Poisoning the World: The Companies that Profit Big from Exporting Banned Chemicals

Circle of Poison

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about the US export of toxic pesticides that are banned in the US. This is ironic. Despite these domestic bans, heavy dependence on food imports means that most Americans end up ingesting these toxins in imported produce. In fact the only way Americans can avoid pesticide-laden food is to buy certified organic food from local farmers.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order banning the export of toxic pesticides. The order was revoked by Reagan a few months after his inauguration.

The US controls 75% of the global pesticide market via five notorious companies: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow and BSAF. Although Bayer, Syngenta and BSAF are European companies, they produce their toxic pesticides in the US, where export regulations are more lax (ie non-existent). The pesticide industry has one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington. Thanks to the courage of Democratic Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate has passed several bills banning pesticide exports. However because members face re-election every two years, they have no hope whatsoever of winning in House.

Most of the film concerns the epidemic of cancer and horrendous birth defects in India, Mexico, Argentina and other countries that continue to use US-produced pesticides that are banned in the global North.

Surprisingly it ends on an optimistic note with news about the growing organic food movement in Argentina, Kerala India and Bhutan. Rather than pressuring their governments to ban toxic pesticides, activists are learning chemical-free organic soil building techniques. In doing so, they also significantly increase their yields. In replacing monoculture techniques with crop diversity, organic farming methods are far more productive per unit land than traditional agriculture.

The full video can be viewed for free at the Al Jazeera website: Circle of Poison

Chevron vs the Amazon

Chevron vs the Amazon

Abbey Martin (2016)

Film Review

 

Chevron vs the Amazon is an Abbey Martin documentary about Texaco-Chevron’s deliberate dumping of oil and toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and the vicious dirty tricks they have engaged in to avoid responsibility for cleaning it up.

Texas began drilling for oil in Ecuador in 1964, under a US-installed dictatorship that agreed not to regulate their activities. The amount of oil they spilled into the Amazon was 1700 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and 140 times that of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Indigenous groups filed suit for the extensive damage to their water, health and livelihoods in 1993, a year after Texaco abandoned their Ecuadoran well sites. Texaco settled this first suit by agreeing to a phony remediation scheme that never happened.

Part 1 consists of great footage of the vast amount of oil remaining in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and interviews with indigenous Ecuadorans whose entire families have been devastated by the health effects (cancer, leukemia, rashes, miscarriages, birth defects) of the contaminated water they are forced to drink.

Part 2 provides background to the second class action lawsuit brought against Texaco by 30,000 indigenous residents – the largest environmental lawsuit in history. Texaco has a really ugly human rights history, beginning with the bankrolling of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco and illegal provision of oil, financial support and secret intelligence to Hitler and Mussolini. After losing a series of punitive lawsuits over its environmental crimes, they were forced to merge with Chevron in 2000.

The latter has its own history of human rights and environmental crimes in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Cameroons, Equatorial Guinea and Richmond California.

After fighting the suit for eight years in US courts, Chevron eventually won a court ruling that that the suit had to be tried in Ecuador instead. When it was re-filed in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in blackmail, extortion, bribery, illegal surveillance, “judicial terrorism” (bringing 30 lawsuits against oil spill victims for “racketeering”), and “financial terrorism” (suing all the non-profit groups supporting the indigenous plaintiffs).

In 2011 the Ecuadoran plaintiffs ultimately won their suit for $9.6 billion – a ruling confirmed by Ecuador’s supreme court. Instead of paying up, Chevron forced them to file suit in various countries where Chevron has financial assents (including Canada, Brazil and Argentina). A 2016 ruling in US court makes it illegal for Ecuador to file a claim against Chevron’s US holdings.

Part 3 explores the long history of US economic colonization in Latin America (on behalf of Wall Street corporations) via direct military intervention, the installation of puppet dictators and the paramilitary death squad terrorism carried out through Henry Kissinger’s notorious Operation Condor. All this has changed with the 2007 election of Rafael Correa (who granted Julian Assange asylum in London’s Ecuadoran embassy).

At present Chevron seek to perpetuate their economic imperialism via a secret World Bank tribunal in the Hague. There 20 hand picked corporate “judges” have found that the successful lawsuit against Chevron retroactively violates of the 1997 US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (Texaco-Chevron left Ecuador in 1992) and ordered Ecuador to pay Chevron $112 million in damages.

