The Dow Chemical Company ( Stephen Lester, CHEJ)
Dow Chemical Company produced the herbicides 2,4,5-T and Agent Orange, the defoliant that was sprayed on the jungles of Vietnam. Both herbicides are contaminated with dioxin during the manufacturing process.
In 1965, Dow conducted a series of experiments to evaluate the toxicity of dioxin on inmates at Holmesburg prison in Pennsylvania. Under the direction of Dow researchers, pure dioxin was applied to the skin of prisoners. According to Dow, these men developed chloracne but no other health problems. But no health records are available to confirm these findings, and no follow-up was done on the prisoners, even after several went to the EPA after they were released seeking help because they were sick. EPA did not help them (Casten, 1995).
In 1976, Dow began studies to evaluate whether animals exposed to dioxin would develop cancer. Dow chose very low exposure levels, perhaps anticipating that the studies would show no toxic effects at low levels. Much to their surprise, they found cancer at very low levels, the lowest being 210 parts per trillion (Kociba, 1978).
Around the same time, evidence was found of increased miscarriages in areas of the Pacific Northwest that were sprayed with the herbicide 2,4,5-T (USEPA, 1979). Based on these findings, the EPA proposed a ban on the herbicide (Smith, 1979). Dow brought their scientists to Washington and created enough pressure that by 1979 EPA had decided to only "suspend' most used of 2,4,5-T. This enabled Dow to continue to produce this poison until 1983, when all uses of the herbicide were finally banned.
In mid-1978, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources found dioxin in fish in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers. Dow discharged wastewater into these rivers from its plant in Midland.
Dow responded in a most unusual way. In November 1978, after an intense four and one half month effort that cost the company $1,8 million, Dow released a report called the "Trace Chemistries of Fire," (Rawls, 1979) which introduced the idea that dioxin was present everywhere and that its source was combustion and any and all forms burning (Dow, 1978). Dow released the report at a press conference rather than in the scientific literature, which is the standard procedure with scientific studies. The report concluded that dioxin in the Tittabawassee and Saginaw rivers came not from Dow, but from "normal combustion processes that occur everywhere." A Dow scientist stated at the time that, "We now think dioxin have been with us since the advent of fire" (Rawls, 1979).
Subsequent studies have proven the "combustion theory" claims to be more public relations myth than scientific fact. Measurements of dioxin in lake sediments show that dioxin levels dramatically increased after 1940, (Czuczwa, 1984, 1985, 1986) when chemical companies such as Dow began to make products contaminated with dioxin.
Other studies reveal that prehistoric humans, who burned wood for fuel, did not have significant quantities of dioxin in their bodies. Tissues from 2,000-year-old Chilean Indian mummies did not have dioxin (Ligon, 1989). EPA states in its reassessment that dioxin can be formed through natural combustion sources, but this contribution to levels in the environment "probably is insignificant" (USEPA, 1994a).
Despite the persistent efforts of industry to detoxify dioxin, the weight of evidence from scientific literature today confirms its pervasive toxic effects. Faced with the toxic truth about the dioxin they create, industry has two choices: either stop producing dioxin, or continue to deliberately poison the public policy debate with lies and conflicting information. History tells us they will continue the lies until we make them own up to the truth