[corp-focus] Corporate Manslaughter?
Mon, 26 Mar 2001 18:33:27 -0500 (EST)
By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman
Let us now turn to Hyatt Hotel in lovely Crystal City, Virginia, across
the Potomac River from our nation's capital.
The date: March 22, 2001.
The time: 1:30 p.m.
Our man on the scene, environmental activist Dave DeRosa, has infiltrated
the Vinyl Formulators Environmental Forum.
The group of about 30 chemical company executives has gathered to discuss
And what damage are they seeking to control?
The damage that will surely be done tonight (March 26, 2001) when the
Public Broadcasting System (PBS) seeks to defy its well- deserved image as
the Petroleum Broadcasting System and run a 90-minute indictment of the
chemical industry and how it killed off the people on the front lines --
also known as workers.
The words "homicide" and "manslaughter" aren't mentioned in the Moyers
documentary -- but we suggest that the all of the nation's prosecutors --
including U.S. Attorneys, Attorneys General from the fifty states, and
district attorneys -- tune in and take notes -- or just transcribe the
thing and attach it to an indictment.
We see workers dying. We see Dan Ross, who died at age 46 of a rare brain
cancer. Ross was convinced that his job killed him. And he died not
knowing how right he was.
We see spouses grieving. Elaine Ross vows to her dying husband that she
would "never, ever let the chemical industry forget who he was -- never."
She joins up with Lake Charles, Louisiana trial attorney Billy Baggett,
who through discovery amasses thousands of internal company documents.
The documents formed the basis of a twelve-part series by then Houston
Chronicle reporter Jim Morris (titled "In Strictest Confidence") that ran
from June 1998 to December 1998 -- outlining the story that Moyers tells
in graphic detail tonight. (www.chron.com/strictestconfidence)
Morris and Moyers report on a 1959 Dow Chemical memo showing that vinyl
chloride exposure at 500 mg "is going to produce rather appreciable injury
when inhaled seven hours a day, five days a week for an extended period."
"As you can appreciate, this opinion is not ready for dissemination yet
and I would appreciate it if you would hold it in confidence but use it as
you see fit in your own operations," the memo says.
Then there is the 1973 Ethyl Corp. memo claiming that rat tests results
"certainly indicate a positive carcinogenic effect."
And there's the classic 1971 Union Carbide internal memo that voices
general worry about the political climate in the United States and warns
that: "a campaign by Mr. R. Nader and others could force an industrial
upheaval via new laws or strict interpretation of pollution and
occupational health laws."
Thank goodness, for the sake of the chemical industry, that the populace
is now once again distracted -- watching the Sopranos, the Oscar awards,
the NCAAs -- instead of paying attention to Morris and Moyers.
Now back to the hotel and the industry session on damage control.
There is Mark Sofman, director of flexible vinyl at the Vinyl Institute.
According to DeRosa, Sofman tells the assembled executives that a
concerted chemical industry campaign against the Moyers show led to a
breakthrough -- the trial lawyer, Billy Baggett, will only have a minor
part in the show -- and indeed, Baggett is effectively gagged in the final
cut. ("It's simply not true that Billy Baggett's role was reduced," says a
According to DeRosa, Bill Carroll, a vice president at Occidental Chemical
Company, told the group that the Moyers show "will be a painful 120
minutes to watch."
He compared this kind of "unwanted attention" to the heartbreak of
psoriasis -- "It's sometimes in remission but it's never cured." (How, in
a democracy, could the industry cure it?)
According to DeRosa, Nick Nichols, an industry flak who has been working
on damage control on the Moyers show for eight weeks, advised the industry
executives to "pick a good messenger."
He suggested somebody with charisma and credibility. Ideally, it would not
be an old balding guy. Preferably it would be a woman -- with credentials.
This led one of the vinyl executives from the audience to say -- "Like
tobacco guys have been using." Nichols agreed.
According to DeRosa, Nichols claimed that the premise of the show is that
"the industry engaged in pre-meditated murder."
In one of the articles in the Houston Chronicle series from 1998, Morris
writes about prosecutors in Venice, Italy who brought manslaughter charges
against 31 chemical industry executives in the deaths of workers exposed
to vinyl chloride and other chemical carcinogens. (According to
Greenpeace, the case is still pending.)
Will the prosecutors of America please pay some attention tonight? The
hard work has been done for you. More than 35,000 documents detailing the
wrongdoing will appear on a website tomorrow morning (www.ewg.org). All
you have to do is research the law, and apply the facts. America awaits
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime
Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based
Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The
Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common
Courage Press, 1999).
(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman