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Chemical Executives Meet to Combat PBS Special

Environmental activist Dave DeRosa inflitrated a recent chemical industry meeting about the Bill Moyers special. Here's the strategy the industry's spinmeisters came up with.
 
 
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Let us now turn to Hyatt Hotel in lovely Crystal City, Virginia, across the Potomac River from our nation's capital.

The date: March 22, 2001. The time: 1:30 p.m.

Our man on the scene, environmental activist Dave DeRosa, has infiltrated the Vinyl Formulators Environmental Forum.

The group of about 30 chemical company executives has gathered to discuss "damage control."

And what damage are they seeking to control?

The damage was surely done March 26, 2001 when the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) sought to defy its well-deserved image as the Petroleum Broadcasting System by running a 90-minute indictment of the chemical industry and how it killed off the people on the front lines -- also known as workers.

The words "homicide" and "manslaughter" aren't mentioned in the Moyers documentary, but we suggest that the all of the nation's prosecutors -- including U.S. Attorneys, Attorneys General from the fifty states, and district attorneys -- tune in and take notes, or just transcribe the thing and attach it to an indictment.

We see workers dying. We see Dan Ross, who died at age 46 of a rare brain cancer. Ross was convinced that his job killed him. And he died not knowing how right he was.

We see spouses grieving. Elaine Ross vows to her dying husband that she would "never, ever let the chemical industry forget who he was -- never."

She joins up with Lake Charles, Louisiana trial attorney Billy Baggett, who through discovery amasses thousands of internal company documents.

The documents formed the basis of a twelve-part series by then Houston Chronicle reporter Jim Morris (titled "In Strictest Confidence"> that ran from June 1998 to December 1998 -- outlining the story that Moyers tells in graphic detail tonight.

Morris and Moyers report on a 1959 Dow Chemical memo showing that vinyl chloride exposure at 500 mg "is going to produce rather appreciable injury when inhaled seven hours a day, five days a week for an extended period."

"As you can appreciate, this opinion is not ready for dissemination yet and I would appreciate it if you would hold it in confidence but use it as you see fit in your own operations," the memo says.

Then there is the 1973 Ethyl Corp. memo claiming that rat tests results "certainly indicate a positive carcinogenic effect."

And there's the classic 1971 Union Carbide internal memo that voices general worry about the political climate in the United States and warns that: "a campaign by Mr. R. Nader and others could force an industrial upheaval via new laws or strict interpretation of pollution and occupational health laws."

Thank goodness, for the sake of the chemical industry, that the populace is now once again distracted -- watching the Sopranos, the Oscar awards, the NCAAs -- instead of paying attention to Morris and Moyers.

Now back to the hotel and the industry session on damage control.

There is Mark Sofman, director of flexible vinyl at the Vinyl Institute. According to DeRosa, Sofman tells the assembled executives that a concerted chemical industry campaign against the Moyers show led to a breakthrough -- the trial lawyer, Billy Baggett, will only have a minor part in the show -- and indeed, Baggett is effectively gagged in the final cut. ("It's simply not true that Billy Baggett's role was reduced," says a Moyers' spokesperson.)

According to DeRosa, Bill Carroll, a vice president at Occidental Chemical Company, told the group that the Moyers show "will be a painful 120 minutes to watch."

He compared this kind of "unwanted attention" to the heartbreak of psoriasis -- "It's sometimes in remission but it's never cured." (How, in a democracy, could the industry cure it?)

According to DeRosa, Nick Nichols, an industry flak who has been working on damage control on the Moyers show for eight weeks, advised the industry executives to "pick a good messenger."

He suggested somebody with charisma and credibility. Ideally, it would not be an old balding guy. Preferably it would be a woman -- with credentials. This led one of the vinyl executives from the audience to say -- "Like tobacco guys have been using." Nichols agreed.

According to DeRosa, Nichols claimed that the premise of the show is that "the industry engaged in pre-meditated murder."

In one of the articles in the Houston Chronicle series from 1998, Morris writes about prosecutors in Venice, Italy who brought manslaughter charges against 31 chemical industry executives in the deaths of workers exposed to vinyl chloride and other chemical carcinogens. (According to Greenpeace, the case is still pending.)

Will the prosecutors of America please pay some attention? The hard work has been done for you. More than 35,000 documents detailing the wrongdoing are available at www.ewg.org. All you have to do is research the law, and apply the facts. America awaits your judgment.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1999).