About the questions not asked . . .

Ben Nelms's picture

Hundreds of residents in Fayette and Fulton in 2006 were introduced 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-like chemical emissions originated at the Philips Services Corp.(PSC) waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92 just outside Fairburn.

A few weeks ago, 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 an assessment 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 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.

Documents showed only one follow-up call to one resident on medical-related issues. The study itself 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?

Also, 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 chemical 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 data 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 that 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 these omissions make 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 EPD, Congress passed the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). It’s no military secret that 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, mercury and asbestos were harmful. Today, prohibitions on those chemicals exist. By the way, current studies show that most of us have DDT and Teflon in our blood.

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. Yet 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.

The bottom line is that chemical industry power 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 some naively believe are there to protect us.

Following in their footsteps are industry 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 will probably only come to be known in court. Yet there is a much larger problem that eclipses anything 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 Paris Hilton.

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.

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Submitted by tobybob on Fri, 07/27/2007 - 4:36pm.

Dear Ben,
You have done an excellent job investigating and reporting on the environmental problem. Now the citizens need some investigation and reporting on the illegalities perpetuated by Barry Amos in the name of Tyrone's Olde Town Redevelopment. As I am sure you are aware, the Tyrone private business owners are in real trouble of losing their livelihoods. Barry Amos is breaking the laws and lying to the public. He is not issuing legal business licenses, taking bribes by way of property easements in exchange for special spot zoning, and withholding public zoning information that the citizens of Tyrone need to know to run their businesses. We want to know why he had to leave his jobs in Peachtree City and Senoia!! We want to know what is going on and, as you know, a journalist's job and passion is exposing and educating the public on matters of public concern. The citizens of Tyrone are in dire need of help. We need to expose Barry Amos for the foul, lying, covert jerk he is!! PLEASE HELP US!! The toxicity is spreading.

Submitted by justwant2live on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 1:19pm.

It is very obvious that our community has been poisoned by chemcials that have been tagged as the onion smell chemicals. As it has been stated in the July 19, 2007 Town Hall meeting, the laws need to be re-written so that the worst chemical exposure to ever hit the great State of Georgia, never happens again. The chemicals that we have been exposed to should have never been at the chemical processing plant and has now, become one of the largest cover-ups ever seen in history of the State of Georgia. People will not stand still for this reckless chemical exposure, the blatant neglect and the obvious harm that has been done to our children, unborn, our community, surronding wildlife and environment.

Submitted by dollaradayandfound on Wed, 07/25/2007 - 2:32pm.

If you really feel you have been injured, then about 200 of you will have to picket, along with the Atlanta TV stations for a month or so. Only way the current administration will act against industry.

Submitted by dollaradayandfound on Wed, 07/04/2007 - 5:24pm.

Often when I am reading something a so-called "libertarian" writes, I begin to think maybe their philosophy of government isn't too bad. For one thing, and there are many others, they don't much believe in laws that govern corporations, safety, pollution, or most anything else.
I begin to wonder where we would be if we never had had any of those laws to help protect us from the money grubbers. I think many of us would be dead or crippled. But wait! As the commercial says, maybe that is not such a bad idea. If there were less of us, then we would need less!
As An alternative to all these laws, assuming the majority of us don't want them of course, I suggest the Chinese system for managing this sort of thing. That system being: when the owner of a small Chinese factory in China sent some poisoned stuff to us recently, he was simply sentenced to death. There are no appeals.
If you like that better, then I suggest we go ahead with the spinach investigation of recent news, and maybe other food processors will be more careful?

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