2017 update: In March 2017 lawyers representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs have petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn the flawed (by bribery and corruption) racketeering conviction  against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their lawyers. (See Chevron in Ecuador )

Fluoridegate

Fluoridegate: An American Tragedy

Directed by Dr David Kennedy DDS (2012)

Film Review

Fluoridegate is about the blatant corruption in Washington DC, particularly the EPA, that allows the continued poisoning of local water supplies with the industrial toxin hydrofluorosilic acid (aka “fluoride”).

The last decade has produced an abundance of peer reviewed research establishing unequivocally that chronic exposure to fluoridated water causes osteoporosis, decreased IQ and other neurodevelopmental problems, hypothyroidism, birth defects, cancer and dental and skeletal fluorosis. All the pertinent federal agencies (EPA, FDA, CDC) acknowledge that 1) using fluoridated water in kidney dialysis can be lethal and 2) using fluoridated water to dilute formula causes serious fluoride toxicity in infants. Yet there is absolutely no effort to warn the public of these dangers.

The documentary highlights the case of Dr William Marcus, the former chief toxicologist at the EPA’s Office of Drinking Water. In 1994, Marcus was fired after a colleague leaked one of his reports to the media identifying fluoride as a probable carcinogen. In the wrongful dismissal suit Marcus filed, he established that the EPA had engaged in perjury, forgery and witness tampering in their efforts to destroy his career and reputation. The court rescinded the dismissal and awarded him back pay, damages and all legal fees.

Last year the US Department of Health and Human Services reduced their maximum recommended fluoride level for drinking water from 1.2 parts per million to 0.7 parts per million. This despite volumes of research indicating there is no safe level of chronic fluoride exposure – just as there is no safe level of lead or mercury exposure.

The primary source of fluoride used in public drinking water is hydrofluorosilic acid, a toxic byproduct of the fertilizer industry. Prior to the decision to add “fluoride” to drinking water in the 1950s, exposure of this extremely toxic chemical was a major headache for car makers and the aluminum and chemical industry. For more background on the conspiracy Alcoa, Dupont, GM and propaganda specialist Edward Bernays cooked up to dump it in our water (by telling us it was good for our teeth) see Ending Water Fluoridation: One We Can Win

Nearly all of Europe, except for the UK, has banned the use of fluoride in drinking water. In 2011, I and 60 other members of Fluoride Free New Plymouth successfully campaigned to have fluoride removed from our water.

Residents of over 100 US communities have successfully ended water fluoridation. For a full list see link.

British ObGyns Speak Out on Toxic Exposures

pregnancy

New British Recommendations for Pregnant Women

In May 2013, Britain’s the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) recommended that pregnant and nursing women minimize or eliminate their use of canned and plastic wrapped food and commercial household and beauty products. Thus in addition to avoiding prescription drugs and shellfish, pregnant and nursing women should avoid processed food and the use of commercial personal care products such as sunscreens, moisturizers, fragrances, shower gels, hair sprays and shampoo. The RCOG also strongly cautions against the use of commercially manufactured baby lotions, powders and shampoos, as they commonly contain phthalates.

The RCOG published their recommendations in a scientific impact paper titled Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy. Unfortunately American women missed out on these important recommendations, as the US corporate media gave it a miss.

Already Implicated in Cancer and Infertility

British obstetricians are chiefly concerned about the endocrine disruptors contained in these products. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical with the potential to interfere with one or more hormone systems in the body. Obviously women’s hormone systems play critical roles in normal fetal development. Endocrine disruptors that behave like estrogens (female hormones) are already implicated in epidemic levels of breast and prostate cancer and infertility (i.e. low sperm counts). See Buyer Beware: Are Americans Systematically Poisoning Themselves. They’re also linked to birth defects.

 The Precautionary Principle

The beauty industry is a multibillion dollar global business, and the British obgyns are a lot more courageous than their American counterparts. I’m still waiting for the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists to challenge the Susan G Komen Foundation for allowing Avon, which refuses to sign the Compact for Safe Cosmetics, to hijack their Pink Ribbon Campaign for breast cancer research (see The Corporatization of Breast Cancer).

