A minimum of hundreds of residents in Fayette and Fulton counties in southwest metro Atlanta in 2006 were exposed to a chemical mix called MOCAP wash water, a concoction that contains the organophosphate pesticide ethoprop and the chemical odorant Propyl mercaptan. By government accounts, the “onion odor” chemical emissions originated at the Philips Services Corp.(PSC) waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92 just outside Fairburn. The actions by the state and federal governments in response to this chemical poisoning were a slap in the face of citizens who are born and bred to believe their government would actually try to protect them from harm. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Later in 2006, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released the findings of its Health Consultation, compiled in cooperation with Georgia Division of Public Health (DPH) and other agencies. The report was to be a comprehensive review of the impact to affected humans and domestic animals.
The study pointed to mercaptan as causing short-term adverse health effects and found no ill effects from ethoprop and no likely long-term effects from either. The report found no link for domestic animals and wildlife.
The Citizen Newspaper (Fayetteville) submitted a Georgia Open Records request for all documentation and data pertinent to the Health Consultation and received 250 pages of information. I wanted to see what their conclusions were based on.
There was only an indication of a follow-up call to one resident on medical-related issues. The study said there were seven people contacted but those references were missing in the information we received. Regardless, does anyone besides me think it’s questionable that only seven of 622 people were contacted as part of a comprehensive study?
The Open Records information included no reports and assessments of the medical records of the many residents who visited their doctors. There was no discussion or determination about why so many people were breathing the same “onion odor” and manifesting the same symptoms weeks before PSC said the wash water first entered the plant.
Where was the assessment of wildlife biologists who should have commented on community reports on the absence of bird, bee and butterfly activity at the same time people were sick?
Where was the Syndromic Surveillance System that was partly in place for domestic animals but not for humans? It’s intriguing that information supplied in the Open Records request had much mention of a Perdue University study clearly found statistically significant animal illnesses around the PSC plant during the time in question. That information did not make it into the Health Consultation. So much for being thorough!
If none of this makes sense, please understand that the health and environmental laws you believe are written to protect you do not. Here’s why. Sixty years ago, in 1947, before there was an EPA or Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), Congress passed the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).
Representatives of the chemical industry helped write the law, as they did when it was amended in the 1970s. The burden of proof written into the law requires that the public (or the government) must prove that a chemical is not safe rather than the chemical industry proving that it is safe.
In the end, state and federal governments rely on the chemical industry to be the gatekeeper. The power of the chemical industry, with lawmakers in tow, means agencies such as Georgia EPD issue permits, they do not conduct enforcement. Agencies such as DPH, EPA, ATSDR and CDC depend on chemical industry scientists to provide risk assessment. And in lock-step, government acts like it believes what it’s told. Only on rare occasions does this process backfire. Not that many years ago, for example, you would have been called an un-American conspiracy nut if you had argued that lead and mercury were harmful. Today, prohibitions on those chemicals exist.
Coursing through your veins as you read this column is a cocktail of chemicals, the synergistic effect of which is currently unknown to medical science. During a lifetime in the United States we are exposed to many of the approximately 80,000 chemicals in use today. Most of these chemicals are tested by manufacturers only after questions arise. That’s the law. Most of us have DDT and Teflon in our blood, for example.
The bottom line is that chemical industrial wealth trumps the enactment of sufficient laws through lobbying and campaign contributions, trumps government accountability through ineffective regulation and trumps the citizens by overpowering the very systems and safeguards that we naively believe are there to protect us.
Following in their footsteps are trade organizations and some in academia who, funded by industry, reach the conclusions espoused by their corporate benefactors.
The real truth about the exposures in Fayette and Fulton by PSC was never really addressed. A class-action lawsuit covering 2,200 households well inside the 40 square mile “hot zone” was settled out of court for $4 million. (You do the math on the compensation). Once again, the federal laws adhered to by the states do not protect you and your family. They protect the corporate interests that manufacture and sell the products. Consequently, if injured, it is you who has to go try to find an attorney that will take the case.
Yet there is a much larger problem that eclipses anything in locally. It’s the impact of the ubiquitous presence of chemicals worldwide and the myriad health issues they cause.
On the other hand, it’s probably better just to follow the lead of the national media and keep our attention focused on antics of your favorite movie or sports star or American Idol.
Or you could take a break from breathing the formaldehyde in your kitchen cabinets and the styrene in your carpet and do a quick Google search on what you’ve just read. You may be surprised at what you find.
In the end, it is “We the People” who live by the leave of our corporate/government masters.
“Ours is not to wonder why. Ours is but to do and die.”