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Vinyl Chloride: Chemical Plant Workers

Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 see the vinyl pollutors in your state

Vinyl chloride factory workers were not so lucky. There was no quiet phase-out of vinyl chloride at the plants where thousands of workers labored. There were not even any efforts to reduce exposure. Instead, industry threw its considerable resources into suppressing the flow of information on the hazards of vinyl chloride. It would not act until forced to do so.

By 1972 the industry had in place an industry-wide secrecy agreement concerning the cancer causing properties of VCM. (view entire document) The Manufacturing Chemists Association orchestrated this industry-wide non-disclosure pact, soliciting ironclad pledges of secrecy from some 25 vinyl producers and users in the Unites States and Europe. (view entire document) According to a 1972 MCA memo, companies "should feel honor bound to make sure such information remains within their own companies." (view entire document) These non-disclosures were open-ended, and could only be breached by affirmative consent of the supplier of the information, namely the European companies that had contracted for the studies. (view entire document)

By November 1972, the industry had additional study results from an independent Italian researcher, Dr. Cesare Maltoni, showing that vinyl chloride caused a rare form of liver cancer in laboratory animals at doses as low as 250 part per million after just one year of exposure (4 hours a day, five days a week). (view entire document) This potentially was very damaging information. Workers had been exposed to vinyl chloride at levels twice as high as this, or greater, for years, even decades. The risks to these workers were potentially fatal, and the industry now knew it.

But for the industry, the oath of secrecy was paramount. It even superceded their moral obligation to inform government regulators about the risks they were now virtually certain their workers faced. When MCA officials met with leaders of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in July 1973, they failed to disclose the Maltoni information to the agency. Industry disputes this fact, but testifying before the U.S. Senate in August 1974, the Director of NIOSH, Dr. Marcus Key, put it this way:

"No mention was ever made to us about liver cancer and the new Italian investigator was not named. I would like to re-emphasize that no information about liver cancers was given. If there had been, I think we would have taken an entirely different course of action in view of the widespread use of this material."

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last updated: march.27.2009

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