The RCOG justifies their position based on the growing body of research linking common chemical exposures to birth defects and developmental problems. Thus following the Precautionary Principle, British obstetricians argue that use of these products should be minimized or eliminated until they are proven safe.

 The main chemicals that concern the RCOG are

  • DDT and PCBs (currently banned in the US, these chemicals continue to be used in the third world and persist in the food chain, particularly in oily fish). Recommendation: pregnant and nursing women should reduce their intake of oily fish to no more than once a week.
  • Phthalates and bisphenol A (found in plastic containers, the lining of cans and numerous personal care products). Recommendation: eliminate or greatly reduce consumption of food and beverages sold in cans or plastic containers and use of commercially manufactured sunscreens, moisturizers, fragrances, shower gels, hair sprays and shampoos.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDES) used in flame retardants and perfluorinated compounds (PFCS) used to make materials waterproof and stain-resistant. Recommendation: pregnant and nursing women avoid purchasing new furniture, fabrics, non-stick frying pans and automobiles

The impact paper also recommends avoiding the following substances:

  • Over the counter pain killers
  • Chemical insecticides and fungicides (e.g. products that kill mold)
  • Liver and other sources of Vitamin A (Vitamin A toxicity in the fetus can also cause birth defects)

 Alternatives?

For women (and men concerned about cancer and maintaining their sperm count) who need alternatives to commercial household and beauty products, it’s amazingly simple (and cheap) to produce safe and effective homemade alternatives with a food processor and traditional ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar, bar soap and calcium carbonate. I will post some easy recipes next week.

photo credit: Espen Klem via photopin cc

Buyer Beware: Are Americans Systematically Poisoning Themselves

cosmetics

The US has the worst record in the industrialized world for regulating toxic chemicals. Thanks to the stranglehold powerful corporate lobbies have on Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), millions of Americans may be systematically poisoning themselves with common household products, toiletries and cosmetics.

At present, Americans are at highest risk from endocrine disruptors found in soft plastic and most commercial cleaning and beauty products. These are chemicals that mimic estrogen and other hormones in their effect on the human body. Many epidemiologists believe they are linked to the current epidemic of breast cancer, premature puberty, birth defects, and both male and female infertility. What many people forget is that cancer was an extremely rare condition prior to World War II and the appearance of hundreds of synthetic chemicals on the scene.

The dangerous phalates and bisphenyl-A found in plastic water bottles, pacifiers, and baby toys have been fairly well publicized (I hope.). There seems to be less public awareness that nearly all commercial shampoos, hand and body lotions, deodorants, toothpaste, and sunscreen contain preservatives that function as estrogen-like endocrine disruptors. The US bans only eight of these compounds. In contrast the EU bans more than 1,000.

In addition to causing harm to people who use them, these toxic endocrine disruptors accumulate in waterways when they’re flushed down the drain. Indigenous populations in both the third world and the Arctic are found to have hundreds of these toxic chemicals in their blood stream and breast milk even though most of them have never even heard of Right Guard or Colgate toothpaste.

Parabens: the Worst Offenders

One of the worst offenders is the paraben class of compounds (mostly found as methyparaben or PABA), which is used as a preservative in nearly all commercial toiletries. The second most common is triclosan, found in numerous so-called antibacterial products, including the following:

  • Neutrogena Deep Clean Body Scrub Bar
  • Lever 2000 Special Moisture Response Bar Soap, Antibacterial
  • CVS Antibacterial Hand Soap
  • Dial Liquid Soap, Antibacterial Bar Soap
  • Softsoap Antibacterial Liquid Hand Soap
  • Cetaphil Gentle Antibacterial Cleansing Bar
  • Clearasil Daily Face Wash
  • Clean & Clear Oil Free Foaming Facial Cleanser
  • Dawn Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Ajax Antibacterial Dish Liquid
  • Colgate Total Toothpaste
  • Right Guard Sport Deodorant
  • Old Spice Red Zone, High Endurance and Classic Deodorants
  • Vaseline Intensive Care Antibacterial Hand Lotion

Toxic Nanoparticles

Even less well publicized are potentially toxic “nanosized” particles present in many popular sunscreens and so called “natural” mineral foundations. (See 2010 Friends of the Earth study and recent article by Terence Newton linking nanoparticles with DNA damage and cancer.)

