Secrets,” Cancer, and the Environment
the Bill Moyers Program “Trade Secrets” Revealed
Sheppard is a retired Business Representative of Painters Local 4 in San
Francisco, a lifelong socialist and social activist. In 1995, he became a victim
of occupational cancer due to his 31 years as a working painter. In the course
of doing the scientific research to win his workers compensation lawsuit, he
became more aware of the destruction of the environment and the hazards of work.
Since then, he has been actively writing about the environment and
occupational health and safety issues since 1998.]
March 26, 2001, a “Bill Moyers Special” television program on PBS (the
Public Broadcasting System), entitled “Trade Secrets,” documented the
chemical industry's conspiracy of silence and refusal to properly inform
hundreds of thousands of workers about the risks of cancer and other diseases
associated with the manufacturing of vinyl chloride (VC) and its polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) product.
program was based on a Houston Chronicle article written by Jim Morris in 1998,
with the headlines “Rules for hazardous chemicals evolve slowly/ Industry
challenges frustrate regulation.”
to www.mycounsel.com, “A ‘trade secret’ is any piece of information used
in a business that isn’t generally known to the public. This is valuable
because the information is kept secret. Trade secret law can apply to a broad
variety of information, including formulas, patterns, business plans, designs,
and procedures. The law provides some protection against others from
misappropriating, or improperly obtaining, your secret.” Companies in the
chemical industry have applied “Trade Secret Protection” to their studies of
health effects caused by the chemicals they produce.
these “Trade Secrets,” or “Smoking Guns” do not become known until a
successful lawsuit is filed against a company and their files are opened.
was the case with the tobacco companies, and this was also the case with the
manufacturers of vinyl chloride. The PBS show made it clear that the drive for
profits superseded precaution for workers lives in particular and life in
show was a good introduction to the hazards of capitalist production. It
demonstrated the endemic problems of capitalist production and its effects on
the environment. It will help increase the general awareness of the causes of
cancer and other diseases. However, the program only showed the “tip of the
iceberg” about the daily catastrophe of production for profit at the expense
of human lives and the future of humanity.
chemical industry is well aware of the environmental health consequences of its
products. The following is from “Environmental Illness Briefing Paper”
published by the Chemical Manufactures Association, Washington, D.C. (1990).
is no doubt these patients are ill...and deserving of compensation,
understanding and expert medical care...The primary impact on society would be
the huge cost associated with legitimization of environmental illness.”
conclusion in the above statement is absolutely correct. There is currently a
huge cost in human life and the pursuit of happiness. The cost they talk about
are the huge costs, in compensation for victims of chemical diseases, if all of
the “Trade Secrets” become public knowledge, forcing the recognition and “legitimization
of environmental illness”!
reality, “Trade Secrets” only get exposed after a sufficient number (“body
count”) of workers and others die from a common exposure to a chemical. The
increase in cancer begins with the expansion and development of the chemical
industry since World War II. The development and production of synthetic organic
chemicals, used in everyday life in the United States, has increased over 100
fold since World War II. The increase has been geometric, doubling every seven
to eight years. In the United States, by the late 1980s, production had reached
over 200 billion pounds per year. Many of these new compounds and medicines have
been to the benefit of humanity.
only approximately 3 percent of these chemicals have been tested for their
toxicity and potential long-range harm. Under the banner of “Better Living
Through Chemistry,” life and production changed. The “miracle fiber”
asbestos was used everywhere and everything was dusted with DDT. Twenty years
after their introduction, the death toll from cancer caused by these two
substances began to come in.
her book Living Downstream, Sandra Steingraber wrote:
1964, two senior scientists at the National Cancer Institute, Wilhelm Hueper and
W.C. Conway, wrote, ‘cancers of all types and all causes display, even under
already existing conditions, all the characteristics of an epidemic in slow
motion.’ The unfolding epidemic was being fueled, they said in 1964, by ‘increasing
contamination of the human environment with chemical and physical carcinogens
and with chemicals supporting and potentiating their action.’
yet the possible relationship between cancer and what Hueper and Conway called
‘the growing chemicalization of the human economy’ has not been pursued in
any systematic, exhaustive way....
countries have far more cancers than countries with little industry (after
adjusting for age and population size). One-half of all the world’s cancers
occur among people living in industrialized countries, even though such people
are only one-fifth of the world’s population. From these data, WHO (the World
Health Organization) has concluded that at least 80 percent of all cancer is
attributable to environmental influences.”
of the most alarming factors is that the original safety standards that the
Occupation Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) adopted in 1971 were the
standards set by a private organization called the American Conference of
Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). The ACGIH is a group composed of
industrial hygienists from state and local governments, plus academics and
industry consultants. From that point on it has been nearly impossible to
improve the standards to protect lives.
the late 1970s, OSHA administrators estimated that the agency’s proposed
legislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates. Since all such
regulations are a battle between businesses with their “Trade Secrets” and
science independent of corporations, the proposed legislation to eliminate 20
percent of all cancers was never approved by the capitalist politicians.
