Middleportians. Do the chemicals make you stupid, or is it the money?
Consider the Lockport Journal’s lead story on August
11. The headline reads “Arsenic levels low in Middleport; Study: Community
is not at an elevated risk.” The “reporter’s” name is omitted here to
save her greater embarrassment.
The “independent” study—conducted by Exponent, Inc., and
paid for by FMC Corporation—set out to indicate that Middleport has
a clean, safe environment thanks to its feudal corporate lord.
Exponent claims that the interpretation of the final results
by “a scientific advisory panel” reveals that urine samples from 439
village residents who volunteered for the study last year were all “within
the normal range due to diet and other background sources.” Also, no
evidence of elevated arsenic exposure was found in any toenail samples,
said the press release, or “news” story.
The question is: How accurate can these results be when
participants volunteered? FMC is by far Middleport’s largest employer
and taxpayer. It seems a scientific study seeking accurate data could
come up with better methodology than asking the client’s wage slaves
to voluntarily snip their toenails and micturate into a beaker.
The Journal’s release also said, “study participants
all were below the reference level of arsenic,” but never states what
the study’s reference level was or how it was arrived at. The Buffalo
News, “reporting” on the same day, said “no one had even half of
what the study assumed would be a reasonable background level for arsenic:
40 parts per billion.” Again, no information on how this figure was
arrived at, or what made Exponent assume (not hypothesize?) Middleport
would have a “reasonable background level?” Where’s the curiosity?
A side bar tells readers they can learn more by going
to www.teapothollow.com, which at first glance appears to be the village’s
official web site, but upon further inspection it’s FMC Corp.’s local
public relations site masquerading as something else, thus the weird
These results seem odd considering that FMC dumped 250
tons of arsenic in Middleport for a half-century throughout the mid-1900s.
It also dumped a bunch of chlorinated organics there during the same
time frame. It has a long history of treating Middleport like an industrial
Just so you know, there are about a dozen chlorinated
organic compounds, among them dioxin, which behave like hormones, particularly
in fetuses and newborns. Even if a fetus is exposed to a tiny amount
of this stuff, the effects on the baby’s budding sex organs and its
activities later in life can be brutal. According to Adams Mine Archives,
an environmental research web site, the way chlorinated organics affect
human hormones may be of greater concern than cancer, but there hasn’t
been much interest in doing research until the last decade or so.
The questions the corporate-employed “journalists” might
have asked are simple: What was the arsenic reference level based upon,
or how was it derived? And, isn’t the real concern chlorinated organics?
Those questions apparently weren’t asked, nor was any research done.
If it had been, a short online investigation would have revealed that
not enough data exist on chronic exposure to arsenic to establish a
real reference level. Have another beer.
The article also didn’t mention whether or not the “scientific”
study involved a control group, for instance people who live somewhere
else who underwent the same study that the Middleport results were compared
The Journal’s two main sources were employees of
Exponent: Drs. Joyce Tsuji and Frank Jones. The “newspaper” describes
Exponent as “a science and engineering firm,” but fails to offer any
background on the good doctors while misrepresenting what their corporation
Exponent, according to its own web site, has been hired
by other corporations to investigate “most of the major disasters that
you hear about,” including the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, the
Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and the Kansas City
mall walk collapse.
One look at FMC’s Soil Sampling Work Plan, which includes
a color-coded map displaying “areas potentially affected by historic
air deposition,” reveals that Middleport is a “potential” disaster area.
Half of the village falls into this category. In fact, things are so
bad that FMC is offering price protection for people who may want to
sell their homes at some point in the next five years, but can’t get
a fair price because of the environmental situation. FMC is promising
to make up the difference to property owners who sell at a reduced price,
or buy the homes outright if they can’t be sold. That sounds like the
corporation is facing a calamity and trying to spin it differently.
