CHEMICAL INDUSTRY STRATEGIES, PART 2
. CHEMICAL INDUSTRY STRATEGIES, PART 2 .
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CHEMICAL INDUSTRY STRATEGIES--PART 2
As we saw last week, the American Public Health Association
(APHA) took a formal stand against chlorine in 1993. The
chlorine industry had received an equally severe blow when, a
year earlier, the International Joint Commission (IJC) formally
recommended to the governments of the U.S. and Canada that the
use of chlorine as an industrial feedstock be phased out.
The IJC was created by treaty between the U.S. and Canada in 1909
with responsibility for water quality in the Great Lakes. The
IJC began studying Great Lakes water pollution seriously in 1972.
Twenty years later, the IJC said its scientific studies had
forced it to conclude that humans were in danger of irreversible
harm from toxics, and fundamentally new, preventive approaches
were needed. For example, the IJC said in 1990, "An essential
part of the strategy to stop the introduction of persistent toxic
chemicals into the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem must be to prevent
new, harmful chemicals from entering the market place. The
Commission endorses the principle of reverse onus in this regard;
that is, when approval is sought for the manufacture, use, or
discharge of any substance which will or may enter the
environment, the applicant must prove, as a general rule, that
the substance is not harmful to the environment or human
health." In other words, the IJC said in 1990 that the burden
of proof for chemical safety should be put on the manufacturers
and users of chemicals, not on the general public. Thus the IJC
called for a complete reversal of the present system, which
requires the public to prove harm from a chemical before control
In its 1992 report, the IJC asked, "Are humans and our
environment in danger from persistent toxic substances now? Are
future generations in danger? Based on a review of scientific
studies and other recent information, we believe the answer to
both questions is yes." The Commissioners went on: "Taking the
many studies that indicate injury or the likelihood of injury
together, we conclude that the evidence is sufficient that many
persistent toxic substances are indeed causally involved, and
there can be no defensible alternative: their input into the
Great Lakes must be stopped." In sum, said the IJC in 1992,
"We conclude that persistent toxic substances are too dangerous
to the biosphere and to humans to permit their release in ANY
The IJC's science advisory board in 1986 had drawn up a list of
362 toxic compounds found in the Great Lakes. At least half of
these were chlorinated chemicals. "In addition, there are other
chlorinated organic substances entering the environment that have
not yet been separately identified," the IJC said in 1992.
"In practice, the mix and exact nature of these various compounds
cannot be precisely predicted or controlled in production
processes. Thus it is prudent, sensible, and indeed necessary to
treat these substances as a class rather than as a series of
isolated individual chemicals." And finally, the IJC said,
"We know that when chlorine is used as a feedstock in a
manufacturing process, one cannot necessarily predict or control
which chlorinated organics will result, and in what quantity.
Accordingly, the Commission concludes that the use of chlorine
and its compounds should be avoided in the manufacturing
The U.S. chairperson of the IJC in 1990 and 1992 was Gordon
Durnil, a conservative Republican appointed by President Bush.
(See REHW #423, #424, #453.) In his book, THE MAKING OF A
CONSERVATIVE ENVIRONMENTALIST, Durnil says initially the IJC
proposed phasing out chlorine without any timetable. He says the
Commissioners discussed privately among themselves that such a
phase-out might take 50 years but that, "At least there would be
a time certain, off in the future, when such a formidable
substance would be taken totally out of existence [as an
industrial feedstock] without a societal disruption. Industry
came to us and told us how stupid we were, that a sunsetting
[phase-out] of chlorine and finding a suitable alternative might
take thirty years. Later they reduced that to twenty years."
It seems evident that chlorine users believe chlorine could be
successfully phased out as an industrial feedstock in two decades
without major disruption. However, the chlorine manufacturers
have circled the wagons for a fight.
In 1993 the Chemical Manufacturers Association [CMA] created the
Chlorine Chemistry Council with a budget said to be about $100
million per year. The CCC soon hired MBD [Mongoven, Biscoe,
and Duchin], a public relations firm that proudly proclaims that
one of its main strengths is spying on activists in universities,
churches, labor unions, and environmental groups. MBD hires
people to attend activists' meetings (without identifying whom
they are representing), and to take notes and make recordings
which MBD then turns into memos (which are often ludicrously
inaccurate) which it sells to gullible corporate clients like the
Chlorine Chemistry Council.
MBD now provides the Chlorine Chemistry Council with monthly
updates on the activities of groups working to phase out chlorine.
But MBD goes further, helping the Chlorine Chemistry Council
develop strategies for "managing" public policies that might harm
chlorine sales. The lead strategist for the CCC at MBD is Jack
In Mongoven's own words, his "main recommendation" to the CCC is
to "mobilize science against the precautionary principle," which,
Mongoven says, "dovetails with long range objectives regarding
The precautionary principle is a way of dealing with uncertainty
in decision-making. The core idea of the precautionary principle
is a willingness to take protective action without waiting for
scientific proof of the need for protective action, on the
grounds that delay may cause irreparable harm. Implied in the
precautionary principle is what the IJC called "reverse onus"
--shifting the burden of proof onto those who propose to dump
persistent poisons into the environment.
