By What Authority:

April 2001

By What Authority

How Long Shall We Grovel

A Memo for the Record

A Memo for the Record (April 2001)

provoked by: the Bill Moyers PBS Special "Trade Secrets"[2]

"We have trusted the chemical industry and our government to test the chemicals' effects on health and safety, and to take dangerous ones off the market." - 2 April 2001

Why? Based on what evidence?

The point of the Moyers' program was that chemical corporation officials made investment, technology, sales, and promotion decisions to drench their workers and the world with what they knew were poisons, and they didn't come clean. Commenting on the program, The New York Times Corporation said that nothing good comes without a price.

The remedies suggested in Moyers' program: passing laws that give people the "right to know" what's in all products, and requiring the testing of chemicals before they are mass produced.

So I asked myself: Did Bill Moyers instruct his staff to discover what was known in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s and 1980s — or earlier — about chemical corporations and poisoning? To find out what people back then were saying and doing? I took a look at my bookshelves and files. Here are excerpts from reports, articles and books going back 40, 50 & 60+ years.

They reveal that knowledge about the mass production, use and dumping of toxic chemicals, and about persistent manipulations, murders, deceptions & usurpations

by chemical corporation and government officials, was no secret. These excerpts show that diverse people and civic groups — along with eloquent scientists and even some elected officials — had a different vision of how to build a prosperous, productive, healthy & just society.

They show people committed to democracy, human rights & living in harmony with the earth's natural systems. They show people organizing to stop corporate & government assaults on democracy, human rights, justice and the earth's natural systems. They show poisoned people demanding not vengeance but acknowledgment as

human beings ... and then, health care, reparations, justice & sanity. They show poisoned people educating themselves, neighbors, public officials and the nation about science, medicine, business, oppression & self-governance.

In 2001, ANYONE who chooses to look will find massive evidence of chemical corporation murder, pillage & lies extending over a century. ANYONE who chooses to look will see persistent corporate denial of people's constitutional and human rights, & government complicity. This country exalts the platitude "all political authority is inherent in the people."

But our great corporations have long been protected by the rule of law ... empowered by our own constitution and bill of rights. Our society has bestowed upon Chemical corporation leaders, as upon top officials of all giant corporations, the highest rewards & honors, & great wealth.

Great corporations have been exalted by legislators & judges, presidents & governors, police and national guards, by local, state & federal governments. How long shall we authorize chemical corporate officials to kill? How long shall we beg them to tell the truth? To make the earth's air, water and soil, our foods and our jobs, a little less deadly? To please "give us" the right to know? How long shall we grovel before our elected public servants? Other species are counting on us to do more than regulate the destruction of the planet. What do YOU think we the people should do now?

"Have we perhaps grown up in a perverse sort of way and now accept that spectacular progress like that of the last half-century cannot be achieved without tradeoffs? Nothing good, be it democracy or more durable house paint, comes without a price." - The New York Times Corporation's, Neil Genzlinger instructing viewers how to think about Moyers', PBS program, 3.26.01

The literature on this topic is vast. Here is just a handful of books:

Some studies cited by Rachel Carson in her 1962 book Silent Spring. Check out the dates.

Ad infinitum. Alas.

Let's close with this simple chart from 1950:

Comparison of Estimated Value of Products Manufactured with Estimated Cost of Industrial-Waste Treatment for Major Industries Contributing to the Pollution of Surface Water in the United States[47]

The chemical corporation role in nuclear bomb and nuclear power activities over the past 60 years is incalculable. Nothing about this aspect of US history has been included in this memorandum for the record. — RLG

[1] Co-Director, Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy, P O BOX 390, Milton Mills, NH 03852. ph: 603.473.8637; fax: 603.473.8657; email:; formerly, Director of Environmentalists For Full Employment, 1976-1985; co-founder, Stop the Poisoning (STP) Schools at Highlander Center, Tennessee.

[2] As Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney recently pointed out, officials of corporations which have contracted with the Pentagon in Colombia to spray chemicals from the skies, train terrorists, supply weapons of great destruction and heaven knows what else have refused to provide her with information about what precisely their corporations are doing in Colombia. The excuse: corporate trade secrets.

