Toxins for Fun and Profit

tar sands
Alberta Tar Sands sludge mining, in what used to be pristine boreal forest. Photo: Melina Mara, Washington Post .
In a recent speech, a former premier says Alberta will have to go to the Supreme Court to defend the oil industry’s right to pollute when it accelerates tar sands development next year, because the environmental damage will be like nothing Canada has ever seen or imagined.

Paul Blanc’s new book How Everyday Products Make People Sick: Toxins at Home and in the Workplace was nothing like what I expected. I thought I would get a laundry list (heh) of household and workplace products to avoid, why, and what to use in their place.

But this book is essentially a history of how corporatists — big corporate oligopolies, ‘bought’ politicians and meek ‘regulatory’ agencies — have colluded for over two centuries to poison workers and consumers with products and processes deadly to human health and the environment, and keep them ignorant of those dangers, all in the interest of profit. In the process, perfectly safe and environment-friendly alternatives have been suppressed and belittled by advertisers. And information on the dead, diseased, poisoned, injured and ruined people and communities as a result of these toxins in the air, water, soil and food has been ruthlessly suppressed.

The emphasis in the book is on workplace toxins, because that is where the cause-and-effect connection between contact with these chemicals and health problems is possible to establish, despite the hundreds of denials, cover-ups, and transfers to anonymous numbered companies to reduce corporate liability. Public disasters like Bhopal, Chernobyl, Minamata and Exxon Valdez are just the tip of the iceberg. What the book can only suggest is the chronic effect of these chemicals in our homes and the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. We know that the corporatists have caused the massive suffering that these chronic diseases have inflicted on billions of people, but we also know it will never stand up in court.

The list of products connected to chronic diseases runs the gamut of virtually everything we have in our homes and offices, including substantially all man-made chemicals and plastics. For example:

  • Adhesives: glues, cements, furniture adhesives
  • Automotive Products: fuel additives, rubber
  • Cleaning Products: dry cleaning products, soaps and detergents, turpentine, ammonia, bromine and chlorine bleaches, muriatic acid, fumigants, phosphates, formaldehyde
  • Coatings: paints, dyes, wood preservatives (creosote, aresenides etc.), varnishes, sealants, tars, latex, leather sprays
  • Food Additives and packaging: preservatives, colourings, flavourings, dietary supplements, cellophane, microwave popcorn, microwave containers
  • Garden and Agricultural Products: fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, DDT, 2-4-D, 2-4-5-T,
  • Fibres: acetate, asbestos, viscose, rayon, vinyl, cellulose wool, flame retardants, polypropylene, neoprene
  • Industrial Chemicals: mercury, benzene, resins, cellulose derivatives, brass, zinc, cadmium and manganese products, cyanides, coal combustion wastes, cotton dust, photographic chemicals, welding gases, electroplating and galvanizing chemicals, hydrochloric acid, radium and other radioactive trace elements, potash, manganese-treated steel, toluene, sulphuric acid
  • Other Household Products: aerosols, refrigerants, artificial leather, rubber products (balloons etc.), heating briquets and oils, products containing lead, polyurethane, insulation, PVC and other plastic containers
  • Other Products: animal euthanasia products, chemotherapy substances, explosives
  • Personal Care Products: artificial nails, nail polishes and polish removers, condoms
  • Pharmaceuticals: antibiotics, anaesthetics

The list of diseases these poisons are associated with is almost as long, and includes just about all chronic and non-infectious diseases (and even some infectious diseases such as tuberculosis are aggravated by poor working environments):

  • Respiratory diseases: sick building syndrome, asthma, inhalation fever, asbestosis, silicosis, lung diseases
  • Neurological diseases: parkinson’s disease, ALS
  • Organ diseases: skin diseases, allergies, kidney diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, cardiovascular diseases, eye diseases, tuberculosis, hemochromatosis
  • Cancers: all types, notably angiosarcoma, leukemia
  • Blood diseases: anemia, lead poisoning
  • Mental illnesses: dementias

And of course environmental toxins are also suspected in the spiraling epidemic of 40+ autoimmune diseases.

Kind of a sad story about industrial society, isn’t it? This is what ‘our troops’ are fighting for in Iraq and Afghanistan — the corporatist interests and the Bushies and Harpers in their back pockets, who need oil to continue to poison our world and sell us toxic junk that kills us and causes devastating chronic illnesses.

Blanc’s depressing stories are accompanied by an edgy explanation of how the corporatists have pulled off this scam so successfully for so long. He identifies eight strategies:

  1. “More data are needed”: Characterizing scientific evidence about the dangers of these products and processes as limited, exaggerated, insubstantial, or inconclusive, as Big Oil has done hiring Lomborgian pseudo-scientists to produce junk science as propaganda to counter damaging legitimate research
  2. “It must have been used incorrectly”: Blaming the victim
  3. “We can self-regulate as needed”: Arguing that regulation is overly costly and ineffectual
  4. “The Precautionary Principle would bring the economy to a grinding halt”: Labeling opponents as unrealistic, idealistic, or reactionary
  5. “We stopped CFCs when they were proved dangerous; workplace safety is in employers’ interests too”: Insisting the ‘market’ will intervene to require any corrections to corporate behaviour that may be necessary
  6. “We still haven’t had what we consider a fair hearing”: Foot-dragging using armies of lawyers, as with Exxon who still haven’t paid for the Valdez disaster
  7. “We settled, without acknowledging fault”: As Koch Industries has repeatedly done, bargaining with political friends for slap on the wrist penalties while continuing to poison workers and the Earth
  8. “We want an industry-friendly rep running that Agency”: Twisting the arms of politicians to have regulators run by those who simply refuse to enforce the law against corporatist wrongdoing

They’ve been doing this for centuries, and it’s still going on. They’re still getting away with murder.

PS: Today, a coalition of health and labour groups issued a report saying Ontario is steeped in chemicals and the province needs to take immediate action in reducing toxic emissions and cancer-causingsubstances in the environment. Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

Categories: Corporatism and Health
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9 Responses to Toxins for Fun and Profit

  1. Phillip Huggan says:

    Maybe Alberta will consider taking all of the USA’s nuclear waste planned to go to the Yucca Mountain too? I wonder if there is some way to ship toxic waste from China and India, Calgary-bound, in the name of profit?With an annual oil-less provincial deficit of about $7-8 billion, in won’t take long to lose the self-righteousness. The economic term is bubble and the quality-of-living term the Supreme Court of Canada will hopefully impart, is *survival*.

  2. george ruby says:

    What on earth does Toxic material have to do with saving the world, we have larger problems, like changingthe way we do business no only in the USA, but the world. The problem is a relative easy one, but no onewants to change it, they only want to steal, defraud, lie, cheat, extort money from the poor and helplessof the world. What we need is honest, truth, kindness and compassion to be but back into the world ofbusiness and it is a simple solution, but on one wants to hear of it, I beleive Big industry is now runningthis world and until we decide to change it the public will suffer beyond belief.

  3. Rudy Breda says:

    The only way respect comes back is through some painful economic down fall. Money has been to easy in flow either in borrowing and bubble capital gains, which in turn has made people over confident, ego bigger than earth, and stand clear I am important making money. When times are hard, and once we appreciate the hard work we need to do to own assets, then we can return to some kind of Humanity.Lastly, there was an interesting interview on CBC Radio 1 last week about all of the Co2 (carbon) that will be released from the boreal forest…very interesting…that is twice in one week this topic has crossed by ears/eyes.Take care and keep up the great blog!

  4. Alexrru says:

    If you want do delete your site from our spam bases – just email us with domain of your site:abuse-here@inbox.ruthank you!

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