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#496 - Chemical Industry Strategies -- Part 2, 29-May-1996

As we saw last week, the American Public Health Association (APHA) took
a formal stand against chlorine in 1993. The chlorine industry had
received an equally severe blow when, a year earlier, the International
Joint Commission (IJC) formally recommended to the governments of the
U.S. and Canada that the use of chlorine as an industrial feedstock be
phased out.[1]

The IJC was created by treaty between the U.S. and Canada in 1909 with
responsibility for water quality in the Great Lakes. The IJC began
studying Great Lakes water pollution seriously in 1972. Twenty years
later, the IJC said its scientific studies had forced it to conclude
that humans were in danger of irreversible harm from toxics, and
fundamentally new, preventive approaches were needed. For example, the
IJC said in 1990, "An essential part of the strategy to stop the
introduction of persistent toxic chemicals into the Great Lakes Basin
Ecosystem must be to prevent new, harmful chemicals from entering the
market place. The Commission endorses the principle of reverse onus in
this regard; that is, when approval is sought for the manufacture, use,
or discharge of any substance which will or may enter the environment,
the applicant must prove, as a general rule, that the substance is not
harmful to the environment or human health."[2] In other words, the IJC
said in 1990 that the burden of proof for chemical safety should be put
on the manufacturers and users of chemicals, not on the general public.
Thus the IJC called for a complete reversal of the present system,
which requires the public to prove harm from a chemical before control
can begin.

In its 1992 report, the IJC asked, "Are humans and our environment in
danger from persistent toxic substances now? Are future generations in
danger? Based on a review of scientific studies and other recent
information, we believe the answer to both questions is yes."[3] The
Commissioners went on: "Taking the many studies that indicate injury or
the likelihood of injury together, we conclude that the evidence is
sufficient that many persistent toxic substances are indeed causally
involved, and there can be no defensible alternative: their input into
the Great Lakes must be stopped."[4] In sum, said the IJC in 1992, "We
conclude that persistent toxic substances are too dangerous to the
biosphere and to humans to permit their release in ANY quantity."[5]

The IJC's science advisory board in 1986 had drawn up a list of 362
toxic compounds found in the Great Lakes. At least half of these were
chlorinated chemicals. "In addition, there are other chlorinated
organic substances entering the environment that have not yet been
separately identified," the IJC said in 1992.[6] "In practice, the mix
and exact nature of these various compounds cannot be precisely
predicted or controlled in production processes. Thus it is prudent,
sensible, and indeed necessary to treat these substances as a class
rather than as a series of isolated individual chemicals."[7] And
finally, the IJC said, "We know that when chlorine is used as a
feedstock in a manufacturing process, one cannot necessarily predict or
control which chlorinated organics will result, and in what quantity.
Accordingly, the Commission concludes that the use of chlorine and its
compounds should be avoided in the manufacturing process."[8]

The U.S. chairperson of the IJC in 1990 and 1992 was Gordon Durnil, a
conservative Republican appointed by President Bush. (See REHW #423,
#424, #453.) In his book, THE MAKING OF A CONSERVATIVE
ENVIRONMENTALIST, Durnil says initially the IJC proposed phasing out
chlorine without any timetable. He says the Commissioners discussed
privately among themselves that such a phase-out might take 50 years
but that, "At least there would be a time certain, off in the future,
when such a formidable substance would be taken totally out of
existence [as an industrial feedstock] without a societal disruption.
Industry came to us and told us how stupid we were, that a sunsetting
[phase-out] of chlorine and finding a suitable alternative might take
thirty years. Later they reduced that to twenty years."[9]

It seems evident that chlorine users believe chlorine could be
successfully phased out as an industrial feedstock in two decades
without major disruption. However, the chlorine manufacturers have
circled the wagons for a fight.

In 1993 the Chemical Manufacturers Association [CMA] created the
Chlorine Chemistry Council with a budget said to be about $100 million
per year.[10] The CCC soon hired MBD [Mongoven, Biscoe, and Duchin], a
public relations firm that proudly proclaims that one of its main
strengths is spying on activists in universities, churches, labor
unions, and environmental groups. MBD hires people to attend activists'
meetings (without identifying whom they are representing), and to take
notes and make recordings which MBD then turns into memos (which are
often ludicrously inaccurate) which it sells to gullible corporate
clients like the Chlorine Chemistry Council.

MBD now provides the Chlorine Chemistry Council with monthly updates on
the activities of groups working to phase out chlorine.

But MBD goes further, helping the Chlorine Chemistry Council develop
strategies for "managing" public policies that might harm chlorine
sales. The lead strategist for the CCC at MBD is Jack Mongoven himself.

In Mongoven's own words, his "main recommendation" to the CCC is to
"mobilize science against the precautionary principle," which, Mongoven
says, "dovetails with long range objectives regarding risk assessment."

The precautionary principle is a way of dealing with uncertainty in
decision-making. The core idea of the precautionary principle is a
willingness to take protective action without waiting for scientific
proof of the need for protective action, on the grounds that delay may
cause irreparable harm. Implied in the precautionary principle is what
the IJC called "reverse onus" --shifting the burden of proof onto those
who propose to dump persistent poisons into the environment.

