MIDDLEPORT, NY: Poor Middleport. Do the chemicals make you stupid, or is it the money?
Consider the Lockport Journal’s lead story on August 11. The headline reads “Arsenic levels low in Middleport; Study: Community is not at an elevated risk.” The “reporter’s” name is omitted here to save her greater embarrassment.
Exponent claims that the interpretation of the final results by “a scientific advisory panel” reveals that urine samples from 439 village residents who volunteered for the study last year were all “within the normal range due to diet and other background sources.” Also, no evidence of elevated arsenic exposure was found in any toenail samples, said the press release, or “news” story.
The question is: How accurate can these results be when participants volunteered? FMC is by far Middleport’s largest employer and taxpayer. It seems a scientific study seeking accurate data could come up with better methodology than asking the client’s wage slaves to voluntarily snip their toenails and micturate in a beaker.
The Journal’s release also said, “study participants all were below the reference level of arsenic,” but never states what the study’s reference level was or how it was arrived at. The Buffalo News, “reporting” on the same day, said “no one had even half of what the study assumed would be a reasonable background level for arsenic: 40 parts per billion.” Again, no information on how this figure was arrived at, or what made Exponent assume (not hypothesize?) Middleport would have a “reasonable background level?” Where’s the curiosity?
A side bar in the Journal article tells readers they can learn more by going to www.teapothollow.com, which at first glance appears to be the village’s official web site, but upon further inspection it’s FMC Corp.’s local public relations site masquerading as something else, thus the weird name perhaps.
These results seem odd considering that FMC dumped 250 tons of arsenic in Middleport for a half-century throughout the mid-1900s. It also dumped a bunch of chlorinated organics there during the same time frame. It has a long history of treating Middleport like an industrial toilet.
Just so you know, there are about a dozen chlorinated organic compounds, among them dioxin, which behave like hormones, particularly in fetuses and newborns. Even if a fetus is exposed to a tiny amount of this stuff, the effects on the baby’s budding sex organs and its activities later in life can be brutal. According to Adams Mine Archives, an environmental research web site, the way chlorinated organics affect human hormones may be of greater concern than cancer, but there hasn’t been much interest in doing research until the last decade or so. Why not do some genetic studies on longtime Middleport residents?
The questions the corporate-employed “journalist” might have asked are simple: What was the arsenic reference level based upon, or how was it derived? And, isn’t the real concern chlorinated organics? Those questions apparently weren’t asked, nor was any research done. If it had been, a short online investigation would have revealed that not enough data exist on chronic exposure to arsenic to establish a real reference level. Have another beer.
The articles also didn’t mention whether or not the “scientific” study involved a control group, for instance people who live somewhere else who underwent the same study that the Middleport results were compared to.
The Journal’s two main sources were employees of Exponent: Drs. Joyce Tsuji and Frank Jones. The “newspaper” describes Exponent as “a science and engineering firm,” but fails to offer any background on the good doctors while misrepresenting what their corporation actually does.
Exponent, according to its own web site, has been hired by other corporations to investigate “most of the major disasters that you hear about,” including the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the Kansas City mall walk collapse.
One look at FMC’s Soil Sampling Work Plan, which includes a color-coded map displaying “areas potentially affected by historic air deposition,” reveals that Middleport is a “potential” disaster. Half of the village falls into this category. In fact, things are so bad that FMC is offering price protection for people who may want to sell their homes at some point in the next five years, but can’t get a fair price because of the “environmental situation.” FMC is promising to make up the difference to property owners who sell at a reduced price, or buy the homes outright if they can’t be sold. That sounds like the corporation is facing a calamity and trying to spin it differently.
“When a major disaster strikes, the media is soon not far behind, and an affected client needs answers now,” says the company site, adding “Exponent's scientists and engineers provide proven, cost-effective, scientifically defensible, and realistic assessments and solutions to complex environmental issues . . . [and] help our clients develop cost effective solutions for management of environmental liabilities.”