“When a major disaster strikes, the media is soon not
far behind, and an affected client needs answers now,” says the company
site, adding “Exponent's scientists and engineers provide proven, cost-effective,
scientifically defensible, and realistic assessments and solutions to
complex environmental issues…[and] help our clients develop cost effective
solutions for management of environmental liabilities.”
In other words, Exponent provides fodder for a company’s
PR and legal defense efforts once the shit hits the fan. They pass as
reliable sources for the corporate news media because of their “expertise,”
which is exactly the way The News portrays them. In a way, you
could say Exponent writes the story, especially when left unchallenged.
It makes a hefty profit providing risk assessments focusing on scientific
gray areas into which it can inject its profit-driven data to help clients
save money when facing a catastrophe of their own doing. The ensuing
court battles serve to confuse the press, overwhelm juries and reassure
the public with bullshit.
Tsuji, according to Exponent, “specializes in assessing
health and environmental risks associated with chemicals in the environment
and in developing risk-based solutions to environmental problems.” Sounds
nice, but it could also be said this way: Tsuji can be hired to create
scientific data that will fit the customer’s cost-benefit criteria.
According to The Journal, village residents wanted
to know whether or not they should be worried about the ridiculous amounts
of arsenic in their community. (Lord knows if they’re even aware of
Dr. Jones, however, attempted to put what concerns they
had to rest on August 10, when the study’s results were officially released
(right on schedule).
“You should sleep a lot better knowing that you don’t
have this elevated cancer risk because of arsenic in soil,” the good
doctor told The Journal.
I’ll sleep a lot better when more people know that this
dude’s making a bundle helping corporate polluters dodge financial responsibility
for their crimes. This is a guy whose resume boasts that he’s provided
“expert testimony” at regulatory and judicial hearings relating to an
assortment of polluted sites on behalf of corporate clients.
Before joining the Exponent team, Dr. Jones worked for
ELM LLC, a sister corporation that “provides comprehensive business
risk-oriented environmental consulting services,” but specializes in
natural resource damage assessment, environmental liability and assessment
management, and legal support. In other words, Dr. Jones is a paid witness,
and his client wants him to keep us in the dark.
Local "news" media also cited Tufts University
professor David Gute, a member of the study’s “science advisory panel,”
who The Journal quoted as saying “the work was mostly preventative
and a follow-up health study will be done.”
What the hell does that mean? “Preventative” for whom?
To prevent unwitting Middleportians from having their hormones fucked
with and getting arsenic related illnesses, or to block the legal ramifications
of their client’s malfeasance? When you look at the amount of money
FMC has already forked over, potentially tens of millions of dollars
before this issue’s fully resolved, and that it’s considered less than
what it would cost to really deal with the problem, what Professor Gute
meant by “preventative” might have been a good question to ask.
The News, of course, clarifies this and it appears
The Journal misunderstood what the professor was referring to
when he said “preventative.” The News reports that the professor
was alluding to the upcoming health study that will “try to protect
the most susceptible people and are based on averages, not site-specific
information.” Of course, no further clarification was asked for. How
a health risk assessment can be preventative for those already poisoned
Now, is Professor Gute one of those ivory towered liberal
academes, as a reader might have imagined from the Lockport Journal’s
Not exactly. The federal government—especially the Department
of Offense [sic]—and the Center for Environmental Management Cooperative
are the primary funding sources for Gupe's research. This last group,
by the way, develops partnerships among industry, government and academia
in order to “commercialize” the solutions to existing industrial pollution
In other words, they want to privatize all cleanup efforts,
which might then be shielded from public view as being outside the jurisdiction
of federal freedom of information laws.
So, is it the chemicals that make Middleportians stupid,
or the money?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s money that’s stupefying
the community, but further research is required to be certain.
A suggestion: ditch Exponent, The Lockport Journal
and Buffalo News as your sources of information. Corporate-owned
print daily newspapers are grasping for huge profit margins in a dying
industry. As a result, they’re evolving into public relations firms
for the local chambers of commerce.
Stay tuned for more on FMC’s Middleport fiefdom, and other
polluted crap you need to know about.