DOW: STEALING OUR FUTURE
by Charlie Cray, Greenpeace Toxics Campaign
On May 15 of this year the Dow Chemical Company will celebratesits 100th anniversary. Dow's spin doctors have come up with anew slogan to mark the event: "Proud of Our Past, Committedto Our Future." The slogan resonates strongly with the titleof a recent book on dioxin and other endocrine disruptors, "OurStolen Future," written by Theo Colborn, a wildlife specialistwho has studied the effects of dioxin in the Great Lakes, whereDow is headquartered.
How Dow could possibly be proud of its past is an issue that comesimmediately to mind. Those of us who don't share the profits from$20 billion/year in revenues may be less selective in our memoriesthan the corporate spin doctors who invented this slogan.
Go to the Herbert H. Dow museum in Midland and you can see anexhibit which shows how Dow grew from humble entrepreneurial beginningsin Midland, Michigan where Herbert Dow began making bromine andchlorine from local brine deposits to today when the company operatesin 157 countries around the world. "Your products have affectedeveryone in the world, "the exhibit says. Indeed! Right nowthere isn't a person on the planet that doesn't carry dioxin intheir bodily tissues.
In any case, it would take a severe case of Vietnamnesia to beproud of a past when Dow-made Napalm was dropped on innocent villagerswho burned to death in horrible agony. It's also difficult toimagine how Dow could be proud that it and other manufacturersof Agent Orange left a generation of Veterans with a littany ofillnesses, or that their children and grandchildren may now besuffering from reproductive disorders, immune system deficiencies,and spina bifida. Is the company proud that it squeezed a fewmore years of profit out of delaying the day they had to stopmaking the components of Agent Orange (2,4,5-T and 2,4-D) whilepeople were being poisoned? Do sealed court settlements make abitter fog out of the memories utility workers have of the illnesseswhich they got from spraying 2,4,5-T in right-of-ways? Are Midlandemployees supposed to be proud of fact that Dow still makes 2,4-D(the other half of Agent Orange), one of the most commonly-usedherbicides on the market, known to be contaminated with dioxinand to cause cancer in pets?
Is the company proud of how Styrofoam and Saran Wrap (Dow brandproducts) now litter the landscape? Is the company proud thatit has had a long history of litigation because of defective productssuch as Sarabond, a mortar additive which the Wall Street Journalreported (3/21/89) was being blamed for weakening reinforced structuresand causing facades to peel away and bricks to plunge to the streetbelow. "As plaintiffs' lawyers see it," the Journalreported, "the case is about a company unwilling to turnaway from a product that it knew to be troubled but to which ithad committed considerable resources." A reccurent themewith Dow products over the past century.
Does the company feel at all embarrassed about "InformedConsent," the book which tells the tragic story of the Swansons(she a victim of Dow Corning's silicone implants and he a DowCorning executive famous for his work on developing a companyethics program)? There are so many of these Dow stories it's nowonder Dow hired its own historian for this important anniversary.It's likely the resulting book will forget many victims, suchas the scores of Costa Rican banana workers who were sterilizedby working with Dow's DBCP worm killer. Dow tried to block themfrom suing the company in the U.S. courts at the same time thatcorporate lobbyists were leaving literature touting "productstewardship" (along with hefty PAC checks?) with some ofthe same Congressmen they would later go back to for help passingtort "reform" legislation.
It's hard to imagine that the book will reveal the cigarette sciencebehind Dow-funded studies intended to deny the global sperm countdownreferred to in "Our Stolen Future" and continuouslyconfirmed by recent studies. How many of the people poisoned byDursban (chlorpyrifos) and incapable of now living normal livesbecause of their sensitivity to most types of chemicals will beinterviewed for the authorized corporate biography?
And what about the Dow legacy in the Great Lakes? Is Dow stillproud that they attempted to block an EPA study from coming outin the early 1980s which revealed that the Tittabawassee Riverwas one of the most dioxin contaminated places on earth? DoesDow forget its attempt to divert the dioxin debate away from itsoperations to volcanoes and forest fires (with the "TraceChemistries Theory of Fire")? Does Dow forget that shortlyafter it began publicizing this thesis, scientists from IndianaUniversity tested sediment cores in Lake Huron and Saginaw Bayand confirmed that "emission of dioxins and furans has increasedgreatly since 1940" when large-scale organochlorine production-- and the incineration of wastes from that production -- beganin Midland. (Jean Czuczwa and Ronald Hites, "EnvironmentalFate of Combustion-Generated Polychlorinated Dioxins and Furans,"Environ. Sci. Technol, 1984, 18, 444-450.) Does Dow forget thatit was shipping its dioxin-generating waste to a cement kiln innearby Alpena (brown trout fishing capital of the lakes), thesame year (1986) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found a deadbald eagle egg in the same area with 1065 parts per trillion TCDD(dioxin) equivalents -- the highest value ever recorded in wildlifesamples in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collections?
