Dow Chemical: A tragedy of errors

Derek Baron, Central Chronicle, November 12, 2007
One major controversy in the history of Dow misadventures is the ambiguity and sketchiness surrounding its production of Agent Orange for the Vietnam War
The Dow Chemical Company, which merged with Union Carbide in 2001, has become the face of the opposition in the campaign for justice for the Bhopal gas-leak disaster of 1984. Dow refuses to take responsibility for the criminality of Union Carbide, claiming that the 1989 Carbide settlement has taken care of everything and leaves all Bhopal-related liability – which includes both a criminal and a civil suit – out of Dow’s hands.
Dow Chemical, founded over a century ago, enjoys the legacy of being a pioneer of chemical industry and one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world. It has even been called one of the “founding fathers of the synthetic chemical revolution.”1 While having a history of innovations, breakthroughs, and expansion, Dow also has a long record of misadventures and “global toxic trespasses.” Dow has a history of denying, delaying, or withholding information necessary to understand many of the dangers and toxins in the products it manufactures.
Action was recently taken against Dow on bribery or “improper payments.” Dow Chemical’s DE-Nocil Crop Protection, Ltd., was found guilty of paying over $200,000 to Indian officials of the CIBRC, Central Insecticides Board and Regulation Committee.
One major controversy in the history of Dow misadventures is the ambiguity and sketchiness surrounding its production of Agent Orange for the Vietnam War. Agent Orange is a defoliant made primarily of two agricultural herbicides, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Dow was the largest supplier of herbicides to the United States government during the war. Peter Sills, author of a book on Agent Orange, claims, “Dow…must have realized that the risks [of the herbicides found in Agent Orange] were much greater than normal.”2 A study by Bionetics Research Labs showed 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T both caused significant deformities and miscarriages on rat and mouse subjects. As the war came to a close, thousands of veterans filed lawsuits against Dow and other manufacturers of Agent Orange. A compensation fund of $184 million was later settled upon, to be paid by seven major producers of Agent Orange, including Dow. Dow has never accepted any responsibility for the harm 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D can yield on the human body, despite thousands of cases of cancers, miscarriages, hemorrhaging, and other horrific symptoms. Dow has since admitted that it was aware of the hazardous effects of 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D since the mid 1960’s, but Dow’s official statement on the issue reads, “Today, the scientific consensus is that when the collective human evidence is reviewed, it doesn’t show that Agent Orange caused veteran’s illnesses.”3 The Dow blunders and mistruths did not stop there. Dioxin, a highly toxic chemical byproduct of many industrial processes – processes in which Dow specialized, including many reactions involving chlorine and plastics – is toxic, even lethal, and hard to retain or suppress. Dr. Matthew Meselson of Harvard University said in 1979 that, “If you feed a guinea pig one-billionth of its weight with dioxin, this will kill the guinea pig.”
Dow’s scientists have announced that dioxin is also to be found in many common products and circumstances, “refuse incinerators, fossil-fueled powerhouses, gasoline and diesel powered automobiles and trucks, fireplaces, charcoal grills and cigarettes.”4 In the 1990’s Dow was suspected of foul play when it withdrew dioxin-heavy products simultaneously with the anonymous leak of highly reliable information on the toxicity of dioxin.
Once again, no action has been taken by Dow to undo or counteract the damage already done by dioxin and by with the withholding of crucial information on dioxin toxicity. “Dow…” states its official position, “actively promotes improvements and solutions [to the dioxin problem] across industry.”
Nor could a small trailer park in Plaquemine, Louisiana, escape Dow Chemical’s chemical trespass. Overlooked by a massive Dow vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) factory, residents of Myrtle Grove trailer park received notice in 2001 from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) that their groundwater may be contaminated, when state tests as much as four years old found alarming levels of vinyl chloride.

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