is the impact on human health if these chemicals bioaccumulate in human fat or accumulate in our food supply system?
These are serious issues raised by these materials about chemicals that have been applied and applied over many years in our agricultural communities and in people’s own backyards.
You’ve already raised a few disturbing points, but was there anything else that shocked you when you went through the collection for the first time?
We actually did a project a couple of years ago on atrazine, which is a chemical that is marketed in part by Syngenta. We created an atrazine exposed site to make sure the public could see documents from atrazine litigation. Some show a high level of contamination of water supplies where atrazine was applied, for instance in corn fields.
A scientist out at the University of California Berkeley was basically attacked by the industry for his scientific study—his independent, not corporate analysis—of the potential impacts of this herbicide on frogs, which is significant for impacts on human health. When you look at atrazine what you see is an impact not just on animals but also on plants and the ecosystem.
A number of these chemicals are still subject to litigation by lawyers who are trying to protect the health of their clients, whose clients suspect or are concerned that the evidence indicates that they have been harmed or their children have been harmed by these products. It is certainly the case that lawyers may 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 the documents that may be known to only a few attorneys, a few litigants, or a few concerned citizens are available as widely as possible to the press and public.
Have you found that the public is more interested in what’s happening because of these projects?
Yeah. Certainly after the articles that broke the story about the Poison Papers, including from The Intercept and The Guardian, we’ve had a number of inquiries from reporters about the materials and the stories they tell.
We cannot tell all the stories or even most of the stories that are in there. The public service that we are trying to provide is to make the documents available for anyone to explore and reveal those stories and connect the dots to the current battles, especially with Scott Pruitt at the helm of EPA and their efforts to basically roll back virtually anything they can get their hands on.
We’re at a point in U.S. history where there is an assault on regulation. But in many instances these regulations, which they are trying to use as a dirty word, are actually about protecting our health, our water, our air, and our food supply. Yet this administration has shown that it is more than happy to do the bidding of the industry and the corporations that want to minimize protections. Many of these companies are the very companies that are involved in these documents that have fought over time to sell their products without restrictions and have tried to change public policy so that it serves their private interests rather than the broader public interests.
It’s great that the public can access these documents and become empowered.
“This moment is a moment in which we’re witnessing so much extraordinary influence by corporations on our democracy, and not in a good way.”
My hope is that ultimately as people learn more about what’s happening, in terms of the efforts to basically give away the store to these chemical companies, that people will respond and that the movement to protect our health and our planet will grow even stronger. I hope that there will be opportunities in the future to not just restore protections, but also, since some of those protections were I think inadequate, to really make stronger protections for our health and our environment.
This moment is a moment in which we’re witnessing so much extraordinary influence by corporations on our democracy, and not in a good way. But I think there is a growing movement of people—there are certainly a number of lawyers out there who have been working hard over the years to try to protect people’s rights and our environment. My hope is that together we can all be more informed and push back this corporate distortion of our democracy that these documents in many ways reveal.
Have you had your daily dose of arsenic? If you live in 32 U.S. states, that may not be a far-fetched question. According to a database recently published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 365 public water utilities exceeded the legal limits for the substance in 2015.
Between 2010 and 2015, the EWG analyzed the water quality for 48,000 public utilities. EWG’s final database breaks down what exactly is in the nation’s water, listing both EPA-regulated contaminants and non-regulated contaminants.
There are 93 chemicals linked to cancer in America’s tap water.
Nationwide, the EWG reports, there are 93 contaminants linked to cancer in our tap water.
The website also tells you if the contamination level in your water exceeds health guidelines—the concentration level at which scientists believe can cause harm—which are much lower than the standards federal authorities use. Based on scientific guidelines, more than 80% of water utilities nationwide contain dangerous levels of carcinogens in their drinking water.
Many of the contaminants that were detected are naturally occurring, but some, like herbicides and benzene, raise questions of the impact that agriculture and industrial polluters have on our water supply.
Top Offenders: Disinfection By-Products, Arsenic
1.6 million Americans drink water that exceeds legal limits for TTHMs, chemicals that may cause blood cancer or skin cancer.
Disinfection by-products and arsenic are among the most common toxins that exceed legal limits in our water.
Disinfection by-products are created when disinfectants (like chlorine) react with naturally occurring minerals during water disinfection processes. This reaction creates Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA5), both of which may be harmful if consumed in large quantities.
Exposure to TTHMs and HAA5 may cause cancer or harm fetal growth and development. Yet, 1.6 million Americans drink water that exceeds federal regulations for TTHMs, and, 658,000 are left with water that exceeds legal limits for HAA5.
Tap water can also become contaminated with arsenic, which is naturally present in groundwater, as a result of agricultural practices and mining.
Arsenic poisoning can be deadly. Signs of poisoning include vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Long-term complications can include heart disease, cancer, and harm to the central nervous system or brain.
According to the EWG’s data, 531,000 Americans have tap water that exceeds the legal limits for arsenic.
Do Legal Limits Guarantee Safety?
Regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act may be misleading though, as the EWG and other scientists believe our health can be negatively affected by drinking much lower concentrations of these contaminants. Because of this, they created new safety benchmarks so consumers have a better understanding of the safety of their tap water.
Take arsenic, for example. According to the EWG’s benchmark, 70 million people have dangerous levels of arsenic in their water—a significantly higher number than what federal authorities report.
Other chemicals are even more concerning.
The EPA defines 1,4-dioxane, a contaminant that is present in 22% of cosmetic products, as a “likely carcinogen.”
There is still no legal limit for 1,4-dioxane. But according to EWG’s guidelines, forty-six states have at least one water utility with alarming levels of 1,4-dioxane, affecting 90 million people.
Database Reveals Agriculture is Contaminating Our Water
For consumers who try to limit their exposure to pesticides and herbicides by purchasing organic food, there may be one source of exposure they are overlooking: Their drinking water.
The EPA identifies agriculture as the leading cause of water pollution. Runoff can pollute rivers, lakes, and water reservoirs with contaminants from fertilizers and pesticides.
The EWG database identified four herbicides in the tap water in Topeka, Kansas alone: metribuzin (Bayer’s Sencor), metolachlor (Syngenta’s Dual herbicide), acetochlor (a Monsanto herbicide), and dangerous levels of atrazine (made by Syngenta).
Atrazine is the second-most applied herbicide in the U.S.The herbicide may cause cancer and hormone disruption, and even has the potential to change the sex of amphibians, as documented by U.C. Berkeley scientists. Nationwide, 7.6 million Americans have tap water that exceeds health guidelines for atrazine levels.
Roundup, or glyphosate, is even more widely used than atrazine. In addition to being linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, glyphosate is also connected to celiac disease, kidney damage, and it may even harm fetal growth.
