Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Burnt vinyl releases dioxin (agent orange)

Agent Orange

Not enough people are aware that, when burned, a common household material, vinyl, releases an extremely hazardous toxin called dioxin also known as the poisonous ingredient in the defoliant, agent orange. Imagine what items we come in contact with daily that are made from vinyl: piping, shower curtains and siding just for starters. Exposure to dioxin bares serious health consequences such as diabetes, endometriosis, birth defects, reduced sperm count, decreased fertility, immune system suppression, developmental and reproductive effects and disruption of the hormone system (source).

Giant Chemical Corporations, including the biggest, Dow, acted in collusion to bring this danger into our homes. Dow, during both World Wars, produced mustard gas for the first and magnesium for the second. During Vietnam Dow, amongst their many innovations for that war, developed napalm. According to a Vietnam vet the masterminds behind Dow, or the "backroom boys", took a great many steps to perfect their invention.

“We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn’t so hot – if the gooks
[Vietnamese] were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene – now it sticks like shit to a
blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter (white
phosphorus) so’s to make it burn better. It’ll burn under water now. And just one drop is enough; it’ll keep on burning
right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorus poisoning.” (Source)

In Louisiana the state's health department discovered vinyl chloride in the drinking water near a Dow manufacturing plant in 1997. An area trailer park, primarily African American, used the groundwater, however, the contamination was kept secret until 2001. As a result, the entire community was forced to relocate.

The company's crimes are not limited to the boundaries of the United States. When Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide in the developing nation of India they were allowed more environmental wiggle room than inside an industrialized Western country like the U.S. Dow built their factory in heavily populated city of Bhopal on the cheap subsequentally infecting 150,000 people with the hazardous material resulting in such health problems as toxic breast milk in mothers. The contamination has begun to effect the next generation of Bhopalis who are born with a range of physical and mental birth defects. To compensate Dow negotiated with the Indian government paying a scant $470 million, the victims receiving less than the American government shoveled over for wildlife during the Exxon Valdez catastrophe.

Not all of Dow's crimes have ended in such tragedy. In Midland, Michigan, a Dow chemical plant dumped toxic material into the Tittabawassee River with dioxin levels measuring at 80 times above the state's safe clean-up standard. The citizens effected sued the company. Expectedly, Dow attempted to rewrite the law by raising the acceptable level of pollutants to ten times the existing limit so the company's action would not be illegal. Thanks to a cooperative effort by the people of Midland, Dow's "compromise" was shut down.

Even though vinyl has become a fixture of most homes in America we can still apply pressure to the government to monitor and punish the corporations who endanger the environment not to mention the population at large. This isn't something abstract like "the wildness", this is our own backyards we have to be concerned with and because corporations like Dow only care about the bottom line it's our responsibility to keep them in check.

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