Bill Moyers: Our Media Is Polluted by Toxic Lies About the Risks Posed by Lead
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INTRO: Science can be a battleground — witness the politics of climate change, the teaching of evolution, the uncharted terrain of genetic modification and stem cell research, among other contentious issues. But when industries release untested chemicals into our environment — putting profits before public health — our children are the first to suffer. Nowhere is this more troubling than in the ongoing story of lead poisoning.
Bill talks with David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, public health historians who’ve been taking on the chemical industry for years — writing about the hazards of industrial pollution and the neglect of worker safety — despite industry efforts to undermine them. Their latest book, Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children, is the culmination of 20 years of research. Markowitz and Rosner warn that, for young children, there’s no safe level of exposure to this dangerous toxin still lurking in millions of homes.
The authors discuss thwarted efforts to hold the lead industry accountable, failed attempts to find cheap solutions, and the cost to the future of our children. As long as the chemical industry and its powerful lobbies prevail in blocking efforts to reform outdated laws, Markowitz and Rosner say, we will continue to float in a soup of toxins — inhaling, drinking, and absorbing chemicals that we may learn, years later, have put us all in harm’s way.
BILL MOYERS: At the end of a week that reminded us to be ever vigilant about the dangers of government overreaching its authority, whether by the long arm of the IRS or the Justice Department, let’s pause to think about another threat, from too much private power over public policy.
All too often, instead of acting as a brake, government becomes the enabler of corporate power and greed, undermining the very rules and regulations intended to keep us safe.
Think of inadequate inspections of food and those infections which kill 3,000 Americans each year and make many millions sick. Think of the 85,000 industrial chemicals available today. Only a handful have been tested for safety. Think of the explosion of perhaps as much as half a million pounds of ammonium nitrate in that Texas fertilizer plant. People can die when government winks at bad corporate practices.
As long as there are insufficient checks and balances on big business and its powerful lobbies, you and I are at their mercy. Which is why their ability to buy off public officials is an assault on democracy and a threat to our lives and health. Keep that in mind as I introduce you to David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz.
Some years ago, their book, Deceit and Denial, told how the chemical industry tried to conceal the truth about untested and unregulated chemicals in our food, water, and air. Twenty companies responded with a vicious campaign to smear their reputations. That proved hard to do, actually, impossible.
Gerald Markowitz is a distinguished professor of history at both John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. David Rosner is co-director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University where he also teaches science and history.
This is their new book, which revisits a chemical menace you might have thought was behind us, but isn’t: Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children.
BILL MOYERS: Gerald Markowitz, David Rosner, welcome.
DAVID ROSNER: Thank you.