Monsanto, Roundup’s manufacturer, is accused of hiding the herbicide’s health risks and coercing EPA scientists to publish scientific results that favor glyphosate. Thousands of agricultural laborers have filed lawsuits against Monsanto alleging that glyphosate caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
As evidence piles up that further clouds glyphosate’s safety, three cities are left with glyphosate-contaminated water that surpass what scientists consider to be safe: Gilbert, Louisiana; Egan, Louisiana; and Polk City, Florida.
Tap Water Shows Effects of Industrial Pollution
Agriculture isn’t the only source of water contamination. In 2015, U.S. industries and businesses dumped 191 million pounds of chemicals into rivers and streams, some of which supply our drinking water.
One of those chemicals is chromium-6, the chemical that Erin Brockovich famously fought a utility company over for water contamination in Hinkley, CA. The chemical is linked to cancer, liver damage, and may harm the reproductive system.
Every U.S. state has at least one utility that exceeds the safety recommendations established by scientists, altogether affecting 231 million Americans.
Any exposure to benzene can lower white blood cell counts, yet 32 water utilities exceed health guidelines for the chemical.
Surprisingly, we still lack federal regulations for chromium-6. And the only state that regulates it is California, though the legal limit there is 500 times higher than what scientists recommend, thanks to pressures from the chemical industry.
Another carcinogen that can be traced back to industrial pollution is benzene. The chemical is a particular public health concern for refinery workers and neighboring communities who may inhale the pollutant.
Benzene is linked to blood cancers like leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Thirty-two water utilities exceed health guidelines for benzene concentration, which may be caused by petroleum spills or wastewater from refineries. But, the number of people affected by benzene could be much higher, as a National Cancer Institute study found that any exposure to benzene could lower white blood cell counts.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Health?
Familiarize yourself with what’s in your family’s tap water by entering your zip code in the tap water database.
Many contaminants can be filtered out by using a water filter. However, if there are chemicals in your water that exceed federal or health guidelines (the database will tell you), consider writing to your local officials.
Though asbestos has been regulated in the U.S. since 1971, people are still dying from it.
According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths from mesothelioma—an aggressive lung cancer almost solely caused from asbestos exposure—increased by 4.8% from 1999 to 2015. Altogether, there were 45,221 mesothelioma deaths in the U.S. during that time period.
Given the steep decline in asbestos use, why are people still dying from this disease? For one thing, mesothelioma can have an extremely long latency period; it can take decades to develop. But that doesn’t explain why the CDC continues to report deaths of Americans under the age of 55.
The U.S. Imported 350 Tons of Asbestos in 2015
Though heavily regulated, asbestos—incredibly—remains legal in America. In 2015, the U.S. imported 350 tons of asbestos to produce everything from soap to alkaline batteries.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a list of legal asbestos-containing products. Asbestos is most commonly used in automobile parts and building materials, including:
Vinyl floor tile
OSHA Violations Expose Workers to Asbestos
In the 20th century, the construction industry used 70-80 percent of America’s asbestos. So while asbestos is still used in some new products, workers are more likely to encounter the carcinogen when replacing materials or remodeling older buildings.
Any time asbestos is disturbed, the mineral can release shard-like fibers into the air. If inhaled or swallowed, these fibers can eventually cause cancer.
Twenty percent of air samples collected at construction sites exceeded the legal limits for asbestos exposure.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict safety requirements to protect workers. Employees must be trained on how to recognize and remove asbestos, and employers must provide protective clothing and respirators. When removing asbestos, the area must be enclosed and an air filtration or collection device, like a HEPA vacuum, must be used to trap asbestos particles.
But just because rules exist doesn’t necessarily mean they will be followed. In 2003, the CDC found that 20 percent of air samples collected at construction sites exceeded the legal limits for asbestos exposure.
Not only are workers endangered when employers cut corners, but so are their families. Even the smallest amount of asbestos exposure—like hugging a loved one who is wearing asbestos-contaminated clothing—can eventually cause mesothelioma.
OSHA Hits Companies with Million-Dollar Fines
In 2015, two construction companies in southern Illinois—Kehrer Brothers Construction and D7 Roofing—were hit with a combined $1.9 million in fines for violating OSHA asbestos regulations.
“These workers will carry the increased risk of cancer for the rest of their lives.”
OSHA alleged that the companies instructed workers to remove asbestos, but didn’t provide them with basic safety equipment like helmets, nor did they follow rules for asbestos removal. The agency alleged that these violations increased workers’ exposure to the carcinogen.
“The size of the fine is a statement about the gravity of the situation,” said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. “These workers will carry the increased risk of cancer for the rest of their lives.”
Promotional display maker AMD Industries, based in Illinois, was also hit with $1.25 million in fines when they failed to protect workers from asbestos exposure. In 2011, OSHA penalized the companywhen it was discovered that five employees were instructed to remove asbestos without receiving respirators.
A safety audit of the AMD facility revealed asbestos material on boilers, heating units, and piping.
“License to Kill” Bill Dims Hopes of Asbestos Ban
Lawmakers and health organizations have tried repeatedly to ban asbestos completely. The EPA managed to temporarily ban the carcinogen in 1989, but two years later it was overturned.
More recent attempts include Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Ban Asbestos in America Act, which passed in the Senate in 2007 but ultimately failed to become a law.
Under the guise of “cutting red tape,” the bill would paralyze agencies like the EPA from taking action against toxic chemicals.
Last year, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) was amended to allow the EPA more authority to regulate and ban toxic substances. The EPA immediately prioritized asbestos for a safety review.
However, with budget cuts left and right, and potentially dangerous bills being introduced that threaten the EPA’s authority, it’s likely an asbestos ban won’t happen anytime soon.
One particular bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, is being referred to by some as the “License to Kill” bill.
Under the guise of “cutting red tape,” the bill would essentially paralyze agencies like the EPA from taking action against toxic chemicals, sweeping the TSCA reforms under the rug.
Public Citizen, a consumer rights group, estimates that it would add 53 steps for agencies to pass major rules and regulations. Opponents argue that this lengthy rule making process would create more opportunities for special corporate interests to derail regulations and bans on dangerous chemicals.
H.R. 5, as the bill is formerly known, was passed by the House of Representatives and now awaits a Senate vote.
We’re Fighting for Mesothelioma Victims
There is still one place for mesothelioma victims to fight back, and that’s in court.
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be eligible for a lawsuit. Contact our attorneys for a free consultation to find out if you might be owed money for asbestos exposure. To date, asbestos funds have awarded nearly $20 billion to mesothelioma patients.
Of the 80,000 chemicals currently in the marketplace, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only reviewed the safety of 570. Of those, the EPA has only banned five chemicals. Not on that list? Asbestos, formaldehyde, BPAs, and other known carcinogens.
