The Center for Public Integrity’s David Heath makes a number of dishonest characterizations about vinyl chloride in his recent report. And since he failed to ask us any specific questions addressing the real angle of his story prior to publication, we’ll set the record straight here:
Heath omits critical facts. The Texas plant at the center of his report produced a number of different chemicals. But Heath makes no mention of this in his story, and instead cites vinyl chloride as the “leading suspect” for the serious workplace health issues that occurred – which deserve accurate and thorough analysis. What’s more, if workplace exposure was an industry-wide problem, as he infers, why is there no other example of a similar cluster at a designated vinyl chloride plant, past or present? Heath sidesteps this important fact in his article.
Heath’s thesis is flawed. His story hinges on the assertion that the vinyl chloride industry withheld cluster data from the Texas facility in a key study. But to meet the rigorous scientific standard for epidemiological studies, records would need to show which workers were exposed to which chemicals produced at the plant, and to what degree. One case involving vinyl chloride met this standard – and it was included in the industry study that was accepted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). However, the remaining cases could not isolate this data. Had the industry included these cases, IARC likely would have rejected the entire study, as the results would have been unreliable. (Heath fails to point this out for readers, too.)
Heath minimizes contradictory evidence. Heath cites the vinyl industry study as the primary reason IARC reversed its decision associating vinyl chloride and brain cancer. But he downplays the fact that IARC based this reversal on “other” studies as well – where the vast amount of research showed a causal connection was inconclusive. Heath’s suggestion that the industry study somehow unduly influenced the IARC reversal disparages the integrity of this highly regarded organization, and its renowned experts – who stake their reputations on their expertise, and impartiality.
Heath irresponsibly infers that the vinyl chloride industry hasn’t evolved. He spends extraordinary time addressing events that occurred prior to 1974 – yet he makes a fleeting reference to the fact that OSHA regulations, adopted in 1974 and to which industry strictly complies with, reduced the vinyl chloride workplace exposure limit by 500 times. Separately, Heath notes the total amount of ambient vinyl chloride emissions to provoke reader outrage, but conceals the fact these emissions fall within regulatory limits as set by the EPA. And he cites two isolated cases – a New Jersey derailment and an isolated groundwater case in Illinois – to make the broad assertion that “the question of [vinyl chloride’s] health effects remain relevant.” Such statements mischaracterize the enormous efforts by the vinyl industry in recent decades to protect public health by reducing vinyl chloride plant emissions by 83% since 1987 (according to EPA TRI data) while resin production simultaneously increased 82% and the strict monitoring and control to minimize worker exposure levels.
Does CPI Oppose REACH? The Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) has been hailed for strengthening regulations on chemical manufacturers throughout Europe. And a central REACH provision requires industry to fund and conduct its own studies, instead of making governments pay for them. Based on Heath’s skepticism of industry-backed studies, are readers to assume he and CPI oppose this landmark legislation?
Center for Public Integrity is a privately funded ideological organization – not an objective news outlet. CPI is funded by a network of anti-chemical industry donors, including the Adessium Foundation -- which supports initiatives promoting the “use of alternative raw materials instead of plastic.” And the Park Foundation, which gives grants to anti-chemical groups across the country. CPI also receives money from George Soros – who funds a wide number of alarmist groups that have long opposed the vinyl industry, including the Environmental Working Group and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. Readers are right to wonder how CPI could possibly cover chemical topics in a fair and objective manner when many of its key donors are ideologically aligned against the entire industry.
If Heath wanted his readers to have the facts, he would have asked us to respond to a list of specific questions that could have provided better balance and perspective for his story. We would have gladly replied to questions seeking information about the way the industry has improved workplace safety measures, how plants have sizably reduced emissions over the years, and the number of steps our industry has taken as part of our commitment to protect public heath.
But he didn’t ask us any of these questions prior to publication. Instead, he only asked if we were familiar with that obscure vinyl industry study, the one he uses to distort the facts and deceive his readership.
Reasonable observers would question whether that’s the work of an objective journalist – or someone in pursuit of a personal or professional agenda.