Albion Monitor /News

Chemical Industry Gears up for Fight

by Pratap Chatterjee

(IPS) SAN FRANCISCO -- Chemical companies are quietly preparing their defense of synthetic substances which scientists have linked to falling sperm counts and rising cancer rates.

The U.S. government will soon publish a series of investigations into studies which show that many common synthetic chemicals could be major culprits in a number of new and serious health problems.

Dow Chemical and Shell Oil publish reports contradicting findings

Four months ago Penguin Books published "Our Stolen Future," which warned that humans, "in their relentless quest for dominance over nature, may be inadvertently undermining their own ability to reproduce or to learn and think." It addressed findings suggesting that synthetic chemicals may be responsible for as much as a 50 percent drop in male sperm counts in many countries and for startling increases in cancer rates.

Written by Theo Colborn of the World Wildlife Fund, Pete Myers of the W. Alton Jones Foundation and Dianne Dumanoski of the Boston Globe, the book focuses on such common chemicals as atrazine and DDT, as well as lesser known chemicals like dioxin, which is a by-product of certain industrial processes.

According to the authors of "Our Stolen Future," doses as low as one part in a trillion of these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system, including the hormones which govern reproduction and development.

The White House is to coordinate studies by eight government agencies on the impact of the chemicals. Coordination will proceed through a new body called the Endocrine Disruptor Research Coordination Committee.

The eight agencies that have studied the issues are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Biological Survey, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

In the meantime, industry is gearing up to repel any new attacks. Researchers from Dow Chemical and Shell Oil recently published studies which show that the use of more complex statistical models could lead to the conclusion that sperm count has been increasing -- not decreasing -- among men in cities like New York during the past 20 years.

Public relations firm targeted environmental groups

Industry-backed scientists say the effects of synthetic chemicals are minuscule.

Stephen Safe of Texas A & M University, whose work is partly funded by the Chemical Manufacturers Association, has published papers which say synthetic chemicals amount to less than one-thousandth of one percent of the amount of naturally occurring chemicals that have similar effects.

He told reporters here that a ban on synthetic chemicals could be dangerous to the economy.

"You could be talking about thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to get rid of some of these chemicals, all because of something that we have no compelling reason to believe is really a threat," he said.

By some accounts, industry began to gear up for battle about three years ago. That action came in response to a 1992 report by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a government body set up by Canada and the United States to study pollution in the Great Lakes. The report called for all chlorine-based chemicals to be phased out, and the appeal was endorsed by the American Public Health Association the next year.

But industry fought back. The Chemical Manufacturers Association set up the Chlorine Chemistry Council (CCC) in Washington in 1993, which in turn hired Jack Mongoven of the public relations firm Mongoven, Biscoe and Duchin, to target environmental groups.

Research on "lifestyle factors, such as diet, rather than chemicals"

According to Peter Montague, editor of Raches Environment and Health Weekly at the Environmental Research Foundation in Maryland, Mongoven's long-term strategy was to characterize the "phase-out-chlorine" position as a violation of industry's Constitutional right to do what they choose.

Noting that environment activists have used children's and women's organizations to publicize the dangers posed by industrial chemicals, Mongoven has suggested that the CCC try to counter the phase out.

"It is especially important to begin a program directed to pediatric groups throughout the country to counter activist claims of chlorine-related health problems in children," Mongoven wrote in a memo to the organization.

Industry efforts are now being coordinated by CCC and by the organization Endocrine Issues Coalition, which consists of the American Crop Protection Association, the Chemical Manufacturers Association, and the Society of Plastics Industry.

Another industry-funded organization working on these matters is the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology (CIIT) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which has just launched a three-year, $5 million research effort into how natural and synthetic chemicals affect the human hormone system.

Cancer toxicology research -- which traditionally took up two-thirds of its program -- is now making way for the study of non-cancer effects such as neurotoxicity and endocrine effects.

CIIT is funded by dues from about 40 member chemical companies, including DuPont, Dow Chemical, Exxon Chemical, General Electric, and Hoechst Celanese.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the powerful European chemical industry is also reacting. Players that have promised to research this matter include the European Chemical Industry Council's Endocrine Modulating Steering Group, which says it will spend up to $4 million in the next three years on the matter.

The organization intends to focus on "defining the extent to which observed health effects like declining sperm counts may be due to lifestyle factors, such as diet, rather than chemicals."

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Albion Monitor August 4, 1996 (

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