April 5, 1999

The Dow Nightmare

10 Reasons Why President Shapiro Should Resign from the Dow Board of Directors

Jason Ku

What do Saran Wrap, Agent Orange, pesticides, dioxin, $2,110,000 spent on federal lobbying, napalm, over $20 billion in yearly profits, and Princeton President Harold T. Shapiro have in common? They are all key to the success of Dow Chemical Company, the world's fifth largest chemical manufacturer. President Shapiro has been an active board member of Dow since 1985. He serves on the Audit Committee, the Committee on Directors, and the Environmental, Health, Safety, and Public Policy Committee and is the Chairman of the Compensation Committee. For his service, President Shapiro receives an annual retainer of $32,000, as well as an additional $6,000 for being a Chairman and an extra $4,000 because he is not an employee of Dow. That makes a total of $42,000, which does not include the $1,200 plus expenses he receives for each meeting attended, as well as stock options. Shapiro is an economist, and his financial advice is very valuable to Dow. A look at Dow throughout the last century will reveal its dirty hands, and show that the ignominious company does not deserve the services of President Shapiro.

During the Vietnam War, Dow profited by producing components of napalm, the notorious chemical that maimed and killed Vietnamese soldiers and villagers alike. Dow told critics to "blame the military, not us--we merely sell one of napalmıs ingredients" (13). Even worse, Dow manufactured the main components of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D. Not only did Dow delay the discontinuation of Agent Orange as long as possible, it waited seven years before reporting to the United States government that Agent Orange contained dioxin, one of the most toxic compounds known to man. According to a Greenpeace report on "Dow dioxin," "workers and Vietnam veterans involved with 2,4,5-T were exposed to significant quantities of dioxin, and numerous studies have documented elevated rates of cancer and other diseases among exposed persons" (6). Dow continues to produce 2,4-D, which in 1993 was found to contain dioxin, despite the 25,000 claims filed by veterans against Dow for injuries from Agent Orange and "sealed court settlements" with utility workers who suffered illnesses from spraying 2,4,5-T (5). In 1984, Dow settled to the tune of $180 million with a group representing 4,000 Vietnam veterans for damages caused by Agent Orange. Dow was also sued by 25,000 farmers for sterility due to the exposure of DBCP, a pesticide that Dow continues to produce despite the fact that it is banned in the U.S (5).

In 1969, one of Dow's chlorinated waste pits in Louisiana overflowed into cattle grazing grounds. According to Dow's director of environmental affairs, the event "was the beginning of our commitment that we weren't going to put that stuff in the ground anymore." Subsequently, Dow began to relinquish the underground waste storage (13).

In 1970, miscarriages and illnesses, linked to the spraying of 2,4,5-T (half of Agent Orange) by the Forest Service in Globe, Arizona, resulted in a court case between Dow and the local community. Though Dow knew about the deleterious effects of this herbicide, it refused to accept liability and finally settled in 1981. The same situation arose in the Alsea Valley in Oregon, prompting the Environmental Protection Agency to prohibit 2,4,5-T. Dow unsuccessfully sued the EPA and dropped the case in 1983 (13).

In 1978, the EPA took aerial photographs of Dow's smoke stacks in Midland for the Clean Air Act survey and was subsequently sued by Dow Chemicals. Further studies by the EPA showed that the nearby Tittabawassee River was one of the most dioxin-contaminated sites on earth. Dow reviewed the incriminating EPA report before its release and tried to block its publication. Scientists hired by the company blamed volcanoes and forest fires for the dioxin that Dow had created. Shortly afterward, scientists from Indiana University reported that "emission of dioxins and furans has increased greatly since 1940," when "large-scale organochlorine production and the incineration of wastes from that production began in Midland." (5)

Greenpeace staff members were arrested in 1985 for plugging up Dow's discharge pipes in the Tittabawassee River. One of the Greenpeace members, Melissa Ortquist, tested positive for syphilis in a county jail blood test. Dow's public relations officer reported the results of the test to Diane Hebert, a protester of Dow's brine spills, saying that Ortquist "had V.D." Not only was this a cheap shot on the part of Dow, it revealed the fact that Dow had means to bypass privacy laws in order to access county health records, and it was very likely that the company could edit the statistics to fit their purposes (13).

Dow covered the entire bottom of the St. Clair River in 1986 when the corporation spilled a huge amount of dry-cleaning fluid from its Sarnia plant. Ten years later, the a similar spill occurred when a Norwegian tanker dumped "over 50 barrels of the same Dow manufactured chemical into a commercial fishing area in the Gulf of Mexico" (5).

A train carrying Dow's toxic waste was derailed in Freeland, MI in 1989, forcing the local community to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night (5). The same year, chemicals on their way to a Dow plant contaminated the equivalent of twenty-five carloads of soil. Dow not only denied the soil's toxicity but also refused to dispose of the hazard in Dow's own waste landfill in Midland. Although it took two years to find a dumping site, Dow's chief environmental officer emphasized that both Michigan and Utah health officials found the soil to be perfectly benign.

In 1995, Dow lobbied for Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) reform, and attempted to disguise its 21% reduction in work force between 1993-95, as a "global restructuring strategy" (5).

A Louisiana jury ruled in August 1997 that, "despite claims to the contrary, Dow Chemical was involved in testing silicone for human use, and that it covered up evidence, lied about potential dangers of silicone use, and conspired with Dow Corning" (7). Dow Corning, a joint interest between Dow Chemical and Corning, "suspected as early as 1971 that it lacked sufficient scientific data to guarantee the safety of [breast] implants." However, in the fall of 1991, Dow Corning set up a phone hotline for women with questions about breast implants. Advertisements claimed that "callers would receive information based on 30 years of valid scientific research," and many women were told that the implants were "100 percent safe" despite the studies done by the company itself in the 1970s (3).

Dow's deep pockets are not untouched by fines. In 1995, Dow paid $1 million in U.S. environmental fines, a $167,339 EPA fine for hazardous waste violations at its Midland, Michigan facility, and $732,000 for failure to report information about the adverse health effects of the insecticide Dursban (4). People poisoned by Dursban are now incapable of living normal lives because of their increased sensitivity to most types of chemicals (5).

An Inside Look at Dow's Defenses

In 1989, the Wall Street Journal described Dow Chemical as "a company unwilling to turn away from a product that it knew to be troubled but to which it had committed considerable resources" (5). Dow is no different now than it was in the past, and more shocking than Dow tradition are the methods by which it continues its customs.

In 1997, Dow spent $2,100,000 on federal lobbying, and was a member of at least 40 trade associations "used to peddle influence" (12). According to INFACT Executive Director Kathryn Mulvey, "Dow Chemical is a master of keeping a quiet public profile while working vigorously in the shadows to market its toxic products and avoid environmental regulation, both on the domestic front and overseas." (12). What Dow has essentially done is to create and use a coalition of citizens and experts to "publicly promote the outcomes desired by the corporation while claiming to represent the public interest" (2). Dow sits at the top of a list of companies supporting corporate front groups, compiled by a public interest group, Essential Information. Dow contributed to more groups than any other corporation.

Though these front groups have pleasantly attractive names, a closer look shows where they truly stand. For instance, other contributors to one of these groups, the American Council on Science and Health, include Burger King, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, NutraSweet, and Nestle USA. Deceived by the name, many would never guess that these companies fund this group's research. Its executive director "defends petrochemical companies, the nutritional values of fast foods, and the safety of saccharin, pesticides and growth hormones for dairy cows" (2). She also claims that the public's "unfounded fears of man-made chemicals and their perception of these chemicals as carcinogens" is what drives the government to investigate dioxin and pesticides (2).

Front groups also include public relations firms, such as the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), of which Dow is one of the largest members. The CMA "is one of the key arms through which Dow exerts control over environmental and public health policy" (11). Dow's Political Action Committee (PAC) has at least $25,000 at its disposal each year and employs "a lobbying force of some 50 people, in addition to...51 lobbyists at the federal level alone" (11). The CMA "spent $4.68 million lobbying in Washington in just the first half of 1996," while Dow "spent an additional $1 million" on its own (11).

In the 1993-96 election cycle, Dow donated $8,050 to House Majority Whip Tom Delay of Texas, the founder of the deregulatory, industry-sponsored Project Relief coalition; Delay once claimed that if he were in charge, there was not one regulation that he would keep (4). Dow made a total of $680,875 in PAC and soft money contributions in the 1995-96 election cycle. Furthermore, Dow and the CMA have given $100,000 in grants to the EPA Science Advisory Board for the purpose of reassessing the dangers of dioxin, which have already proven to be carcinogenic. In 1995, Dow "loaned" a scientist to the U.S. House Commerce Committee to dismantle environmental health and safety protections (4). Dow also invested $1.2 million to establish a "public health" professorship at the University of Michigan to focus on the health effects, risks, and benefits of chemicals in the environment (4).

Groups such as the CMA have become an $800 million industry, and their deep pockets hold the loyalty of many politicians. Says University of Houston law professor Joseph Sanders, "It may be that [corporate defendants] are able to buy themselves something that should not be for sale" (11).

Dow's corporate tentacles have even reached the heart of Princeton University, Harold T. Shapiro. When asked about Dow's standing as the world's number one producer of dioxin, Shapiro acknowledges that "dioxin is a bad thing," but that "the question is not whether you produce it, but whether it is contained, whether it is destroyed, whether it impacts people." A few years ago, Shapiro's claims may have held water, as Dow cut its emissions by 50% in 1994 and then set even more stringent goals for 2005, proposing to cut emissions by 90%. Since then, however, the story is very different. Jerry Martin, the vice president of environmental affairs for operations, said of the 2005 goals, "we truly don't know how we'll meet [them]." Dow's 1998 report shows that it has been making at best stumbling progress toward this goal. It is ironic that Shapiro, who is on the committee of Environmental, Health, Safety, and Public Policy, would be so confident that Dow takes good care of its wastes.

In its "1998 Report on Environment and Safety Progress Toward 2005 Goals," Dow stated that "we slipped on the safety side. Our injury and illness rate had increased five percent in 1997, while our progress on leaks, breaks and spills had remained flat since 1994." These "leaks, breaks, and spills" are the kinds of accidents most harmful to the environment, as they release toxins such as dioxin into the environment. Furthermore, Dow has spent less and less of its capital on EH&S since 1991. This drop casts some doubt on how Dow will reach its proposed 90% emissions cut by the year 2005.

Another issue generated by the connection between Princeton University and Dow Chemical is an ethical one. Are the ethics of Dow throughout its history those with which the University is in accord? Funding events such as Earth Day hardly defuses the dioxin crisis or relieves Dow of its duty to clean up after itself. Dow's practice of shirking responsibility and using its financial leverage to buy protection is not something to be proud of, and is not a standard that Princeton should in any way encourage. Instead of admitting that it is the world's largest producer of one of the most dangerous toxins ever created, Dow pays scientists to undermine studies done by reputable groups. Instead of investing in the development of new or alternative methods of creating products without generating dioxin, Dow buys the services of a plethora of corporate front groups. President Shapiro recently wrote that "One aspect of a student's moral education lies not in the curriculum but in the behavior of the faculty, staff, and administration and in the policies of the institution" (15). By lending his services to Dow Chemicals, President Shapiro has usurped from us one "aspect" of this "moral education." Based on his own words, such an education will never be ours until the University is rid of Dow's far-reaching corporate tentacles and the mutual hold that Dow and Shapiro have on each other is dissolved.

Bibliography (1) 1997 Annual Report. HYPERLINK (2) Beder, Sharon. ³Public relationsı role in manufacturing artificial grass roots coalitions.² Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism. (13) Business and Society Review (1/92) (3) Chisolm, Patricia. ³Anatomy of a Nightmare² Maclean Hunter (Canada). March 9, 1992. (4) ³The Corporate Imbalance Sheet.² HYPERLINK (5) Cray, Charlie. ³Stealing Our Future.² Corporate Watch, Letter to the Editor. (6) Cray, Charlie et al. ³Greenpeace Dow Report.² (8) ³Dow Chemical Multiple Personalities: Front Groups.² HYPERLINK (9) ³Dow Chemical Releases 1998 Report on Environment and Safety Progress Toward 2005 Goals.² HYPERLINK (10) Dowıs DEF14A Form. HYPERLINK (12) INFACT (5/13/98) (11) INFACTıs Corporate Hall of Shame. HYPERLINK (15) Newsday (10/8/89) (7) Rovner, Julie. ³Dow Chemical found liable in breast-implant court case.² The Lancet. August 30, 1997. (14) Stringer, Judy. ³Dow details aggressive 2005 EHS goals.² Chemical Week. July 24, 1996. (15) PAW (1/27/99)