fact, the current “body count” is that over 40 percent of the people in the
United States will get cancer. Such is the tragedy of “Trade Secrets.”
most glaring example is the occupational environment, where workplaces have
become “killing fields.” In the United States, in 1990 the American Public
Health Association estimated that at least 350,000 workers get occupational
diseases (cancer, etc.) and 50,000 workers will die each year from these
diseases. Given the steady decline in
occupational health, these estimates are now most likely much higher!
workers and agricultural workers all have higher rates of cancer and other
diseases because they receive higher doses of the toxic chemicals at the
workplace than the rest of the population. Eventually, these toxins spread to
the entire working class as they become part of the environment.
example of this fact is the population living “downwind” from the many oil
refineries in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area. People living
near these refineries have very high rates of cancer. In EPA terms, this is
called a “cancer cluster.” The EPA, in its corporate manner, determined that
the high rates of cancer was caused by high rates of smoking in the area and not
from the refineries’ carcinogenic pollutions!
However, under the rules of Proposition 65 in California and after
several years of litigation, the Gasoline Refining Industry had to post this
warning in the February 24, 1999, issue of the San Francisco Chronicle:
Chemicals known to the State to cause cancer, birth defects, or other
reproductive harm are found in gasoline, crude oil, and many other petroleum
products and their vapors, or result from their use. Read and follow label
directions and use care when handling or using all petroleum products.
known to the State to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm
are found in and around gasoline stations, refineries, chemical plants, and
other facilities that produce, handle, transport, store, or sell crude oil and
petroleum and chemical products.
facilities covered by this warning include, for example, oil and gas wells, oil
and gas treating plants, petroleum and chemical storage tanks, pipeline systems,
marine vessels and barges, tank trucks and tank cars, loading and unloading
facilities, and refueling facilities.”
contradiction between the social need for environmental and health protection
and the inadequate functioning of government agencies is part and parcel of the
overall problem highlighted by “Trade Secrets.” By keeping most of the old
pre-OSHA standards and by not even enforcing the regulations that exist due to
understaffing and underfunding, the government regulatory agencies are not
protecting workers or the public; they are protecting the polluters who are
following is an article that I wrote on this subject that was published in The
Voice, the newspaper of San Francisco Painters District Council #8's, as
well as in Organized Labor, newspaper of the San Francisco Building and
Construction Trades Council.
Painters Should Wear Respirators and Skin Protection At All Times
our safety classes you are taught to read “MSDS sheets.”
For prevention of cancer, these sheets are of no value.
The reason is that NIOSH, the scientific part of OSHA, does not set the
permissible legal (OSHA) limits of particles in the air while you are working.
From the following examples from the 1994 NIOSH Pocket Guide To
Chemical Hazards, one can see what is wrong with OSHA.
|Substance||NIOSH PEL||OSHA PEL|
|Benzene||.1 ppm||1 ppm|
|Ethylene Oxide||.1 ppm||1 ppm|
|Formaldehyde||.0165 ppm||.75 ppm|
Page 342 of the Pocket Guide: “NIOSH
has not identified thresholds that will protect 100% of the population.
NIOSH usually recommends that occupational exposures to carcinogens be
limited to the lowest feasible concentration.”)
these facts about two known carcinogens and one probable carcinogen, common in
paints, one can tell that OSHA can not prevent occupational cancer. Especially
for painters, who are exposed to over 150 known and suspected carcinogens and
over 3,000 hazardous substances daily. As you can see, people getting cancer are
part of the equation; OSHA pel’s are at least ten times higher than those of
NIOSH; therefore, the OSHA “feasible” risk for cancer is at least ten times
higher. (This is the usual difference between NIOSH and OSHA.)
being a part of painting is guaranteed by OSHA. Children and spouses of painters
also have high rates for cancer.
must also remember that ethylene glycol is the base for most latex paints and
radiator fluid. NIOSH recommends when working with ethylene glycol that you
should prevent skin and eye contact, wash when contaminated and change clothes
daily. OSHA and MSDS sheets can not protect you from occupational diseases.
Work safe! Be smart! Wear respirators, gloves, goggles, and long-sleeve
shirts at all times when painting. Protect
yourself and your family from occupational diseases.
tried to correct itself in the 1970s but with no success.
If, as OSHA administrators estimated, during the Carter presidency, their
proposed legislation would produce a 20 percent drop in cancer rates, then
Ronald Reagan was a carcinogen, and a potent one at that. Today, one can add
Clinton and Bush to the list.
a video taped interview, Peter Infante, Director of Standards for OSHA, stated
that NIOSH includes one more cancer per 1,000 workers exposed as “feasible.”)
scientific technology exists to prevent the high rate of occupational diseases,
but the profit motive and capitalist competition prevent the implementation of
preventive action and proper safety precautions.
and technology are not an obstacle to maintaining a safe environment.
barrier to a safe environment is capitalism and its paramount principle of
production and science for profit. Most environmental studies demonstrate that
environmental destruction has become globally intertwined with production for
profit in our society and that the globalization of capitalism has quickened the
destruction of the planet.
struggle for environmental health and safety is directly against the very fiber
of capitalist production. In fact,
environmental illness is so intertwined with the present form of production in
our society that it requires all of humanity to act, in their overall interests
for survival as a species, to correct the problem. It requires a society where
humanity has social control over the entire environment, social, economic, and
political—a socialist society in which science is in the interests of humanity
in harmony with nature.
following is a press release of March 23, 2001, from the Coalition to Prevent
Cancer that PRNewswire, the nation's largest news wire service, refused to issue
on "legal grounds.”)
