It’s been more than two years since a massive chemical spill in West Virginia left regulators puzzled over basic questions like, how toxic is this chemical? Does it pose a threat to pregnant women and children? How long will this chemical stay in the environment, or in people’s bodies?
The reason we couldn’t answer those questions was simple.
Chemicals that were invented or discovered before 1976 – thousands and thousands of chemicals that were developed in the early 20th century – were simply “grandfathered in” to the Toxic Substances Control Act (ToSCA) of 1976 and presumed safe until proven dangerous.
There was a massive public outcry in response to the Elk River chemical spill, and Congress quickly took up action to reform and strengthen the ToSCA.
So, more than two years later, how’s that new legislation coming along?
If you happen to be on the board of a multibillion dollar agrichemical giant called Monsanto, it’s going great!
Not so much though, if you happen to be a private citizen who actually wants accountability when corporations poison communities or expose them to cancer-causing chemicals.
Right in the middle of the sweeping new chemical safety bill that Congress is working out, Republicans in the House of Representatives have added one paragraph that would save Monsanto, and only Monsanto, hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
The clause relates to “PCBs,” which are non-flammable Monsanto-produced chemicals that were used extensively in electronics, caulk, paints, pesticides and thermal insulation in buildings for most of the 20th century.
Starting in the 1930s, Monsanto manufactured nearly all of the 1.25 billion pounds of PCBs that were produced and sold in the United States.
In 1977, Monsanto stopped producing PCBs because of health concerns, and the EPA banned the chemical with few exceptions in 1979.
PCBs don’t break down easily though: They stay in the environment and in sewage systems, they accumulate in the fat tissues in animals and humans, and they cause health problems like cancer.
Just last year, cities and school systems tried to sue Monsanto for hundreds of millions of dollars to get them to pay part of the cost to reduce PCB levels in sewer discharge and in construction caulk to meet federal and state regulations.
At the same time, another group of individuals with non-Hodgkins lymphoma related to PCB exposure sued Monsanto for damages.
If the House version of the new chemical safety bill passes into law though, those cities and schools will be stuck with the bill to clean up Monsanto’s cancer-causing chemical, and individuals will be stuck with the bill to treat the cancers that the chemical caused.
That’s a real possibility, because our government has stopped working for the public good, and now it works mostly to line the coffers of multibillion dollar corporations.
Thanks to the court rulings in Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo and Santa Clara County v. the Southern Pacific Railroad, Monsanto is technically a person, and the money that Monsanto spends to put their shills in Congress is technically “free speech.”
But these corporations apparently aren’t happy with being seen as merely being equal to living, breathing human beings under the law.
No, they also use their incredible financial resources to go to court to make sure that certain laws just don’t apply to them.
Right now, Monsanto is suing the state of California to make sure that consumers in California don’t know that Roundup is probably cancerous.
Under a California law that was passed by ballot initiative back in 1986, it is illegal for businesses to knowingly expose any individual to a chemical known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity without first giving a clear and reasonable warning, and the discharge of such chemicals into a source of drinking water is prohibited.
Just makes sense right? Companies should tell consumers when they’re being exposed to dangerous chemicals, and those chemicals should be kept out of people’s drinking water.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer found in 2015 that glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, is “probably carcinogenic.”
So this should be an open and shut case.
Monsanto produces a chemical that’s recognized as cancerous, and the law says that they have to label products that contain cancerous chemicals.
But Monsanto is suing, saying that it’s unconstitutional for a state agency to use findings from any international organization.
And that’s just flat-out insane, because WHO research and the international exchange of public health data is critical to answering questions like “is this chemical linked to cancer?”
The fact is that these corporations don’t really care about public health, they care about their bottom line.
They figure that it’s cheaper to sue the state of California than to potentially lose out on sales by telling people about the fact that chemicals like those in Roundup can cause cancer.
And that’s the same reason why Monsanto pays to get Monsanto-friendly politicians into Congress.
Buying elections might be expensive, but owning lawmakers who can write loopholes is cheaper than paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.
Our government should be protecting people’s health, not corporate bottom lines.
We need a government that we can count on to inform us about health risks and protect us, because not everyone is a scientist, not all science is created equal and people just don’t have the time to research every chemical that they’re exposed to.
We need a government that we can trust to protect us from corporations that only care about shareholder profits, even when their products are killing Americans.
That’s why it’s time to repeal Citizens United and to pass a constitutional amendment that makes it clear that a corporation is not a person and money is not speech, because our government should work on behalf of the living, breathing citizens of this country.