Nanoparticle containing skin products are strictly regulated in the UK and Europe, where laws require mandatory safety testing and labeling. In the US, the FDA, which has known for nearly a decade that common sunscreens contain ingredients that accelerate the growth of skin cancer cells. Yet they still refuse to act on this information.

Nanoparticles are absorbed into the blood stream through skin damaged through eczema or psoriasis, a major health concern as mineral foundations are specifically marketed to women to conceal unsightly dermatitis. Some studies show that mineral foundation powders are inhaled into the lungs during application. Others suggest that nanoparticles penetrate healthy skin.

Not only are these substances totally unregulated in the US , but due to lax labeling laws, 80 percent of sunscreens that claim to be free of nanoparticles are found, on testing, to contain them.

Hair Dyes

Over fifty million American women, as well as an increasing number of men, dye their hair on a regular basis. Many start in early adolescence, resulting in cumulative, lifelong exposure to some extremely toxic substances:

  • Phenylenediamine (PPD) – present in over two-third of chemical hair dyes and by far the most toxic. Linked (in animals) to damage of the immune and nervous system, skin, liver and kidneys. Banned in France , Germany , and Sweden and use “restricted” in Canada .
  • Resorcinal – classified by the European Union as a harmful skin and eye irritant and dangerous to the environment.
  • Ammonia – irritant to skin, eyes, and respiratory system (can cause asthma).
  • Peroxide – potential toxic effects on eyes, nervous and respiratory (can cause asthma) system. Can cause DNA damage, possibly leading to cancer. Banned in cosmetic use in Japan and use “restricted” in Canada.
  • 4-ABP – linked to cancer

Many so-called “natural” hair dyes also contain some PPD, but in lower concentrations. As with other toiletries and beauty products described above, checking labels is essential, or better still doing a little Internet research to find a safer alternative.

Dangerous Chemicals in Household Cleaners

AIR FRESHENERS – usually contain methoxychlor, a pesticide that accumulates in fat cells, as well as formaldehyde, a highly toxic, known carcinogen, and phenol, a common culprit in contact allergies.

CARPET AND UPHOLSTERY SHAMPOO – commonly contain perchlorethylene, a known carcinogen, and ammonium hydroxide, a corrosive, extremely irritable to eyes, skin and respiratory passages.

DISHWASHER DETERGENTS (number one cause of household poisoning) – commonly contain highly concentrated dry form of chlorine, which leaves a residue on dishes that accumulates with each washing and is absorbed into hot food.

FURNITURE POLISH contain petroleum distillates, which can cause skin and lung cancer and nitrobenzene, linked with low sperm counts, anemia and liver, kidney, lung and eye damage.

LAUNDRY detergents contain the following chemicals (which remain as residue in clothes, as well as being released into waterways):

  • Petroleum distillates (aka napthas) – linked to cancer, lung damage and inflammation (can cause asthma) and damage to mucous membranes.
  • Phenols – linked with damage to nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs (can cause asthma) and kidneys.
  • Nonyl phenol ethoxylate – endocrine disruptor banded in Europe, owing to link to breast cancer, premature puberty and low sperm counts.
  • Optical brighteners (convert UV light wavelengths into visible light, making clothes appear whiter without making them cleaner) – toxic to fish and can cause allergic reactions when exposed skin is later exposed to sunlight.
  • Phosphates (banned in many states) – contribute to water “dead zones” by stimulating algae growth that depletes oxygen needed for fish and other animal life.
  • Sodium hypochlorite (household bleach) – highly toxic chemical which reacts with organic materials in the environment to form carcinogenic and toxic compounds that can cause reproductive, endocrine and immune system disorders.
  • EDTA (ethylene-diamino-tetra-acetate) – chelating agent that biodegrades poorly and can re-dissolve toxic heavy metals in the environment, allowing them to enter the food chain.

OVEN CLEANERS – contain highly toxic and corrosive lye and ammonia with fumes that can damage the respiratory system (especially of small children and pets) and which leave residue that is vaporized when the oven is turned on.

TOILET BOWL CLEANERS contain hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive irritant which can damage skin, eyes, kidneys and liver; and hypochlorite bleach, a corrosive irritant that can damage eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

 

photo credit: Nikita Kashner via photopin cc