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Excerpt: "For decades, Shell and Dow hid a highly potent cancer-causing chemical in two widely used pesticides, contaminating drinking water for millions of people in California and beyond, according to lawsuits detailed in a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG)."

A farm worker cultivates romaine lettuce in a field. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)
A farm worker cultivates romaine lettuce in a field. (photo: John Moore/Getty Images)


Shell, Dow Hid Cancer-Causing Chemical in Pesticides, Contaminating Drinking Water for Millions

By Environmental Working Group

11 April 17

 

or decades, Shell and Dow hid a highly potent cancer-causing chemical in two widely used pesticides, contaminating drinking water for millions of people in California and beyond, according to lawsuits detailed in a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

The chemical 1,2,3-trichloropropane or TCP, was formerly an unwanted and ineffective byproduct in Dow's Telone and Shell's D-D pesticides. Internal documents uncovered in lawsuits filed by communities in California's San Joaquin Valley show that the companies saved millions of dollars a year by not properly disposing of TCP, a chemical a Dow scientist once called "garbage," as hazardous waste.

Shell stopped making D-D in 1984 and Dow later took TCP out of Telone, but not before it contaminated the tap water supplies of 94 California utility districts serving 8 million people.

An U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing program found TCP in tap water supplies for about 4 million people in 13 other states between 2013 and 2015, but the chemical is unregulated at the federal level and in every state except Hawaii.

Regulators in California will meet next week to decide whether to set a legal limit for TCP in tap water. Shell and Dow have paid multi-million dollar settlements to some communities to pay for filtering TCP out of water supplies, but dozens more cases are pending.

Dow and Shell "should have taken it out and disposed of it properly as a toxic waste. But that would have cost them a lot of money, so they left it in and continued to sell these pesticides to farmers throughout California," said Asha Kreiling, an analyst with the Community Water Center, which along with Clean Water Action has pushed the state to set a legal limit.

"This is an outrageous story of how Shell and Dow essentially got farmers who bought the pesticide to pay to help them get rid of a hazardous waste," said Bill Walker, EWG's managing editor and co-author of the report. "How many other hidden examples are there of chemical companies endangering communities through toxic deception?"

TCP was synthesized in the 1930s as one of many byproducts from the manufacture of a chemical used to make plastics. After pineapple growers in Hawaii found that the mixture of byproducts could kill microscopic worms called nematodes, Shell and Dow began marketing slightly different formulations of the mixture and eventually D-D and Telone became the second most heavily used pesticides in California.

But San Francisco attorney Todd Robins, who represents many smaller communities whose water is contaminated with TCP, said the companies knew TCP was useless as a pesticide—in fact, it made the products less effective. Yet both Shell and Dow claimed on the labels that the products were 100 percent active ingredients—false claims that violated federal regulations for registering pesticides. Robins also said the companies knew as early as 1952 that TCP in fumigants did not break down in soil and could migrate into groundwater. Once there, it persists for centuries.

In 2009, California state scientists set an extraordinarily low public health goal for TCP in drinking water of less than 1 part per trillion. Public health goals are not enforceable legal limits but minimal risk levels expected to cause no more than one case of cancer in a million people who drink and shower with the water daily for a lifetime. The only chemical with a lower California public health goal is dioxin, considered one of the most toxic substances known to science.

Staff of the California State Water Resources Control Board have proposed a legal limit of 5 parts per trillion, the lowest level current technology can reliably detect. A public hearing on the proposed standard, which is supported by Community Water Center, Clean Water Action, EWG and other groups, will be held April 19 in Sacramento.

"Shell and Dow put greed for profits ahead of the health of the people who bought and used their products," said Andria Ventura, toxics program manager for Clean Water Action. "We can't reverse the tragic consequences, but setting a drinking water standard that's fully protective of public health can stem the threat going forward."

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+21 # Wise woman 2017-04-11 19:08
It's truly unbelievable how these companies got away with so much evil for so long. The sad thing is how much cancer and autism has this contamination caused? Both were almost unheard of when I was a child. Most people died of heart attacks or old age and I never heard of autism until maybe 25 years ago. Most young men died in military conflict or of drug and alcohol addiction. The women for the most part lived to be quite old. My grandmother, who had an extraordinary difficult life, lived to be 77 and my mother who had a pampered life, lived to be 94. Those were the days when many people grew their own food or purchased locally grown food from as far away as Long Island:)) I'm from Brooklyn!
 
 
+1 # economagic 2017-04-12 06:58
I'm for local food and local economies in general, and for tight controls on corporations, and for a less-industrial ized society in general. I see all of those as partial correctives to the most unwise course humankind is on today. Al Gore might better have called his book "Earth OUT of Balance."

But I'm also for facts. Even correcting for deaths in childhood, life expectancy has risen steadily in the industrialized countries since the mid-19th century. A few minutes on the internet or with any encyclopedia will verify this.

The term "autism" was coined in 1910, when the chemical industry was in its infancy, and the condition was described much earlier. Intense research since the 1950s indicates that it is primarily a genetic condition but with complex causes that may or may not include some environmental factors.

Cancer (which is now seen as not a single condition but many) is a much different story, and environmental factors are well documented in many but not all forms.
 
 
-4 # lnason@umassd.edu 2017-04-12 09:55
You are asking the right question. Exactly how much damage has been done to human health (or even environmental health) by this contamination?

We all know that there are a wide variety of chemical toxins in all natural environments. Lead and Mercury occur naturally in high levels in some areas. Tomatoes, even organically grown ones, have very high levels of toxins. The list is endless. But harm is a function of dosage so eating a tomato or two will cause no harm.

What is missing from this article is documentation of harm. Has there been a spike in autism or cancer or auto-immune diseases in the affected water districts? If not (as implied by the lack of evidence being documented), then Shell and Dow appear to have not done damage.

Lee Nason
New Bedford, Massachusetts
 
 
+1 # REDPILLED 2017-04-12 08:23
We need SWAT teams to arrest these corporate criminals who are injuring more people than most ordinary criminals.
 
 
-5 # lnason@umassd.edu 2017-04-12 10:05
As for your comments about autism and cancer, I'm not sure where your facts are coming from. Autism is surely more common today than in the past but that appears to be more a matter of modern medicine recognizing it -- in the past mildly autistic kids (as run in my family) were simply considered oddballs and seriously autistic kids were put away in homes for the mentally deficient. And as for cancer, approximately half of my forebears died of various kinds of cancers (though often late in life in their 90's or even their early 100's) and my family is from Brooklyn too. Happily, with modern medicine, cancer fatality rates have been declining rather dramatically so it seems doubtful that this particular contamination has caused any cancer deaths.
 
 
0 # BrainiacV 2017-04-12 15:49
Reminds of when dioxin was mixed in with waste oil that was sprayed on gravel roads to reduce the dust.
 

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