Before you discredit the EPA as an ineffective agency, or even one that should be abolished altogether as some in Congress are demanding, it’s important to look at the myriad obstacles the agency faces that prevent it from regulating deadly substances.
Nearly every delay and hurdle is traced back to the chemical or energy industry. Industry lobbyists have used every tactic in the book to thwart the EPA, including discrediting the agency’s chemical assessments, sponsoring their own favorable research, and delaying the publication of the EPA’s studies, all while paying off scientists and politicians to support them.
Chemicals Are Considered Safe Until Proven Guilty
62,000 chemicals were grandfathered into the system, with no requirements for testing or meeting safety standards.
The root of the EPA’s problems lies with the flawed Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which governs the EPA’s review of toxic chemicals.
When it passed in 1976, 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered into the system, with no requirements for testing or meeting safety standards. The nearly 20,000 chemicals which have come to market since the TSCA’s adoption are almost as good as grandfathered into the system. The EPA’s authority to ask for safety data on a new chemical is extremely limited, allowing new chemicals to come to market without knowing a lot about their effects.
The law is structured to be favorable to the chemical industry as chemicals are considered safe until proven otherwise by the EPA. In the E.U., however, this is backwards: The burden is on companies to prove the safety of new chemicals before they are introduced in the marketplace.
In 2016, Congress amended TSCA to allow the EPA greater authority to review and ban chemicals. Last December, the EPA announced their 10 priority chemicals for review which included asbestos. Though it’s a positive step, critics have argued that the new bill will weaken effective state chemical safety laws and do nothing to speed up the review process.
EPA’s Assessments Suffer from the “Highest Risk of Failure”
Before banning or restricting a chemical, the EPA has to conduct its own formal review of the existing research on the safety and effects of a substance.
The EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS) is the agency branch that reviews chemical research to determine what the safe level of exposure is in the air, food, water, and soil. Their assessments are then used by regulators to restrict or ban various chemicals.
An IRIS review is a major undertaking; an average report will take seven years to complete. The EPA says that it needs to complete 50 of these assessments every year in order to do its job effectively. Yet throughout the Bush administration, an average of five chemicals were reviewed every year. Obama’s administration wasn’t any better: In 2014, the agency only completed one review. That was better than 2015 though, which didn’t produce a single report.
In 2011, out of the 500 chemicals in the IRIS program under review, almost 400 of them were more than 10 years in the making.
This hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that IRIS had the “highest risk of failure” of any federal government department.
Chemical Industry Relies on “Scientists for Hire”
What’s the reason behind these slow-moving reviews? Primarily industry lobbyists.
Delaying research is the primary weapon in the chemical industry’s arsenal. By forcing the EPA to get second opinions, make edits, present their research again, go through another round of reviews, and so on, not only does it delay report publications for years, but it also helps to make the agency look less credible.
“I have never seen the chemical industry say, ‘Oh, wow! It looks from all of these data and the public literature like we had better start being safer with this chemical.’ They, in my experience, have always defended their chemical, tried to show that it’s safer, or less toxic, than what independent studies show,” said Jennifer Sass, a scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in an article for Time magazine.
According to the NRDC, chemical companies will put forth their own research to settle the “debates” within the scientific community (debates which only exist in pro-industry minds).
14% of industry studies found chemicals like formaldehyde were hazardous, compared to 60% of non-industry studies.
Industry-funded research, not surprisingly, favors the industry. A study by the Center for Public Integrity found that 14% of industry studies on chemicals like atrazine and formaldehyde (carcinogens which have yet to be banned) found these chemicals were hazardous, compared to 60% of non-industry studies.
There are even pro-industry research journals: Critical Reviews in Analytical Chemistry and Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. A Vice investigation revealed that one Harvard researcher, Philippe Grandjean, joined the Critical Reviews editorial board in hopes of scientific partnership but resigned when they published two articles denying OSHA’s research that linked lung cancer to diesel fumes, just for the sake of creating public doubt.
Once published, companies will host workshops to discuss the results, and fill them with industry-funded scientists that conclude what the industry wants to hear: that the chemical of concern is safe.
A group that is often represented is Gradient, whose clients include the American Chemistry Council (ACC), an association that represents chemical companies. The Center for Public Integrity reports that half of all of the papers published by Gradient scientists were published by industry-backed publications. Critics refer to them as “scientists for hire.”
Even if experts are aware of the red flags to look out for with industry-funded research, the more of it there is, the more confusing it makes the field of research. Said Jennifer Sass in an article for Vice, “The harm is that it actually muddies the independent scientific literature.”
Whistleblower Reveals EPA Reviews Have Ties to Industry
“The study ended up being the basis for this industry getting yet another exemption from federal law.”
During the “Making EPA Great Again” congressional hearing earlier this month, hosted by the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, critics argued that the EPA’s research lacks sufficient peer review—that they only work with those who share their anti-industry, pro-green opinions, resulting in the agency operating within an “echo chamber,” as Rep. Lucas (R-OK) described.
Among those invited to participate in the hearing was a scientist for the American Chemistry Council, Dr. Kimberly White. She emphasized the importance of allowing diverse voices from all over the industry to review and contribute to the EPA’s assessments, using sources other than the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, which, it should be noted, recruits members using a public open-call for nominations.
When pro-industry groups like the American Chemistry Council have their way and are involved in EPA reviews, the quality of reports usually suffer.
In 2004, the EPA investigated whether hydrofracking should fall under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Early on, a draft referred to dangerous levels of contamination caused by hydrofracking and possible contamination of an aquifer. The final report, however, stated that the practice “poses little or no threat to drinking water.”
“The study ended up being the basis for this industry getting yet another exemption from federal law when it should have resulted in greater regulation of this industry,” Weston Wilson, an EPA whistleblower told TheNew York Times. He revealed that five of the seven review panel members had ties to the oil and gas industry.
A decade-long conspiracy to cheat U.S. emission tests—and drivers—has now cost Volkswagen $22 billion and counting.
VW has reached a $4.3 billion agreement with the Justice Department stemming from its Dieselgate scandal.
In the latest financial blow, the German automaker has reached a $4.3 billion agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, which will cover criminal and civil charges stemming from its Dieselgate scandal.
VW equipped almost 600,000 American diesel vehicles with devices that would cheat U.S. emissions tests by showing nitrogen oxide emissions exponentially lower than what the cars would emit on the road.
The devices were discovered in 2014. In September 2015, VW admitted to installing the defeat devices, but not the length or extent of its conspiracy.
Last year, the company reached a $15 billion settlement with owners of 2.0-liter “Clean Diesel” vehicles, and a $1 billion settlement with owners of 3.0-liter vehicles.
