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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > A $7 Million Chemical Reaction Set in Motion by the Monsanto Corp.

The Monsanto Corp. is spending $7 million in a public relations campaign to speak up about chemicals. But chemicals have been speaking up for themselves recently in ways that Monsanto would rather not have publicized.

More than 80 of these chemicals, 22 of them cancer-causing, have been oozing through a residential area in Niagara Falls causing emergency evacuations amidst reports of disease and birth defects. It seems that about 20 years ago, Hooker Chemical Co. was using the area as a deadly chemical dumping ground.

In Virginia, along the James River, the lethal pesticide kepone reigns supreme. Workers and their families have been afflicted, and fishing is banned over wide areas due to the longtime carelessness of Allied Chemical and its satellite company.

Into the Hudson River and the Housatonic River, General Electric for years has poured an industrial chemical, PCB, poisoning the water, the river beds, and the fish, possibly for generations.

In Michigan, the fire retardant chemical, PBB, was carelessly put into animal feed by a chemical company, leading to the destruction of thousands of cattle and the contamination of virtually everyone in Michigan–a major and lasting environmental disaster. The PBB is recycling itself in new Michigan herds and milk products.

Scientists have shown conclusively that numerous pesticides are cancerous and replaceable with safer ways–chemical and non-chemical–to control pests. Some of these pesticides already have been taken off the market.

Tests of mothers’ milk in many women have revealed startling pesticide levels. Drinking water for tens of millions of Americans is reported by the Environmental Protection Agency to contain disturbing residues of many industrial chemicals that find their way right through conventional purification systems.

Medical studies and company admissions have produced a growing list of chemicals that are afflicting many factory workers with serious diseases.

Notwithstanding the almost daily reporting of these tragedies, Monsanto launched its callous campaign against what it calls “an irrational, anti-chemical mood (that) seems to be sweeping the country.”

In slick brochures, motion pictures, traveling exhibits and company lecturers for all occasions, Monsanto’s principal message is one of reassurance: “Life itself is chemical,” says one headline. “Nature itself is chemical,” says another. One picture shows a baby with the caption, “Without chemicals life itself would be impossible.”

The St. Louis-based chemical giant is worried. It believes the public is not receiving advice “from responsible companies like Monsanto.” Why “without such advice,” one company pamphlet says somberly, “the public might even be tempted to ban such dangerous-sounding chemicals as di-hydrogen oxide (water).”

Questions are posed with an emphasis that might seem luxurious to workers or neighbors merely trying to survive the presence of chemicals in their environment. For example, Monsanto asks “Is zero risk possible?” as if that is the burning issue of today or even of tomorrow. Other Monsanto front-burners are: “Should you rely on regulations to protect you at home or in the workplace?” Or “No chemical is totally safe all the time, everywhere.”

The Monsanto campaign is ambitious indeed. Employees are exhorted to speak out to “store clerks, bank tellers, taxi drivers, to anyone we may come in contact with.” Perhaps a Monsanto delegation ought to rush to Niagara Falls or try to convince the unemployed Virginia fishermen along the James River and Chesapeake Bay.

A company booklet asserts that the message about chemicals will be taken to “shareowners, customers, key chemical industry stock analysts, elected and appointed government officials, public interest groups and influential leaders in cities and towns where Monsanto has facilities or does a significant amount of business.”

Even a leading environmental group, the Environmental Defense Fund, is being wooed by Monsanto to join with the company on some of the media message campaigns.

Large portions of Monsanto’s campaign money is going for television “because it offers exactly the kind of emotional impact that can make a lasting impression on the public.”

Monsanto’s campaign will fail precisely because it does not address the growing evidence of harmful effects of new and old chemicals whose risks either were ignored or inadequately analyzed.

The problem is not that the benefits have been insufficiently ballyhooed–billions of promotional industry dollars have gone toward that end over the years. Nor is the problem that the benefits of these chemicals are only achieved by accepting the hazards as inextricable prices that have to be paid.

The challenge is to conduct the research and enforce the laws to prevent these hazards BEFORE, not after they exact their dreadful tribute from present and future generations. That $7 million, properly used with leverage, could have saved many lives instead of being vainly wasted trying to brainwash many minds.