In other words, Exponent provides fodder for a company’s PR and legal defense efforts once the shit hits the fan. They pass as reliable sources for the corporate news media because of their “expertise,” which is exactly the way The Buffalo News portrays them. In a way, you could say Exponent writes the story, especially when left unchallenged. It makes a hefty profit providing risk assessments focusing on scientific gray areas into which it can inject its profit-driven data to help clients save money when facing a catastrophe of their own doing. The ensuing court battles serve to confuse the press, overwhelm juries and reassure the public with bullshit.
Tsuji, according to Exponent, “specializes in assessing health and environmental risks associated with chemicals in the environment and in developing risk-based solutions to environmental problems.” Sounds nice, but it could also be said this way: Tsuji can be hired to create scientific data that will fit the customer’s cost-benefit criteria.
According to The Journal, village residents wanted to know whether or not they should be worried about the ridiculous amounts of arsenic in their community. (Lord knows if they’re even aware of chlorinated organics).
Dr. Jones, however, attempted to put what concerns they had to rest on August 10, when the study’s results were officially released (right on schedule).
“You should sleep a lot better knowing that you don’t have this elevated cancer risk because of arsenic in soil,” the good doctor told The Journal, a statement the newspaper only made available in its longer, more detailed print version.
I’ll sleep a lot better when more people know that this dude’s making a bundle helping corporate polluters dodge financial responsibility for their crimes. This is a guy whose resume boasts that he’s provided “expert testimony” at regulatory and judicial hearings relating to an assortment of polluted sites on behalf of corporate clients.
Before joining the Exponent team, Dr. Jones worked for ELM Consulting LLC, a sister corporation that “provides comprehensive business risk-oriented environmental consulting services,” but specializes in natural resource damage assessment, environmental liability and assessment management, and legal support. In other words, Dr. Jones is a paid witness, and his client wants him to keep us in the dark.
The Journal also cited Tufts University professor David Gute, a member of the study’s “science advisory panel,” who reportedly said “the work was mostly preventative and a follow-up health study will be done.”
What the hell does that mean? “Preventative” for whom? To prevent unwitting Middleportians from having their hormones mangled and getting arsenic related illnesses, or to block the legal ramifications of their client’s malfeasance? When you look at the amount of money FMC has already forked over, potentially tens of millions of dollars before this issue’s fully resolved, and that it’s considered less than what it would cost to really deal with the problem, what Professor Gute meant by “preventative” might have been a good question to ask.
The News, of course, clarifies this and it appears The Journal misunderstood what the professor was referring to when he said “preventative.” The News reports that the professor was alluding to the upcoming health study that will “try to protect the most susceptible people and are based on averages, not site-specific information.” Of course, no further clarification was asked for. How a health risk assessment can be preventative for those already poisoned eludes me.
Now, is Professor Gute one of those ivory towered liberal academes, as a reader might have imagined from the Lockport Journal’s report?
Not exactly. The federal government -- especially the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense [double sic] -- and the Center for Environmental Management Cooperative are major financial backers of Gupe's research. This last group, by the way, develops partnerships among industry, government and academia in order to “commercialize” the solutions to existing industrial pollution problems.
In other words, they want to privatize all cleanup efforts, which might then be shielded from public view as being outside the jurisdiction of federal freedom of information laws.
So, is it the chemicals that make Middleportians stupid, or the money?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s money that’s reducing the quality of this community’s intelligence, but further research is required to be certain.
One suggestion: ditch Exponent, The Lockport Journal and Buffalo News as your sources of information. Corporate-owned print daily newspapers are grasping for huge profit margins in a dying industry. As a result, they’re evolving into public relations firms for the local chambers of commerce. Get online at home or in the library, and attend public meetings to witness the sorry state of affairs for yourself.
Stay tuned for more on FMC’s Middleport fiefdom, and other polluted crap you need to know about, wherever it happens.
Chuck Richardson is a freelance writer whose work is archived at www.bastardpolitics.com. His first book, Memos from Apartment 5, is now available in mo most online bookstores. © 2004 Copyright Chuck Richardson
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