Of the $4.3 billion under the terms of the new settlement (which still must receive final approval from a judge), $2.8 billion will serve as a criminal penalty, while $1.5 billion will go to civil lawsuit resolutions.
Due to the severity and extent of this cover-up, several Volkswagen executives also face serious charges for their roles in the Dieselgate scandal.
Six VW Execs Charged with Conspiracy and Fraud
A federal grand jury in Michigan has indicted the following six VW officials for carrying out the emissions cheating scheme and defrauding American drivers:
Richard Dorenkamp (68)
Bernd Gottweis (69)
Jens Hadler (50)
Heinz-Jakob Neusser (56)
Jürgen Peter (59)
Oliver Schmidt (48)
The grand jury also indicted the executives for violating the Clean Air Act.
One of the VW officials, Oliver Schmidt, was arrested while vacationing in Miami earlier this month. The other five live in Germany and will presumably stay out of the U.S. in order to avoid being arrested.
The U.S. government has faced criticism in the past for punishing corporations for white-collar crimes, but not the people who run those corporations and perpetrate those crimes. For some, the indictment of several VW executives represented a welcome break in that pattern.
Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said, “This wasn’t simply the action of some faceless, multinational corporation. This conspiracy involved flesh-and-blood individuals who used their positions within Volkswagen to deceive both regulators and consumers.”
As a result, more charges could be on the way for other VW employees who engaged in the scheme to defraud drivers, the U.S. government, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Fiat Chrysler Allegedly Cheated on Emissions, Too
Late last week, the EPA said that Fiat Chrysler, too, misled regulators with regard to at least 104,000 of its vehicles, namely Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Ram trucks (2014-2016). Like many of VW’s Dieselgate vehicles, these trucks have 3.0-liter diesel engines.
Fiat Chrysler now faces a $4.6 billion fine for failing to disclose emissions software.
Fiat Chrysler now faces a $4.6 billion fine for failing to disclose that these vehicles have software that can switch off emission controls while driving.
The depths of Fiat Chrysler’s scheme are not yet clear. John German, a senior fellow at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told the Irish Times that the cases are “quite different,” adding that “we don’t know how often the emissions controls were shut off.”
The EPA has not yet used the terms “cheat device” or “cheat software,” so it’s possible Fiat Chrysler’s violation was more of an innocent mistake (or just a smaller, less egregious cheat) than VW’s. We won’t know until the EPA and the Justice Department conclude their investigations.
What is clear is that automakers continue to cheat American regulators and drivers, with no regard for their schemes’ impact on the environment—or on people’s wallets.
Combined with Monsanto, Bayer would control a quarter of the world’s seeds and pesticides, potentially affecting the world’s food supply, ecosystem, and supermarket prices.
A merger between Monsanto (the company behind GMOs and the herbicide Roundup) and Bayer (the pharmaceutical company that manufacturers pesticides and seeds under Bayer CropScience) is gathering momentum. Earlier this week, Monsanto shareholders approved Bayer’s $66 billion offer to acquire the company: the largest all-cash offer in history.
What makes this potential merger so important—and scary—is just how powerful it would make Bayer. Combined with Monsanto, they would control a quarter of the seeds and pesticides market worldwide, potentially affecting the world’s food supply, ecosystem, and supermarket prices.
Small farmers, consumers, scientists, and politicians alike hope that the merger will be rejected by antitrust regulators. But with shareholders on board and a new administration on the horizon, the merger may be approved.
Merger Raises Red Flags for Antitrust Regulators
If the merger is approved, Bayer would own 29% of seeds and 28% of pesticides worldwide. The sheer size of the new company, combined with the similarity of Monsanto and Bayer’s businesses, raises antitrust red flags.
The century-old Sherman Antitrust Act and Clayton Antitrust Act help prevent mergers and acquisitions of this size. Primarily, regulators are concerned about reduced competition which can inhibit innovation, result in price fixing, and leave consumers and employees vulnerable to abusive business practices.
As a preventative measure, large mergers and acquisitions must be reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. This is where Bayer may stumble. The current administration has strictly opposed large mergers, like Staples and Office Depot, among others.
But Bayer may benefit from a change in administration. The company is so optimistic that it promised Monsanto shareholders a $2 billion termination fee if blocked.
“A Marriage Made in Hell”
If approved, environmental experts warn the merger would be a “marriage made in hell.” After examining the harmful track record of their products, this description may not be far off.
Monsanto is known for a long list of dangerous and controversial biotechnology, including Agent Orange, PCBs, GMOs, and the carcinogenic pesticide RoundUp.
Like Monsanto, Bayer also has a line of genetically engineered (GE) seeds and herbicides and pesticides. Most dangerous are Bayer’s neonicotinoids—pesticides that are the primary cause of the destruction of bee colonies.
Bayer argues that acquiring Monsanto will help the company better address greater demands on the world’s food supply, primarily by selling GE seeds. GE seed cells are modified so that they are resistant to the powerful herbicides and insecticides Monsanto and Bayer sell. By planting GE crops, the companies argue, farmers are able to produce greater crop yields and decrease the overall amount of herbicides and pesticides they spray.
Farmers Will Pay Higher Seed Prices
What does a Bayer-Monsanto merger mean for the average farmer and consumer? Farmers will first notice higher seed prices and few non-GE alternatives—a cost eventually felt by consumers in the supermarket.
GE seeds are particularly pricey because they are registered as intellectual property. This prevents farmers from reusing their seeds, a millennia-old farming practice.
Corn and soy seed prices have increased more than 300 percent since 1995.
Since the introduction of GMOs 20 years ago, seed prices have only gone up. According to Farm Aid’s Alicia Harvie, corn and soy seed prices have increased more than 300 percent since 1995.
Farmers looking for alternatives to genetically engineered seeds are having a harder time finding them. Charles Benbrook, a research professor at Washington State University, found that between 2000 and 2010, non-GE corn seed varieties decreased by 67 percent. Similar trends were found for other plants, including sugar beets, for which Monsanto owns 95% of the seeds.
More Herbicide Will Be Sprayed
In addition to pricier seeds, farmers are also faced with having to spend more on the seeds’ accompanying herbicides.
After years of spraying, weeds eventually adapt to the herbicides and become resistant to it. This leaves farmers with “super weeds,” requiring them to spray greater quantities of stronger chemicals.
A study by TheNew York Times found that since genetically engineered seeds were introduced, herbicide use increased by one-fifth in the U.S. and Canada—countries reliant on GE seeds. In France, a country that is GMO-free, herbicide usage dropped by one-third.
Aside from the costs to farmers, higher quantities of herbicides is also bad news for the health of consumers and the environment. Monsanto’s Roundup is a carcinogen that puts farmers and gardeners that use the spray at a greater risk of developing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Lingering herbicide residue left on food is also linked to a rise in food allergies, especially gluten intolerance like celiac disease.