These are the ideas that Jack Mongoven wants the CCC to "mobilize
science" to fight.

The main alternative to the precautionary principle is the way the U.S.
currently does business: First, actions are proposed by corporations.
Then risk assessments may be done (but usually are not required) to
convince the public that the damage will be insignificant. Since risk
assessment is an art, not a science, and a highly political art at
that, risk assessment is almost never a serious barrier to an economic
activity. Therefore, the action is taken. It is then up to the public
to show that harm has been done before controls can be initiated.

Mongoven says the precautionary principle conflicts with the
"Constitutional principle of American government that people have the
liberty to do what they choose." He says the Constitution requires that
"an activity or product be proven to be harmful to public health and
safety before being prohibited."[11] In other words, in Mongoven's
interpretation of the Constitution, corporations are allowed to release
poisons until people have been harmed sufficiently that they can prove
to the satisfaction of scientists that THIS poison caused THAT illness.

Given an identical scenario, the principle of precautionary action
would dictate that the environment and humans should not be exposed to
anything that meets the definition of a persistent poison, so
preventive action would be taken, even in the absence of scientific
certainty that this particular poison would cause identifiable harm.

Mongoven sees this as the major struggle of our time. Within that
framework, here is Mongoven's advice to the Chlorine Chemistry Council:

** "Engage a broad effort on risk assessment within the scientific
community, even in groups which have taken positions against

** "Accelerate the program to bring about agreed-upon risk assessment
policy and the deployment of vehicles of sound science."[12]

** "Move quickly to take advantage of the visibility of the
shortcomings of the current system by having scientists and Congressmen
ready to call for the process on [sic] risk assessment CCC and CMA
would like to see put in place."[12]

** "Bring the state governors in on the issue of risk assessment by
communicating the benefits to them from being able to rely on a
national standard."[12]

** "Take steps to discredit the precautionary principle within the more
moderate environmental groups as well as within the scientific and
medical communities."[12]

** "Review and intensify efforts recommended in the initial strategy
documents concerning efforts in the scientific, medical and academic
communities, especially the establishment of a credible scientific
vehicle to deal with major issues of environmental science and public

** "This is a critical time for the future of risk assessment as a tool
of analysis. The industry must identify the implications posed by the
'precautionary principle' and assist the public in understanding the
damage it inflicts on the role of science in modern development and
production," Mongoven says.[12]

Working for the Chlorine Chemistry Council, Jack Mongoven has
identified two of the four key areas of modern environmental debate: do
we exercise restraint and take precautionary action to prevent harm
from persistent poisons, or do we follow the permissive path, allowing
corporations to hurt people before controls can be initiated?

And: Who should bear the burden of proof? Must the public prove that
harm has occurred, or should corporations bear the burden of showing
that what they plan to do isn't likely to be harmful?

But there are two additional key issues that Mr. Mongoven missed:

** Shouldn't a corporation have to show that it has examined all
reasonable alternatives and prove that it has selected the least
damaging option?

** And the big one: Who gets to decide?

--Peter Montague


[1] International Joint Commission (IJC), SIXTH BIENNIAL REPORT ON
GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY (Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC:
International Joint Commission, 1992), pg. 30. Available free from the
Commission at 1250 23rd St., NW, Suite 100, Washington, DC 20440.
Telephone: (202) 736-9000. In Canada, phone (519) 257-6700.

[2] International Joint Commission (IJC), FIFTH BIENNIAL REPORT ON
GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY (Ottawa, Canada, and Washington, DC:
International Joint Commission, 1990), pg. 21. Photocopies available
free from the Commission at 1250 23rd St., NW, Suite 100, Washington,
DC 20440. Telephone: (202) 736-9000. In Canada, phone (519) 257-6700.

[3] IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 18.

[4] IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 22.

[5] IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 15.

[6] IJC, cited above in note 1, pg. 29.

[7] The same.

[8] The same.

(Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995), pg. 78.

[10] Daniel Pinchbeck, "Downward Motility," ESQUIRE (January 1996),
pgs. 79-84, quotes Gordon Durnil saying he believes the CCC's budget is
about $100 million per year.

[11] John O. Mongoven, "The Precautionary Principle," ECO-LOGIC (March,
1995), pgs. 14-16. ECO-LOGIC is a publication of ECO, the Environmental
Conservation Organization, in Hollow Rock, Tennessee; phone: (901) 986-

[12] Memo from Jack Mongoven to Clyde Greenert and Brad Lienhart dated
September 7, 1994, and titled, "MBD Activist report for August,"
attached to a report titled "Activists and Chlorine in August [1994],"
MBD ISSUE RESEARCH AND ANALYSIS (Washington, D.C.: Mongoven, Biscoe,
and Duchin [phone: 202/429-1800]), 1994.

Descriptor terms: chlorine; ijc; american public health association;
great lakes; reverse onus; burden of proof; risk asessment;
precautionary principle; persistent toxic substances; chlorinated
chemicals; sunsetting; bans; chemical manufacturers association;
chlorine chemistry council; mbd; mongoven, biscoe, and duchin;
cigarette science; jack mongoven;