An introduction from Prof. David
Rosner and Prof. Gerald
In Fall, 2002, our book,
Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial
Pollution, was published jointly by the University of California Press and the Milbank Fund as one in a series that addressed a variety of aspects of health policy. Briefly, the book looked at questions regarding how two industries, the lead industry and the chemical industry, reacted when faced with information regarding the potential dangers of their products to human health during the twentieth century.
The book was unusual in a number of respects, including the fact that a number of the chapters on the two primary cases were based on documents historians rarely if ever use in critical evaluations of corporate behavior. These documents were internal company correspondence, memos and minutes of meetings of both the lead and chemical industry trade associations and some of their member companies. The extensive cache of documents we gathered had become available during the previous number of years through legal proceedings in cases involving injured children, consumers and workers.
The book used documents gathered during the “Discovery” phase of various lawsuits against the lead and chemical industries, including the member companies of the Lead Industries Association (LIA) and the Manufacturing Chemists Association (MCA), (today renamed the American Chemistry Council), and its member companies.
We have become embroiled as expert witnesses in these legal disputes because the historical record is critical in determining whether the lead and vinyl industries should be held accountable for harm to individuals and communities. One case has been brought by the Attorney General of the State of Rhode Island against the lead industry. Here, the State is suing for recovery of costs associated with the damage to children caused by lead paint on the walls of houses in the state and for the costs of removing the lead from the walls of up to 80 percent of the homes in Rhode Island.
The second set of cases is the reason we post this web site. Here, various chemical companies, specifically those who produce or use vinyl chloride monomer (VCM), a suspected human carcinogen, are being sued by workers who have developed a very rare cancer called angiosarcoma of the liver. This cancer is so rare that fewer than two-score cases of it are identified in this country in any given year.
The industry lawyers are particularly concerned about two chapters in
Deceit and Denial that detail how, in the early 1970s, the industry planned to deceive the government about industry’s own findings that VCM caused cancer in animals exposed to relatively low levels of exposure.
The documents we uncovered while researching our book have received a fair amount of attention from the media. Bill Moyers’ “Trade
Secrets,” a PBS documentary which traces the vinyl story, used documents we identified and interviewed us extensively. A Toxic Comedy Picture that was broadcast on HBO,
Blue Vinyl, directed by Judith Helfand, also integrated material we identified into the story of vinyl chloride. Both these documentaries have won major awards, and we are proud that we played a role in these productions.
One vinyl chloride case is now scheduled to go to trial in September,2005. In the legal proceedings for this case, Gerald Markowitz has been deposed for five days by lawyers for Monsanto, Airco, Dow, Union Carbide, Goodyear, Goodrich, and Shell among others large corporations. Following his deposition a number of unusual events occurred. The press and the foundation that supported our work were subpoenaed for all of their records concerning our book, their relationship to each other and the peer review process. Following this, five of the eight outside peer reviewers were also subpoenaed to provide all of their records related to the book and to appear at depositions for questioning by company lawyers (see the
article in Chronicle of Higher Education that summarizes these events).
In addition to these highly unusual, if unprecedented, intrusions into the academic peer review process, the chemical industry hired Philip Scranton, Professor of History at Rutgers in Camden, to write an expert report about two of the chapters and to attack our professional standards, ethics and integrity.
We are presenting this website primarily for the community of historians who must undoubtedly be confused by the articles and discussions that have recently appeared. Here we provide the reader with Scranton’s expert report, our response, reviews of our book by the academic community, and a link to websites that provides historians with access to a selection of documents from the chemical industry papers. Because one of the key accusations is that we inadequately and inaccurately documented our statements in
Denial, we will be posting on this site the documents we used in our footnotes for the scholarly community to evaluate. In the meantime, we encourage the reader to visit two other sites where an extensive selection(10,000 pages) of these and other documents about the vinyl chloride story are available:
Professor of History & Sociomedical Sciences
Columbia University, Mailman School of Public
Distinguished Professor of History
John Jay College & City University Graduate