Bayer and Monsanto argue that their merger would help to feed a growing world population, but it may actually lead to more food shortages.
The New York Times discovered that over GMOs’ 20-year history, they have not resulted in an increased food supply. What Monsanto and Bayer have managed to do, though, is severely damage the ecosystem—a trend that is likely to result in major food crises in the future.
Pesticides like Bayer’s neonicotinoids have decimated the world’s populations of natural pollinators. Ninety percent of the monarch butterfly population has died over the last 20 years, and between 2006 and 2012, the USDA reported that 10 million beehives were lost.
Environmental experts estimate that the work of pollinators equates to $15 billion in agricultural labor. Because of the severity of the crisis, the EPA is taking steps to regulate neonicotinoids.
But Bayer’s pesticides aren’t the only threat to the environment. By using identical genetically modified seeds, companies like Bayer and Monsanto destroy biological diversity. Biodiversity is important because it helps reduce the spread of crop diseases. If every crop has the same genetic makeup, a disease has the potential to wipe out a huge portion of our food supply.
Giving so much control to one company—especially one that is hurting farmers, the ecosystem, and our health—may spell disaster for our food supply.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks marked the second deadliest day on U.S. soil—second only to the Civil War’s Battle of Antietam. However, unlike some battles and acts of terror, we are still counting the casualties of 9/11 to this day.
The traumatic scenes and the dust cloud that encompassed Lower Manhattan are still affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of survivors. While the mental health issues this group faces have been known for a while, we are only now beginning to understand the long-term effects of the toxic dust.
400,000 Were in the World Trade Center Disaster Area
Overall, it’s estimated that 400,000 were in Lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. This group includes workers who fled the towers; rescue workers; passerby who got caught in the cloud; and the people who lived, worked, or went to school in Lower Manhattan.
Health professionals worry that many in this group aren’t coming forward because they weren’t part of the rescue mission or in the towers. However, the deadly dust and the psychologically traumatic events did not discriminate between first responder or passerby: Anyone in the area could face health complications.
As of July 2016, independent reports estimated that1,140survivors had died from 9/11 complications.
12,000 Suffered From Mental Health Issues
Rescue workers, cleanup workers, and those who were near Ground Zero and watched the events unfold suffer from a host of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression, memory loss, panic attacks, and substance abuse.
Those who had greater exposure to the events were twice as likely to binge drink 5 to 6 years after the attack.
Passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms.
Mental health experts argue that non-emergency workers suffered more from PTSD because they weren’t necessarily trained to cope with disasters. In fact, the WTC Health Registry discovered that passerby suffered the highest rates of PTSD symptoms of any other group affected by the attacks (23.2%).
What makes the events of September 11th particularly hard to recover from are the towers’ noticeable absence.
In an article for The New York Times, Charles Figley, professor of disaster mental health at Tulane University, explained how for many, the towers were part of the fabric of daily life, near where people lived, worked, and went to school.
“You go into a combat zone and then you leave. You don’t leave home. You return all the time,” said Professor Figley.
9/11 Cancer Diagnoses Triple
In addition to carrying traumatizing memories with them, survivors and rescue workers also carry the deadly dust that was released into Lower Manhattan for months afterwards. The dust (largely made up of pulverized concrete and building materials) coated passerby and the insides of homes and offices nearby when the towers collapsed.
Dr. Michael Crane described the dust as a “witch’s brew.”
Dr. Michael Crane, director of the World Trade Center Health Program’s lead clinical center at Mount Sinai, described the dust as a “witch’s brew”: “What we do know is that it had all kinds of god-awful things in it. Burning jet fuel. Plastics, metal, fiberglass, asbestos. It was thick, terrible stuff.”
Studies show that the dust had high pH levels of 10 and 11 (7.4 is considered healthy). Even worse, ongoing fires at the site of Ground Zero continued to release toxic fumes in the air for months.
New Yorkers, however, were told the air and dust were safe. It was recommended that landlords and building owners professionally clean their properties, but it was never enforced.
These numbers, however, only reflect the patients who have enrolled in the federal health program, and are just the earliest wave of cancer diagnoses. Since it can take cancer 15 to 20 years to show symptoms, we are only seeing the first incidents.
Dust Inhalation Caused More Damage Than Years of Smoking
Immediately after the attacks, New Yorkers filled hospitals with difficulty breathing. The dust took such a toll on lungs that it gave birth to a deadly cough: the “World Trade Center cough” (WTC cough). The persistent cough is accompanied by breathlessness, wheezing, and often acid reflux and nasal congestion.
Since emergency workers were exposed to the dust for longer periods of time, they are particularly susceptible to WTC cough and other health complications. In 2004, researchers discovered that lungs of first responders were more damaged than longtime smokers. CT scans revealed dark spots where air was trapped in the lungs. Using a scale of 0 to 24 (with 24 being the worst) to rate the severity of the problem, researchers put a typical smoker’s lung somewhere between 0 and 4 and a 9/11 rescue worker at 10.55.
Since the attacks, it’s estimated that more than 32,000 in the disaster area have been diagnosed with asthma, COPD, and WTC cough. For many, survivors will have these chronic conditions for life.
Legal Options for 9/11 Victims and Survivors
Just this year, Congress pledged their support for 9/11 victims by amending the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, allowing victims and their families to sue Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in the terrorist attacks. If you have questions about your eligibility for a lawsuit, contact ClassAction.com today. We’ll answer your questions and provide you with a free, no-obligation legal review.
As one automaker’s polluting diesel scandal nears an end, another’s is just getting started.
In a major step towards resolving its ongoing diesel emission problems in the United States, Volkswagen recently agreed on a plan addressing 80,000 3.0-liter diesel vehicles.
Meanwhile, Chrysler faces allegations that it rigged Dodge diesel trucks to conceal illegally high emissions.
Owners of affected Volkswagen and Dodge vehicles can contact ClassAction.com to learn how to hold the automakers accountable.
VW Looks to Put Dieselgate in Rearview
Volkswagen, which earlier this year reached a $14.7 billion settlement over polluting 2.0-liter diesel cars, has struck a deal with U.S. regulators that resolves pollution issues in 80,000 Audi, Porsche, and Volkswagen 3.0-liter vehicles.
Although not yet official, Reuters reports that the 3.0-liter deal will mirror terms offered in the 2.0-liter settlement, offering owners a buyback or a fix (pending EPA approval).
The pollution problems in 2.0-liter and 3.0-liter Volkswagens are not identical. Smaller, 4-cylinder VWs, including TDI versions of the Golf, Jetta, and Passat, have software that registered permissible nitrous oxide emissions during testing but polluted at levels up to 40 times the legal limit on the road. Larger, 6-cylinder Porsche, Audi and VW cars and SUVs contain an undeclared emissions system that creates pollutants as much as nine times the legal limit.
