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Vinyl Chloride: The Tragic Truth Emerges

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

In January 1974, B.F. Goodrich announced the presence of a rare liver cancer, angiosarcoma, in its polyvinyl chloride workers at is Louisville plant. The industry purported to be shocked at the news that vinyl chloride could cause cancer, and portrayed the very rare and fatal cancers as isolated to one facility. Workers, regulators and the public were not told that two years earlier, the industry's top medical experts had evidence (which they believed was compelling) documenting these same tumors in animals exposed to doses of vinyl chloride far lower than levels commonly found in the workplace.

The strategy quickly became one of limiting liability by controlling the science, either through pressuring scientists directly, or by manipulating the study design of the only study of vinyl chloride industry workers.

In October 1974, European scientists (Viola) had more compelling evidence that vinyl chloride was "strongly carcinogenic" in animals, and had prepared a report for publication. Following on the heels of the B.F. Goodrich fatal angiosarcomas in workers, a confirmatory finding of strong carcinogenicity would be a severe blow to the industry.

Still bound by their secrecy agreement with the European producers, American vinyl producers crossed the Atlantic with the expressed purpose of diluting the publication of these pivotal study results. This pressure was successful. After a visit from a representative from the MCA, the study author, Dr. P. L. Viola, changed the all-important first sentence of his report to dramatically downplay the seriousness of his findings:

Quoted Text
(view entire document)

In May of 1974, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) proposed a maximum exposure level for vinyl chloride at a no detectable level, using equipment with an accuracy of 1 part per million.

Industry strenuously opposed this standard. A May 24, 1974 special meeting of the Vinyl Chloride Safety Association was attended by 55 people representing 27 companies. Many claimed that protecting workers from vinyl chloride would put them out of business. A Union Carbide memo describing the meeting reports that companies still felt the proposed standard was "not necessary" and that they could not "take risk of an industry shutdown." (view entire document)

But the industry did not shut down. Instead, the no detectable level and 1 part per million standard was implemented on January 1, 1975 and after decades of heavy exposure to vinyl chloride worker risks were dramatically reduced.

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last updated: march.27.2009

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