These are the ideas that Jack Mongoven wants the CCC to "mobilize
science" to fight.
The main alternative to the precautionary principle is the way
the U.S. currently does business: First, actions are proposed by
corporations. Then risk assessments may be done (but usually are
not required) to convince the public that the damage will be
insignificant. Since risk assessment is an art, not a science,
and a highly political art at that, risk assessment is almost
never a serious barrier to an economic activity. Therefore, the
action is taken. It is then up to the public to show that harm
has been done before controls can be initiated.
Mongoven says the precautionary principle conflicts with the
"Constitutional principle of American government that people have
the liberty to do what they choose." He says the Constitution
requires that "an activity or product be proven to be harmful to
public health and safety before being prohibited." In other
words, in Mongoven's interpretation of the Constitution,
corporations are allowed to release poisons until people have
been harmed sufficiently that they can prove to the satisfaction
of scientists that THIS poison caused THAT illness.
Given an identical scenario, the principle of precautionary
action would dictate that the environment and humans should not
be exposed to anything that meets the definition of a persistent
poison, so preventive action would be taken, even in the absence
of scientific certainty that this particular poison would cause
Mongoven sees this as the major struggle of our time. Within
that framework, here is Mongoven's advice to the Chlorine
** "Engage a broad effort on risk assessment within the
scientific community, even in groups which have taken positions
** "Accelerate the program to bring about agreed-upon risk
assessment policy and the deployment of vehicles of sound
** "Move quickly to take advantage of the visibility of the
shortcomings of the current system by having scientists and
Congressmen ready to call for the process on [sic] risk
assessment CCC and CMA would like to see put in place."
** "Bring the state governors in on the issue of risk assessment
by communicating the benefits to them from being able to rely on
a national standard."
** "Take steps to discredit the precautionary principle within
the more moderate environmental groups as well as within the
scientific and medical communities."
** "Review and intensify efforts recommended in the initial
strategy documents concerning efforts in the scientific, medical
and academic communities, especially the establishment of a
credible scientific vehicle to deal with major issues of
environmental science and public policy."
** "This is a critical time for the future of risk assessment as
a tool of analysis. The industry must identify the implications
posed by the 'precautionary principle' and assist the public in
understanding the damage it inflicts on the role of science in
modern development and production," Mongoven says.
Working for the Chlorine Chemistry Council, Jack Mongoven has
identified two of the four key areas of modern environmental
debate: do we exercise restraint and take precautionary action to
prevent harm from persistent poisons, or do we follow the
permissive path, allowing corporations to hurt people before
controls can be initiated?
And: Who should bear the burden of proof? Must the public prove
that harm has occurred, or should corporations bear the burden of
showing that what they plan to do isn't likely to be harmful?
But there are two additional key issues that Mr. Mongoven missed:
** Shouldn't a corporation have to show that it has examined all
reasonable alternatives and prove that it has selected the least
** And the big one: Who gets to decide?
 International Joint Commission (IJC), SIXTH BIENNIAL REPORT
ON GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY (Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC:
International Joint Commission, 1992), pg. 30. Available free
from the Commission at 1250 23rd St., NW, Suite 100, Washington,
DC 20440. Telephone: (202) 736-9000. In Canada, phone (519)
 International Joint Commission (IJC), FIFTH BIENNIAL REPORT
ON GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY (Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC:
International Joint Commission, 1990), pg. 21. Photocopies
available free from the Commission at 1250 23rd St., NW, Suite
100, Washington, DC 20440. Telephone: (202) 736-9000. In Canada,
phone (519) 256-7821.
 IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 18.
 IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 22.
 IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 15.
 IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 29.
 The same.
 The same.
 Gordon Durnil, THE MAKING OF A CONSERVATIVE ENVIRONMENTALIST
(Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995), pg. 78.
 Daniel Pinchbeck, "Downward Motility," ESQUIRE (January
1996), pgs. 79-84, quotes Gordon Durnil saying he believes the
CCC's budget is about $100 million per year.
 John O. Mongoven, "The Precautionary Principle," ECO-LOGIC
(March, 1995), pgs. 14-16. ECO-LOGIC is a publication of ECO,
the Environmental Conservation Organization, in Hollow Rock,
Tennessee; phone: (901) 986-0099.
 Memo from Jack Mongoven to Clyde Greenert and Brad Lienhart
dated September 7, 1994, and titled, "MBD Activist report for
August," attached to a report titled "Activists and Chlorine in
August ," MBD ISSUE RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS (Washington,
D.C.: Mongoven, Biscoe, and Duchin [phone: 202/429-1800]), 1994.
Descriptor terms: chlorine; ijc; american public health
association; great lakes; reverse onus; burden of proof; risk
asessment; precautionary principle; persistent toxic substances;
chlorinated chemicals; sunsetting; bans; chemical manufacturers
association; chlorine chemistry council; mbd; mongoven, biscoe,
and duchin; cigarette science; jack mongoven;
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