Dow's corporate profile
2. Dow Corning: Breast Implants Gone Bad

SOME WESTERN DOCTORS have advised women that small breasts are a disease that need to be "cured." Big corporations took advantage of the big-breast mania, and began marketing breast implants. Today, an estimated 1 million to 1.5 million women are walking around with breast implants.

Dow Corning manufactured breast implants made out of silicone gel. The problem with these is that the gel allegedly tends to leak out of the implant and cause diseases in the women.

About 10,000 women in the United States have filed claims against Dow Corning and the other responsible parties in the breast implant disaster, alleging that the implants made them sick and, in some cases, permanently and totally disabled.

"I represent a lawyer who is 35 years old, who has lost a law practice," says Sal Liccardo, a lawyer in San Francisco who represents women suing Dow Corning and other manufacturers. "She is totally and permanently disabled for life with severe autoimmune disease - scleroderma. I represent another woman with a multiple sclerosis-like disease. Another with a lupus-like disease. ... These diseases are every bit as bad as cancer. They kill and they totally disable."

Dow "developed an evil empire, selling their fraudulent materials all over the world," says Cybil Goldrich, co-founder of the national silicone information clearinghouse, the Command Trust Network. "Along with their parent companies (Dow Chemical and Corning Inc.), they should remain responsible for the evil that [they] did."

Dow denies a link between breast implants and disease. "We're encouraged by the growing body of scientific evidence from research done outside of Dow Corning that shows no conclusive link between breast implants and disease," said Gary E. Anderson, Dow executive vice-president. "However, a settlement would move the implant controversy from a divisive issue to a responsible resolution for all parties."

Earlier this year, Public Citizen urged the federal government to bring criminal charges against Dow Corning for filing a false report on the safety of silicone breast implants. "We believe that Dow Corning violated federal law by deliberately withholding safety data on its silicone used in medical devices, especially breast implants," wrote Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group in a letter to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner David Kessler. "Because of the potential harm of serious illness facing tens if not hundreds of thousands of women who have received silicone breast implants since the time of filing the false report, we believe that the FDA should seek criminal prosecution of the company and responsible Dow Corning officials."

Dow Corning withdrew from the silicone implant market in March 1992. Public Citizen alleges that Dow Corning did not disclose studies showing that liquid silicone could cause autoimmune and respiratory problems when the documents were first requested by the FDA in 1989. The FDA finally received the documents two years after they were initially requested. The FDA then elected to restrict the marketing of silicone gel implants to a relatively small number of people.

In 1988, the FDA asked Dow Corning to identify all studies in which any form of silicone was injected into test animals. According to Public Citizen, when Dow Corning responded to the request, it excluded some studies that the company had previously conducted. "How many more safety studies has Dow Corning not revealed to the FDA?" Wolfe asked.

Dow Corning announced earlier this year that it had reached a tentative settlement with accommodating plaintiffs' lawyers to settle the breast implant cases for $4.75 billion. But dissident plaintiff lawyers complained that the settlement was unfair and was hatched in secret. "We have never had a chance to present our views and our opinions on any position before it was taken up with Dow Corning," Sal Liccardo complained. "We were just fed back a final deal, and they tried to jam it down our throats."

Norman Anderson, a Johns Hopkins University professor of surgery, an expert on health hazards related to breast implants, called the settlement proposal "seriously flawed" and urged plaintiffs lawyers to reject it. Anderson estimated that the medical damages from breast implants could hit $169 billion, more than 35 times the amount proposed by Dow Corning. He said that the Dow proposal "offers a 2 cents on the dollar solution which amounts to little more than sanctioning the evasion of corporate responsibility."

Public Citizen's Sidney Wolfe believes that someone should go to jail. "Justice demands that the FDA seek the most serious enforcement action - criminal prosecution - against Dow Corning Corporation and its responsible officials who knowingly withheld this vital safety information from the FDA," Wolfe said. "We hope the large fines and prison terms that Dow Corning Corp. and its officials will face will deter other medical device firms from withholding adverse information about their products requested by the FDA."

By Ross Brockley
Ross Brockley is a freelance writer living in West Virginia.