I haven’t had all that much to say about the chemical spill in West Virginia that poisoned the drinking water for 300,000 people to the point it was only good for flushing toilets and putting out fires. I haven’t said anything because there is nothing left to say, I’ve said it all before, and no one listened.
That’s what I’ve been bitching about all this time when I ranted about the insane, reverse protections of the US Code with the benign-sounding Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. I’ve been railing about that piece-of-crap legislation ever since I found out, almost by accident, in a disaster preparedness drill in the largest trauma center in Kansas, that in the event of a chemical accident at Matador/Koch or Vulcan, we wouldn’t necessarily be privy to what we were dealing with, and by law, the company didn’t have to tell us because that information might be considered proprietary. This was right after one of those “toxic patient” stories you hear about from time to time, (usually they have attempted suicide with organophosphates – we know that now, we didn’t then).
Let’s digest that…as a medical lab professional (and during a stint as a high school science teacher) I had to practice lab safety and keep **my** MSDS of every chemical in the lab up-to-date and handy if someone from OSHA or CLIA or the Joint Commission tapped me on the shoulder and asked for it…and they did. But if a company with the capacity to poison thousands, wipe out the livelihood for a million or so people, and contaminate the drinking water for hundreds of thousands has a spill, they can refuse to provide information – information that could prove life saving – because it’s “proprietary” and it might hurt their bottom line and their stock holders if they reveal to the doctors and nurses and lab personnel who might be getting sick themselves trying to save the lives of your employees. But you don’t tell us what we’re dealing with, because the law says you don’t have to. Good job, Sen. John Tunney. With that piece of legislation, the EPA was virtually hogtied and prevented from regulating toxic substances that were already in use. It is so heavily tilted toward business interests that since it was enacted only five compounds have been regulated out of our consumer culture.
If the average American knew just how unregulated the chemical industry is in this country, there would be an epidemic of adult-onset thumb-sucking as people crawled under their beds with an organic cotton blankie and refused to come out.
If I told you about a nation that, in an effort to cater to business interests, sacrifices common sense and consumer safety on the alter of the free market in the process of “regulating” an industry that can potentially kill their customers, you would think it insane. But that is precisely the way our country regulates the chemical industry: exactly backwards.
In the 37 years since Gerald Ford signed the bill into law, the EPA has required additional studies for a mere 200 chemical compounds that are components of consumer products – a tiny fraction of the 80,000 chemicals in use in this country – and the government has had little or no information on most of those chemicals. Manufacturers are ‘required’ to report to the feds any new chemical they intend to market – but the TSCA of 1976 exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.
Four years ago this week, I wrote this:
The barriers to regulating the chemical industry are so high that the EPA has been unable to ban asbestos, even though we know that asbestos is a carcinogen, and has been banned in more than 30 countries. Instead of regulating, the EPA is hogtied, forced to rely on the chemical industry to voluntarily stop producing and using suspect chemicals.
If you have been operating under the assumption that the chemicals you buy to unclog your drain, scrub your tub, clean your counters, etc have been tested for safety, you are woefully mistaken.
In this country, regulation happens after the fact, and as they made their way to the exits the Bushies made it just a little worse, tilting the playing field even further in the favor of business and against the rest of the country, scrambling to put in place rules to further hinder the efforts of the EPA to regulate chemical substances. The rules the Bushies crammed through, of course, had the unqualified support from business groups, who argued that assessing risk of chemical substances should be done by analysis of “industry to industry evidence” of the effects of chemical exposure to employees during their working lives. The net effect was to make regulation of chemicals even more difficult, and put stumbling blocks in the path of worker protections.
I told you it’s nuts the way safety has been suborned to capitalism. Do you believe me yet?
I’m guessing a whole lot more people believe me now than believed me then. Since I wrote that BP and Halliburton have spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and been apologized to for some people being mean to them for it and expecting them to pay for the damages.
Then the Freedom, Inc asshole appeared on everyone’s screen with his bottle of Aqua-Fina and declined to take questions because he had had a long day – it’s hard work poisoning over a quarter-million people!
I have been trying to warn people about the weaknesses in the chemical law, that it has been bastardized, stood on it’s head and lawyered into something unrecognizable to what it was intended to be.
Tough toenails if you had no drinking water and couldn’t even wash dishes. The company doesn’t have to tell you what you ingested or what the known effects are, maybe the effects are not known because they have successfully quashed research to find out. It’s time to rewrite the nation’s chemical policy. Senator Tunney and the rest of the 94th Congress had good intentions. The chemical industry had deeper pockets and better lawyers, and they made the law into a mockery of what it was intended to be.
And now people get it. There is a rule in politics, in life in general – – if you’re going to fuck up, don’t fuck up in ways that the general public can understand. The general public understands oil in the Gulf. They understand poisoned drinking water.
It’s time to strike while the iron is hot and rewrite the nation’s chemical policy. And this time, don’t tell the doctors and nurses who are treating the patients who were in an industrial accident that they’ll just have to guess what they’re dealing with because…proprietary!