Instead of continuing to deny that dioxin causes cancer and otherproblems or that their chlorine-based operations are a major sourceof dioxin, the company is now trying to buy itself time with anew tactic. Dow claims it has set ambitious environmental goalsfor the future -- including 90% dioxin reduction from its majorplants in the next ten years. How it intends to do this withoutphasing out various chlorinated organic production lines remainsunclear (unless you don't count the dioxins captured in pollutioncontrol devices and buried in landfills, salt domes and otherpotentially leaky reservoirs). Does Dow seriously believe anyonetrusts this figure, given that it has yet to produce a baselinefigure to measure its progress by? Does Dow forget that the ChemicalManufacturers Association's own slogan is "Don't Trust Us,Track Us"? Will Dow apply the principles of "ResponsibleCare" and "product stewardship" to the dioxin that'sbeen spread globally or that's created in accidental fires involvingPVC products made from Dow-manufactured vinyl chloride?
Does Dow forget the "blob" -- the huge dry-cleaningfluid (perchloroethylene) spill which spread from its Sarnia plantacross the bottom of the St. Clair River in 1986? Can Dow forgetthat ten years later a Norwegian tanker spilled over 500 barrelsof the same Dow-manufactured chemical into a commercial fishingarea in the Gulf of Mexico? Or forget that Dow's Plaquemine, Louisianaplant poisoned the groundwater with massive amounts of vinyl chlorideand related chemicals? Perhaps Dow has forgetten Morrissonville,the poor African-American community which settled by the Mississippilong before Dow muscled its way in and forced them to relocatebecause of the pollution.
Does Dow think the people in Freeland, Michigan forget the toxictrain derailment in 1989 which forced them to evacuate their homesin the middle of the night?
Will the official Dow biography be a chlorinated whitewash orwill it be printed on totally-chlorine-free (TCF) paper, giventhat scientists at Radian, now a Dow subsidiary, once conducteda study with the EPA which suggested that TCF processes have lessimpact on the environment? Why doesn't Dow think of such greatthings when it can profit by them -- Dow makes a chelating agent-- Versene -- which can be used in TCF processes. Why did Dowsuggest that a proposed US EPA study of alternatives to chlorine(proposed after the IJC made its famous recommendation) was an"attempt to ban an element on the periodic table" whenit was already beginning to invest in alternatives to chlorine-basedpesticides and PVC plastics?
Why did Dow give up its aqueous cleaning business when the alternativesto "perc" and other chlorinated compounds are rapidlygaining market share because they outperform "perc"once one accounts for Superfund liabilities, occupational exposurecosts and other long-term costs of doing business with Dow?
Whose future is Dow committed to? Its employees? Then why doesDow lobby for OSHA "reform" (Wash. Post 7/24/95) anddisguise the cutbacks in its North American Workforce as partof a "global restructuring" strategy? MultinationalMonitor (10/95) asked why an agent of Dow Chemical had undertakentalks with managers of the infamous Shenyang Xinsheng ChemicalWorks, described as a forced labor prison camp. Is this in theinterest of Dow's workforce here?
If Dow is such a big promoter of Responsible Care ("Don'tTrust Us, Track Us") and other programs it suggests are intendedto protect human health and the environment, then why did Dow(via the Chemical Manufacturers Association) sue the US EPA toprevent it from adding chemicals to the Toxics Release Inventory-- the principle tool that the public and NGOs use in the U.S.to track the company's progress on waste reduction. If Dow wantsto operate in an open and responsible manner then why was Dowand its affiliates (e.g DowElanco) listed as supporting more corporatefront groups than any other single company in Essential Information'sreport, "Masks of Deception"?
As early as 1972, Carl A. Gerstacker, then the Chairman of DowChemical Company, confided to the White House Conference on theIndustrial World Ahead that he dreamed of buying "an islandowned by no nation" and on "such truly neutral ground"he would locate the world headquarters of Dow so that "wecould then really operate on the U.S. as U.S. citizens, in Japanas Japanese citizens, and in Brazil as Brazilians rather thanbeing governed in prime by the laws of the United States."Isn't it obvious that "Citizen Dow" wants to enjoy therights that the doctrine of corporate personhood grants the company,without the responsibilities that the rest of us have to pickup the tab for?
Dow may continue to deliver hefty profits to the company's shareholders,who for that reason may be proud of Dow's past and committed toits future. The rest of us are left with the challenge of figuringout how we can rightfully take back our own stolen future.
Greenpeace US Toxics Campaign
847 W. Jackson Blvd., 7th floor
Chicago, IL 60607
Ph: (312) 563-6060 x218
Fax: (312) 563-6099
Note new e-mail address: Charlie.Cray@dialb.greenpeace.org