[3] Stuart Chase, The Economy of Abundance, NY: Macmillan Co., 1934, pp. 25-6

[4] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, p. 297

[5] Barry Commoner, Science & Survival, NY: Viking, 1963

[6] Fear At Work, p. 185

[7] James C. Robinson, Toil and Toxics: Workplace Struggles and Political Struggles for Occupational Health, Berkeley Univ. of Cal. Press, 1991, pp. 109-111

[8] Regenstein, p. 21

[9] Richard Kazis & Richard L. Grossman, Fear At Work: Job Blackmail, Labor & The Environment, second edition, Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 1991, p. xi-xii. [first edition: 1982]

[10] Leonard Woodcock, President, United Auto Workers, 1976, in Fear At Work, p. 57

[11] John Sheehan, legislative director of the United Steelworkers of America, 1979, in Fear At Work, p. 21

[12] Richard L. Grossman & Gail Daneker, Energy, Jobs & the Economy, Boston: Alyson Publications, 1979

[13] Richard L. Grossman, "The Saturation of the South," in The Egg, Summer 1988

[14] Regenstein, pp. 25-6

[15] Regenstein, p. 82

[16] "The EPA and the Regulation of Pesticides," staff Report to this senate committee, Washington DC, December, 1976.

[17] James Moorman, Assistant Attorney General for Land and Natural Resources, US Dept of Justice, testifying before the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, May 16, 1979, in Regenstein p. 136

[18] Eckhardt Beck, EPA assistant administrator, July 25, 1980, in Regenstein p, 168

[19] Richard Moore and Louis Head, in Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice & Communities of Color, edited by Robert D. Bullard, SF: Sierra Club Books, 1994, pp. 195-200

[20] Regenstein, p. 205; nb: a significant "benefits" literature has existed for decades

[21] Jeanne Mager Stellman, Women's Work, Women's Heath: Myths and Realities, NY: Pantheon, 1977, pp. 85-86

[22] Fear At Work, p. 174

[23] K. William Kapp, The Social Costs of Private Enterprise, NY: Schocken Books, 1950, pp. 229-30

[24] Carson, Silent Spring, p. 158-9

[25] Dan Berman, Death On The Job, pp. 44-46

[26] Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure, chaired by Edward M. Kennedy, in Regenstein, p. 233

[27] Chemical Regulation Reporter, 15 January, 1982, in Regenstein p. 271

[28] Library of Congress study, August 1980: "Health Effects of Toxic Pollution: A Report from the Surgeon General," and "A Brief Review of Selected Environmental Contamination Incidents with a Potential for Health Effects," reports prepared by the Surgeon General, Dept of HHS, and the Library of Congress, for the Committee on Environment and Public Works, US Senate, in Regenstein p. 245

[29] Eric Mann & the WATCHDOG Organizing Committee, L. A.'s Lethal Air: New Strategies for Policy, Organizing and Action, LA: A Labor/Community Strategy Center Book, 1991, p. 17

[30] LA's Lethal Air, p. 18, 1991

[31] Lois Marie Gibbs, Love Canal: My Story, as told to Murray Levine, Albany: State University of NY Press, 1982, pp. 3, 6, 22, 30, 75-6, 141, 148-9, 174.

[32] Dr. George Harvey, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 1975, in Regenstein p. 296

[33] Russell Train, EPA Administrator, November, 1974, in Regenstein p. 363

[34] Environmental Defense Fund, October 1974, in Regenstein, p. 363

[35] Regenstein, p. 375

[36] Regenstein, p. 375

[37] "Status Report on Pesticides," SF: Friends of the Earth, 1981, in Karl Grossman, p. 35

[38] Institute for Food Technologists, a chemical industry "educational" non-profit corporation, in a pamphlet titled "Quick Answers to Commonly Asked Questions About Food," 1981, in Karl Grossman, p. 85

[39] advertisement from Ritter International Corporation, in Karl Grossman, p. 83

[40] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1962, pp. 35-6

[41] Joan Dye Gussow, Chicken Little, Tomato Sauce & Agriculture, NY: The Bootstrap Press, 1991, p. 34

[42] "Health Effects of Toxic Pollution: A Report from the Surgeon General," August 1,1980, in Karl Grossman, p. 102

[43] Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, NY: Houghton Mifflin, 1962, pp. 294-96. And so we must also deal with the reality that the institutional vehicle for moving from science to technology and then to mass production is the modern giant corporation, which our courts and culture have armed with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. See:

[44] Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle, NY: Knopf, 1971, pp. pp. 277-282

[45] Commoner, The Closing Circle, final paragraph p. 300.

[46] President Ronald Reagan, "National Pest Control Month," June, 1982, in Karl Grossman, p. 241

[47] "Compiled for the volume of production indicated by the 1935 Census of Manufacturers and based upon the judgment of engineers who have had wide experience in the treatment of industrial waste. See National Resources Committee, Water Pollution in the United States, pp. 31, 53-54." In Kapp, p. 90

[48] These figures do not include costs of treating diseases, of people's lost income, or the "value" of coerced and premature deaths. They do not include costs of across-generation genetic damage, harms to non-human species, the removal of land from agricultural production and human habitation. They do not quantify the costs of air and soil detoxification. They do not quantify the costs of detoxifying the nation's educational and self-governing processes, or the detoxification of the law. And no columns on this chart list people's agonies or the long-lived distortions arising from the toxification of the nation's values.