Owners of 2.0-liter VWs have overwhelmingly opted for vehicle buybacks, an option which also provides a $5,100-$10,000 payment. VW will offer 3.0-liter owners significantly less compensation, say sources briefed on the matter.
Like the 2.0-liter settlement, the 3.0-liter settlement is expected to include billions of dollars in criminal and civil fines. Nearly one-third of the $14.7 billion 2-liter settlement will go toward remediating environmental harm.
Lawsuit Claims That Dodge Diesels Hide Emissions
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) became the first U.S. automaker hit with emissions cheating claims when it was sued by customers alleging their Dodge trucks have deceptively dirty engines.
A lawsuit accuses Dodge of breaking emissions laws and covering up the problem.
According to a lawsuit filed in Detroit, nearly 500,000 Dodge Ram diesel pickups from 2007 – 2012 emit nitrous oxide (NOx) pollutants as much as 14 times higher than the legal limit. Chrysler and its diesel partner Cummins Inc. are accused of concealing from the public an engine feature that does not break down NOx properly, allowing excess gasses to escape.
Not only does the flaw nearly double emissions, the lawsuit claims, it also reduces fuel efficiency and places excessive strain on the catalytic converter.
Chrysler and Cummings are accused of knowing about but not disclosing the engine flaws. The lawsuit says the alleged fraud resulted from the companies’ attempt to get out ahead of a 2001 regulatory change that cracked down on emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel engines. Their aggressive development efforts, owners say, caused the fraudulent design.
“We believe we have uncovered a deeply entrenched scheme,” said a plaintiffs’ lawyer.
Chrysler and Cummins deny any wrongdoing in the case.
Is Diesel Dead?
Whatever the outcome, the lawsuit casts further doubt on the concept of “clean diesel” technology and the reliability of emissions testing. Diesel cars made by Mercedes Benz, Renault, Nissan, Hyundai, Fiat, Volvo, Jeep, Mazda, and other automakers have all been accused of emitting significantly more pollution on the road than in the lab.
Diesel vehicles, which get better gas mileage than gasoline vehicles but produce more NOx, are more popular in Europe, where NOx standards are less strict. Only about 5 percent of U.S. passenger vehicles are diesel, compared to 80% in Europe.
The VW emissions cheating scandal (coupled with low gas prices) has fueled speculation that the U.S. market for diesel is dead, except for trucks.
The cancer-causing side effects of asbestos exposure are well known, but less known is that the mineral is still used and imported in the U.S.
Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that was commonly used in building materials (insulation, roof shingles, cement, etc.) for its durability and fire retardant properties. Cosmetic companies also used asbestos-laced talcum for its powder-like consistency.
Once research showed that asbestos caused cancer in the 1970s, its use sharply declined and it was restricted. However, the U.S. is still allowed to import asbestos and some products that have historically used the chemical are allowed to continue to do so.
Despite 10,000 pages of evidence showing the hazardous effects of the chemical, the asbestos industry shot down the proposed ban.
In 1989, the EPA attempted to ban asbestos. Despite 10,000 pages of evidence showing the hazardous effects of the chemical, the asbestos industry shot down the proposed ban in a federal appeals court.
Congress Pressures EPA to Review Asbestos
The failed ban is a symptom of an overly complex system that leaves the EPA at times powerless. Since the agency’s creation 40 years ago, only five chemicals have been banned and just a small percentage of the 62,000 chemicals on the market have been reviewed.
“The system was so complex, it was so burdensome, that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos, a known carcinogen.”
Said President Obama upon signing the amendment, “The system was so complex, it was so burdensome, that our country hasn’t even been able to uphold a ban on asbestos, a known carcinogen. I think a lot of Americans would be shocked by all of that.”
The EPA is scheduled to announce the first 10 chemicals for review in December. Since Congress singled out asbestos when creating this act, many hope it will be the EPA’s priority.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.) wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to consider asbestos as a priority chemical: “To build confidence in the agency’s ability to deliver meaningful results for our children and families, EPA must consider all forms of asbestos in this initial list of chemicals it acts on.”
Asbestos Exposure Can Lead to Mesothelioma Decades Later
Asbestos inhalation can severely damage the lungs, resulting in diseases like mesothelioma—a fatal form of cancer—years or even decades after exposure.
Mesothelioma is an extremely aggressive form of cancer. 10,000 Americans die from the disease every year. Though asbestos exposure can result in a host of medical conditions, mesothelioma is only caused by exposure to asbestos.
When asbestos fibers are inhaled, they stick inside the lungs for years. With each inhalation and exhalation, these fibers create abrasions that can eventually develop into cancerous tumors.
Who is at Risk?
Anyone who is exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing mesothelioma. However, those who were regularly in direct contact with asbestos materials are even more at risk. These groups include:
Veterans (especially from the U.S. Navy)
9/11 Rescue Workers Are Twice As Likely to Develop Mesothelioma
When the twin towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, the building materials released 2,000 tons of asbestos fibers into the air, creating a toxic dust that coated the Financial District.
While cleaning up the disaster zone and searching for bodies, first responders inhaled lethal amounts of asbestos, often with inadequate protection. It is estimated that 41,000 people in total were exposed to asbestos after the disaster.
Between the 1930s and 1970s, virtually every U.S. Naval ship contained several tons of asbestos, mostly in the ships’ insulation, pipes, and doors.
Now, veterans and Naval shipyard workers are paying the price. Though veterans only make up 8% of the U.S. population, they make up 30% of mesothelioma deaths.
In April of this year, a federal jury in Arizona awarded $17 million in damages to the family of the late George Coulbourn. Mr. Coulbourn worked at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, where he contracted mesothelioma.
In December of 2014, the family of a former Naval shipfitter received a similar verdict in their favor, totaling $20 million. The family sued the U.S. Navy’s boiler manufacturers for using asbestos in their materials.
Talcum-Based Products Used Asbestos Until the 1970s
Asbestos was also commonly found in Talcum-based products, like baby powder, shave talc, etc. prior to the 1970s. However, many mesothelioma diagnoses are just now being discovered.
If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma, you may be entitled to compensation. Many companies knew for decades that any exposure to asbestos was dangerous, yet they continued to endanger the health of workers and consumers.
Contact ClassAction.com today for a free, no-obligation legal review. Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for hundreds of mesothelioma victims across the United States.
Chemicals used in everyday products cost the United States more than $340 billion per year in health care and lost earnings, according to a new study.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals—found in consumer goods that include plastics, metal food cans, furniture, carpeting, toys, detergents, cosmetics, and pesticides—interfere with the body’s endocrine (hormone) system and contribute to developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune dysfunction.