Secrets” Exposes the Latest in a Long Line of Conspiracies, charges Samuel S.
Moyers is to be warmly commended for his March 26 program "Trade Secrets.”
This PBS Special will document the chemical industry’s conspiracy in denying
information on the grave cancer risks to hundreds of thousands of workers
manufacturing the potent carcinogen vinyl chloride (VC) and its polyvinyl
chloride (PVC) product.
newsworthy is the fact that there is a decades-long track record of numerous
such conspiracies involving a wide range of industries and chemicals, besides
VC. These conspiracies have resulted in an escalation in the incidence and
mortality of cancer, and chronic disease, among workers and the general public
unknowingly exposed to toxics and carcinogens in the workplace, air, water, and
consumer products—food, household products, cosmetics, and toiletries.
misconduct involves negligence, manipulation, suppression, distortion, and
destruction of health and environmental data by mainstream industries, their
consultants and trade associations, notably the Chemical Manufacturers
Association (CMA). These practices are so frequent as to preclude dismissal as
exceptional aberrations and, in many instances, arguably rise to the level of
criminality as illustrated below:
of evidence from the early 1960s on the toxicity of VC by Dow Chemical, and on
its carcinogenicity from 1970 by the VC/PVC industry and the CMA. Based on its
findings, a blue ribbon committee of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science charged in 1976: “Because of the suppression of…data
(by the CMA), tens of thousands of workers were exposed without warning” to
toxic concentrations of VC.
Suppression of evidence since the 1930s on the hazards of asbestos, asbestosis,
and lung cancer, by Johns-Manville and Raybestos-Manhattan, besides the
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. This information was detailed in industry
documents dubbed the “Asbestos Pentagon Papers” released at 1978
Suppression by Rohm and Haas of information, known since 1962 but not released
until 1971, on the potent carcinogenicity of the resin bischloromethylether.
This resulted in deaths from lung cancer of some 50 men, many non-smokers and
under the age of 50.
Suppression of carcinogenicity data on organochlorine pesticides: Aldrin/Dieldrin,
by Shell Chemical Company since 1962; Chlordane/ Heptachlor, by Velsicol
Chemical Company since 1959; and Kepone, by Allied Chemical Company since the
Falsification in the early 1970s of test data on the drug Aldactone and the
artificial sweetener Aspartame by Hazleton Laboratories under contract to G.D.
Searle Company. Falsification and manipulation by Monsanto since the 1960s of
data on dioxin, and its contamination of products including the herbicide Agent
Orange, designed to block occupational exposure claims and tightening of federal
regulations. This evidence was detailed in 1990 by Environmental Protection
Agency's Office of Criminal Investigation, which charged Monsanto with a “long
pattern of fraud” and with reporting “false information” to the Agency.
Fraudulent claims by Monsanto since 1985 that genetically engineered (rBGH) milk
is indistinguishable from natural milk. These claims persist despite contrary
Monsanto's reckless marketing in 1976 of plastic Coke bottles made from
acrylonitrile, a chemical closely related to VC, prior to its testing for
Destruction of epidemiological data on ethyleneimine and other chemicals by Dow
and DuPont. This was admitted at 1973 Department of Labor Advisory Committee
meetings in response to challenges to produce data on whose basis industry had
falsely claimed that these chemicals were not carcinogens.
Destruction of test data on drugs, food additives, and pesticides as admitted in
1977 by Industrial Biotest Laboratories, under contract to major chemical
Failure of the mainstream cosmetics and toiletry industries to warn of the wide
range of avoidable carcinogenic ingredients, contaminants, and precursors in
their products used by the great majority of the U.S. population over virtually
(For supporting documentation of the above charges, see the author's:
the public and the media will be outraged by this longstanding evidence of
recklessness and conspiracies, graphically reinforced by Moyers’s program. The
public and the media should finally hold industry accountable, and demand urgent
investigation and radical reform of current industry practices besides
governmental unresponsiveness. The Moyers program has already galvanized
formation of a coalition of grassroots citizen groups, “Coming Clean,” to
demand more responsible and open industry practices, including phasing out the
use and manufacture of toxic chemicals.
should also be directed toward the multibillion-dollar cancer establishment—the
National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society—for their failure to
warn Congress, regulatory agencies, and the general public of the scientific
evidence on the permeation of the totality of the environment with often
persistent industrial carcinogens, thus precluding corrective legislation and
regulation, besides denying workers and the public of their inalienable
Cancer Prevention Coalition
Professor Samuel S. Epstein, M.D.
of the Cancer Prevention Coalition
of Environmental & Occupational Medicine
of Illinois School of Public Health Chicago