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April 2, 2001
Volume 79, Number 14
CENEAR 79 14 pp.9
ISSN 0009-2347
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PBS documentary charges chemical industry with pattern of deceit


Last week's public broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary, "Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report"--which presented evidence of a 50-year chemical industry pattern of withholding information from plant workers and the public about the dangers of toxic chemicals--elicited sharp reactions from industry and environmental activists alike.

SURPRISED Moyers found out his blood contains 84 synthetic chemicals.

PBS ( and ACC websites (www. contain documents and reactions relevant to the "Trade Secrets" broadcast, but others have relevant information, too. The Environmental Working Group just started a website (www.chemi based mostly on documents obtained by lawyer William Baggett Jr. The Vinyl Institute website ( contains information on vinyl's benefits and safety as well as on industry pollution prevention efforts.

Chemical industry representatives question the interpretation and presentation of facts in the broadcast. Environmental groups largely applaud the program. Veteran journalist Bill Moyers, who wrote and narrated the televised account, said the facts speak for themselves.

Frederick L. Webber, president of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), says that "by selectively choosing documents and information to support the story they wanted to tell, Moyers and the plaintiff's attorneys have produced a grossly inaccurate and misleading picture of history and our industry."

Plaintiff attorney William Baggett Jr. collected much of the documentary evidence Moyers relied on. Those documents allegedly support client Elaine Ross's claim that her husband died of brain cancer about a decade ago because of 23 years of exposure to vinyl chloride at the Conoco plant in Lake Charles, La., where he worked.

"These internal industry documents are a fact. They exist. They're not a matter of opinion or point of view," Moyers said, explaining why chemical industry representatives were not included in the 90-minute documentary portion of the program. "They state what the industry knew, when they knew it, and what they decided to do," Moyers added.

Terry F. Yosie, ACC strategic communications vice president, says the documentary segment was "a one-sided, ideologically driven program. Moyers chose to broadcast a program that underestimated the public's ability to draw its own conclusion." In the half-hour panel discussion televised after the documentary, Yosie says he tried to convey how the industry has changed and to talk about benefits the industry brings to society.

But Greenpeace Legislative Director Rick Hind says Moyers "did a good job. The industry continues to make highly toxic and persistent chemicals. And it continues to use a number of obsolete manufacturing processes, such as the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride, when [it] knows better. For instance, Dow Chemical's joint venture with Cargill will soon produce plastics from corn."

Yosie insisted during the panel discussion that chemicals on the market have been "carefully scrutinized," but Environmental Defense Executive Director Fred Krupp has asked Yosie to retract the statement. "Telling the public today that industrial chemicals are safe when you know the information isn't there is akin to telling workers 30 years ago that there was no evidence that vinyl chloride and benzene were harmful," Krupp wrote to ACC. "In both cases, your organization's file cabinets knew better."

Chemical companies were critical of the broadcast. "The safety of our people and of the communities in which we operate is very important to us," a Dow Chemical spokes-man says. "We found it unfortunate that Moyers painted such an unbalanced picture." Before a product gets to market, government regulations require thorough health and safety tests, he says.

"We don't agree with Moyers' view of history," a DuPont spokesman says. "It would seem to me that balanced journalism would have required industry points of view during the 90-minute documentary and not just in the 30-minute panel discussion at the end of the broadcast."

Moyers missed the story of the chemical industry today with its commitment to the public's right to know, product stewardship, and community outreach, DuPont's spokesman notes. And "he missed the industry's commitment to a future in which companies like DuPont will have environmentally sustainable businesses and approach a target of zero emissions into the environment."

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