Endocrine disruptors are linked to IQ points loss, autism, ADHD, diabetes, cancer, and more.
In the United States, the economic disease burden of endocrine-disrupting chemicals—which reflects direct treatment costs as well as indirect lost productivity costs—is estimated to be higher than in the European Union, where industrial chemicals are more tightly regulated. Endocrine disruptors cost the U.S. $340 billion per year (2.33% of GDP) and the European Union $217 billion per year (1.28% of GDP).
The greatest difference in U.S. vs. E.U. disease costs, say the study authors, comes from IQ points loss and intellectual disability due to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), a chemical blend used as a flame retardant on furniture. PBDE causes 43,000 annual cases of intellectual disability annually in the U.S., compared to 3,290 in the EU. Europe has restricted PBDEs since 2008.
Costs associated with organophosphates—chemical substances found in pesticides—are significantly lower in the United States ($42 billion) than in Europe ($121 billion). U.S. regulators are stricter about organophosphates than their European counterparts.
Other diseases linked to endocrine disruptors looked at in the study included autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and endometriosis.
“These findings speak to the large health and economic benefits to regulating endocrine-disrupting chemicals,” senior study author Dr. Leonardo Trasande told Reuters.
Researchers based U.S. data on endocrine-disrupting hormones found in blood and urine samples of patients in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and compared it to the results of an earlier European study.
Differences in U.S., EU Policy Underlie Exposure Disparity
Chemical policy in the United States operates differently in the European Union and helps explains why more people in this country are exposed to chemicals like endocrine disruptors.
“Adults and children in the U.S. carry more industrial chemicals in their bodies than their European counterparts simply due to differences in chemical policies,” public health researcher Joseph Allen of Harvard told Reuters.
European Union chemical policy endorses the precautionary principle, a burden of proof that does not require a substance to be proven absolutely safe. Rather, when the precautionary principle is invoked, a company may be required to prove the absence of danger. This allows potentially hazardous chemicals to be restricted even without a complete scientific evaluation. Only substantial, credible evidence of human or environmental health risks is needed to trigger regulatory action.
U.S. law, which does not formally endorse the precautionary principle, sets a much higher bar for proving a substance is safe. In the U.S., evidence of actual harm must generally be produced before regulatory action is taken.
“Our chemical policy largely follows the approach of our legal system – ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” said Joseph Allen. “This is appropriate for criminal justice policy but has disastrous consequences for health when used for chemical policy.”
Endocrine Disruptors Can Wreak Havoc on Bodies
There’s room for debate about whether European and American chemical regulations are significantly different in their overall outcomes. For example, the measured effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers and organophosphates in the E.U. and U.S. from the Lancet study show how regulators on each continent vary in their precautionary approaches to the same chemicals.
Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.
But there’s no debating the fact that endocrine disruptors pose significant health risks. Since the precise nature of those risks are still being studied, Americans are effectively acting as guinea pigs for the chemical industry.
What is known about endocrine disruptors is cause enough for concern. They’ve been linked to cancers, reproductive problems, early puberty, birth defects, kidney and thyroid disease, nervous system dysfunction, and other serious problems.
The prevalence of these chemicals in our bodies underscores their omnipresence. BPA—a chemical used in plastics that can cause cancer, obesity, and heart disease—has been found in 93% of Americans. Atrazine, used on U.S. corn crops and pervasive in drinking water, has been shown to feminize male frogs and is linked to several cancers.
Avoiding these chemicals therefore requires major lifestyle changes, such as eating organic, avoiding plastic food containers, and filtering drinking water.
The Environmental Working Group offers a free download that details twelve of the most prevalent endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.
On September 22, 2016, three Lithia, Florida residents (Nicholas Bohn, Natasha McCormick, and Eric Weckman) filed a class action lawsuit against Mosaic Fertilizer over the massive sinkhole that recently appeared in the area, leaking radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer.
The complaint—filed by our attorneys in partnership with New York-based firm Weitz & Luxenberg—seeks relief for water treatment and monitoring as well as property damage, and alleges that Mosaic “recklessly and negligently managed, operated and stored toxic radioactive wastewater produced from Defendants’ New Wales Facility.”
The plaintiffs also argue that Mosaic violated Florida’s Pollutant Discharge Prevention and Control Act and is likewise liable for an abnormally dangerous activity, nuisance, negligence, and gross negligence.
The plaintiffs brought the class action lawsuit on behalf of anyone similarly situated and affected by the Mosaic sinkhole, noting that roughly 5,000 people live within five miles of the sinkhole “who obtain their water from private wells and are impacted by the sinkhole.”
If you have been similarly impacted by the Mosaic sinkhole, contact us today. You may qualify for a lawsuit.
What Took Mosaic So Long to Come Clean?
On August 27, 2016, a 300-foot-deep sinkhole appeared at the Mosaic Fertilizer phosphate mine in Mulberry, Florida.
Nearly three weeks later, on September 15, Mosaic notified the public through its website. The massive sinkhole has since made headlines after leaking 215 million gallons of potentially radioactive water into the Floridan Aquifer—Florida’s main source of drinking water.
So why on earth didn’t Mosaic alert residents sooner? Why wait three weeks to break the story, while families drink and swim in this potentially toxic water?
Because they could.
Mosaic Was Not Legally Required to Disclose Leak
According to the Tampa Bay Times, a 2005 state law requires only that companies report contaminations to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) within ten days of learning about them. The DEP then has 30 days to notify residents who could be affected.
This is a stark change from 1994, the last time a sinkhole of this nature formed at the same site. Then, the public learned of the incident almost immediately and could respond accordingly—by testing their water, for example, or pursuing legal action.
In his apology for the three-week delay, Mosaic’s Senior Vice President of Phosphates Walt Precourt failed to explain why Mosaic felt Polk County residents didn’t deserve to learn of the leak sooner. Mr. Precourt said simply:
“I regret and apologize for not providing information sooner. We immediately took steps to remove as much water from the leaking process pond as possible and are now operating a recovery well to remove the rest of the water from the aquifer.”
Given Mosaic’s checkered past, the delay may come as no surprise.
Company Has Checkered Ethical History
In October 2015, the EPA reached a settlement with Mosaic over 60 billion pounds of toxic waste pollution. According to the EPA, Mosaic’s violations included the following:
Failure to make hazardous waste determinations for scrubber effluents, fluorosilicic acid-production wastes, product spills and leaks, and wastes from cleaning pipes and tanks;
Treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes without a permit or interim status;
Failure to perform land disposal determinations and to meet land disposal restrictions for hazardous wastes;
Failure to provide adequate financial assurance for closure, long-term care, and third-party liability; and
Failure to comply with record-keeping requirements
Under the settlement terms, Mosaic paid $1.8 billion and agreed to reduce and more safely store toxic waste at eight of its facilities—including the New Wales site where the new sinkhole appeared.
