Monday, October 8, 2012

Engineering Consent by the Toxic Industries

Efforts by industry groups to hide, deny, and trivialize research on the health and environmental effects of chemicals and radiation can be documented from the 1930s onward when the paint industry used images of children in its paint advertising to persuade the public that lead in paint posed no health problems.
Read about the history of the paint industry and the efforts of doctors and scientists to prove that leaded paint causes developmental and intellectual problems in children:
A couple of days ago Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times about industry efforts to suppress scientific findings on the health effects of formaldehyde:
Op-Ed Columnist The Cancer Lobby By Nicholas Kristof. Published: October 6, 2012 The New York Times

[Excerpted] The chemical industry is working frantically to suppress that scientific consensus — because it fears “public confusion.” Big Chem apparently worries that you might be confused if you learned that formaldehyde caused cancer of the nose and throat, and perhaps leukemia as well.

The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is....
The chemical industry is represented in Washington by the American Chemistry Council, which is the lobbying front for chemical giants like Exxon Mobil, Dow, BASF and DuPont. Those companies should understand that they risk their reputations when they toy with human lives....
....The American Chemistry Council is also trying to undermine scientific reviews by the Environmental Protection Agency. You can say this for our political system: Even carcinogens have an advocate in Washington! 
Majia here: The report that the chemical industry wants to censor can be found here (with an excerpt from the introduction):

Report on Carcinogens 12th Edition

[Excerpted] The probability that a resident of the United States will develop cancer at some point in his or her lifetime is 1 in 2 for men and 1 in 3 for women (ACS 2010). Nearly everyone’s life has been directly or indirectly affected by cancer. 

Most scientists involved in cancer research believe that the environment in which we live and work may be a major contributor to the development of cancer (Lichtenstein et al. 2000). 

In this context, the “environment” is anything that people interact with, including exposures resulting from lifestyle choices, such as what we eat, drink, or smoke; natural and medical radiation, including exposure to sunlight; workplace exposures; drugs; socioeconomic factors that affect exposures and susceptibility; and substances in air, water, and soil (OTA 1981, IOM 2001). 

Other factors that play a major role in cancer development are infectious diseases, aging, and individual susceptibility, such as genetic predisposition (Montesano and Hall 2001). We rarely know what environmental factors and conditions are responsible for the onset and development of cancer; however, we have some understanding of how some types of cancer develop, especially cancer related to certain occupational exposures or the use of specific drugs.

Many experts firmly believe that much of the cancer associated with the environment may be avoided (Tomatis et al. 1997).
Majia here: The problem with our current regulatory system is it fails to adequately ASSESS and then REGULATE harms, including delayed harms and subtle effects such as genomic instability.
In 1976 some sixty-two thousand chemicals were grandfathered into the market with the passage of the Toxic Substance Control Act, with no testing or review. These included thousands of potentially highly toxic substances, including the likes of ethyl benzene, a widely used industrial solvent suspected of being a potent neurotoxin; whole families of synthetic plastics that are potential carcinogens and endocrine disrupters; and thousands of other substances for which there was little or no information.” (
Additionally, tests for chemical and radiation safety are conducted in limited time frames (e.g., 24-96 hours). The animals are often killed promptly after the tests in order to analyze their tissues. The limited time frame of exposure and the immediate killing of the animal subjects preclude analysis of long term effects from exposure across time. 
Consequently, laboratory analyses of chemical and radiation safety produce results that are not generalizable to the real world.
Furthermore, laboratory analysis does not address BIO-ACCUMULATION and does not address SYNERGY EFFECTS across chemicals present in living organisms.
Each of us have bio-accumulated chemicals and radionuclides (uranium, plutonium, radio cesium) in our bodies across our lifespans. Furthermore, we have inherited genetic damage from chemicals and radiation from our parents.
Unlike laboratory animals whose environments have been carefully controlled, in the real world our bodies already carry chemical and radiological burdens and the genetic legacy of our parents' burdens.
Therefore, there may be biological effects in human bodies rendered vulnerable by their toxic loads and by their already existing genetic damage that are not replicable in lab rats that have spent generations in controlled laboratory conditions.
Finally, most laboratory studies on chemical and radiation safety presumes a safe threshold under which exposures are safe. The reason industry paid scientists can claim a safe threshold is that they typically restrict their tissue analysis to SHORT TERM cellular changes, rather than genomic ones.
Finally, the chemical industry ENGINEERS CONSENT among the public by:

–Delegitimizing Opponents and Their Arguments

–Hiring Their Own Scientists to Cast Doubt on Environmental Findings

–Arguing that Costs of Regulation Outweigh Benefits

–Lobbying for Exceptions and Exclusions

–Ensuring “revolving door” between industry and government

–Promoting industry friendly “corporate environmentalism” through philanthropy and front groups

–Greenwashing via PR and advertising


  1. You nailed it again Majia

  2. There are several issues contributing to this:

    1. Science is not easy. Sometimes the more we know, the more we find out we don't know. However investors and the public want answers - definitive ones. Sometimes all you have is an educated guess, and some scientists are better educated than others. Really smart people sometimes sound less definitive than folks who are willing to compromise themselves and sound definitive.

    2. Pure science doesn't pay the bills. From the time of the alchemists, the people with money pay for the results they want, rather than the truth. Ask Nasa, which ran out of "science" to do in space a long time ago, and has had trouble articulating its value to the people.

    3. Most people's eyes glaze over when they hear about science - so the scientist can tell them anything, as long as it sounds scientific, and they might just believe it. This allows people who don't understand science to be scientists.

    A true scientist isn't wedded to an outcome - he/she is wedded to the truth. If they are studying something, and it turns out not to be true - they have to admit it; first to themselves, which can be difficult, then to everyone else. What I'm finding is that too many scientists are employed in order to preserve a specific outcome - whether it is accurate or not. If you know that your income stream is dependent on a certain outcome then you are not very free to find the truth.

    This is the problem you have with industrial scientists - whether it's paint, or cigarettes or pharmaceuticals or nuclear power.

    It's not easy to stand up for what you believe. It means sometimes you'll have to quit your job and go somewhere else - perhaps with some loss of face - however scientists must be willing to do this.