Mosaic agreed to “install advanced engineering controls that will mitigate future impacts from its phosphyogypsum stack systems” (such as the one where the Mulberry sinkhole formed).
Mosaic also “agreed to implement an estimated $1.2 million environmental project in Florida to mitigate and prevent certain potential environmental impacts associated with an orphaned industrial property located in Mulberry, Florida.”
Leak Will Cost Mosaic Upwards of $50 Million
A Mosaic executive says fixing the leak will cost $20-50 million. But that’s just a drop in the bucket to the largest fertilizer company in the world, one that generated $11.1 billion in revenue in 2012.
Instead of paying tens of millions of dollars to clean up its toxic messes, or paying billions of dollars in EPA penalties, why doesn’t Mosaic overhaul its operations to prevent these hazardous accidents in the first place?
Many of Mosaic’s EPA settlement terms from last year involved not just safety (e.g., preventing radioactive waste from leaking into Florida’s water supply) but transparency. The idea was not only to reduce toxic waste, but to be upfront in the event of a leak or spill so that agencies and residents could take the appropriate steps.
By keeping Floridians in the dark for three weeks about a potentially harmful leak, Mosaic has violated the spirit of that settlement if not the actual terms. It has also further eroded any remaining trust residents had in the company and the process of phosphate mining as a whole.
It will take more than free water bottles to regain that trust.
1. Which parts of East Chicago have been affected by the Calumet lead crisis? How broad is the contaminated area?
The contamination site encompasses the Calumet neighborhood of East Chicago. If you live outside of that neighborhood—in Whiting, for example—we haven’t been made aware of any environmental issues as yet.
However, there are 39 other areas in Indiana that have been tainted by hazardous waste and therefore designated “Superfund” sites by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can find a list of these locations here.
If you live in another part of Calumet, the EPA is now testing the soil and determining the best course of action. The Times of Northwest Indiana reports: “EPA has started to release soil sampling results to residents in zone 3, the eastern part of the neighborhood. EPA will begin cleanup at the most contaminated properties this fall, and work is expected to continue next spring.”
You should also receive free blood testing at the East Chicago Health Department or at Carrie Gosch to determine the lead levels in your blood and your children’s. According to Jennifer O’Malley, director of public affairs for the Indiana State Department of Health, anything above 5 micrograms per deciliter (5 μg/dL) is considered elevated.
(Infographic sources listed at bottom of page.)
3. Who is most vulnerable to lead poisoning?
“Children age six and under and pregnant women are the most vulnerable populations because of the way the brain develops,” Ms. O’Malley tells the Public News Service. “The brain actually starts developing in the womb, so we are most concerned about those younger children and pregnant women.”
4. How can I reduce my children’s exposure to lead?
Dr. Richard Troast, PhD—founder of Troast Environmental Consulting—offers the following advice for curbing the risk of lead poisoning:
Shortening the period of exposure may reduce the toxic effects. This can be accomplished by removing lead sources within the household. Lead paint can be removed, lead dust removed through intensive cleaning, and lead in soil through the use of ground cover to minimize the release of the dirt and lead into the home. Parents can move into lead-free residences. Generally, homes built after the ban of lead based paints [in 1978] will be safer than homes built prior. However, when in doubt, there are commercial certified contractors available to test the home.
Additionally, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) advises the following:
Don’t let children play in dirt or mulch
Wash children’s toys regularly
Wash children’s hands after they play outside
Remove shoes before entering homes
In Superfund sites like West Calumet Housing Complex, do not disturb mulch or dig/garden in yards
5. What can I do if a family member has an elevated level of lead in his or her blood?
See Question #4 for ways to reduce present and future lead exposure.
The Mayo Clinic states, “A level of 5 mcg/dL or higher indicates your child may have unsafe levels of lead in their blood and should have their blood tested periodically. If levels become too high—generally 45 mcg/dL or higher—your child should be treated.”
ClassAction will continue to investigate this crisis and keep you informed as news breaks. If you have been personally affected by the Calumet soil crisis, please feel free to share your story in the Comments section below this article.
Residents of the West Calumet Housing Complex in East Chicago, Indiana were advised in late July that due to dangerously high levels of lead and arsenic in the soil the complex would be demolished and they’d have to find new homes.
The extent of soil contamination is much higher than West Calumet residents—more than half of whom are children—were previously led to believe they were. The top six inches of soil in West Calumet yards have lead levels up to 30 times higher than the level considered safe for children, in addition to dangerous levels of arsenic. Initial testing shows that hundreds of children have excessive lead levels.
ClassAction.com is investigating the toxic soil scandal in West Calumet and determining how we can best help residents there. Stay in the know and protect your family by contacting us.
West Calumet sits atop the U.S. Smelter and Lead Refinery, Inc. Superfund site. From 1906 to 1985 a copper smelter, lead refinery, and lead smelter operated on the site. EPA has identified Anaconda/Atlantic Richfield, DuPont, and USS Lead as the sources of contamination.
EPA sought Superfund status for the site in 2008 and began initial soil testing that revealed some “hot spots,” EPA acting regional administrator for the Great Lakes region told the New York Times. Kaplan says EPA removed soil from these hot spots and did so again in 2011.
“Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”
In 2012 EPA had a plan in place to remove contaminated soil from 57% (723 out of 1271) of West Calumet properties. In 2014 EPA and the state of Indiana entered into a site cleanup agreement with Atlantic Richfield and DuPont.
But it wasn’t until May, when EPA gave lead and arsenic data to East Chicago city officials as part of the soil removal plan, that West Calumet residents learned just how toxic their soil is.
East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland, who upon obtaining the lead and arsenic data called for demolishing the housing complex rather than following the soil removal plan, accused EPA of withholding data about the levels of lead and arsenic contamination from the city.
“Despite the EPA’s knowledge for more than a decade of the unprecedented high levels of lead contamination in the soils, the EPA neither performed not requested testing of residents’ blood (lead) levels,” Copeland wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Instead, when the city became aware of the extremely high levels of lead in the soil on May 24, 2016, it immediately commenced testing. Preliminary results reveal that hundreds of children suffer from excessive levels of lead in their blood.”
Lead poisoning is of particular concern to children. West Calumet parents have described a range of symptoms in their children consistent with lead poisoning, including headaches, stomachaches, and nausea. Even low levels of lead exposure in children can irreversibly harm their developing brains and nervous systems.
ClassAction.com Looking into Legal Remedies
There are currently more questions than answers about West Calumet toxic soil. Residents wonder whether they’ll be able to afford new, safe housing and how they’ll help their poisoned children.
Ultimately, liability for the toxic West Calumet soil and resulting health issues lies with the companies that operated there for most of the 20th century.