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A Conspiracy of Silence: A National Epidemic

posted Jan 4, 2010, 8:06 AM by Nancy Swan   [ updated Jan 6, 2010, 9:24 AM by Thomas Swan ]
In her Washington Post article, Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law, reporter Lyndsey Layton wrote,

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States -- from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners -- nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making itimpossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

In my memoir, Toxic Justice, I tell the true story about a conspiracy of silence,  beginning from the decision of the school board in 1985 and ending with the threats by the court, to ensure my silence, that remain in effect.   The contractor was never punished for lying that he only sprayed water.  The school board was given immunity, even thought they had given the contractor permission to expose over one thousand children and teachers to highly toxic chemicals.   The Mississippi court system has never been sanctioned for abusing its power to hide judicial and legal misconduct and to hide the injuries and chemical from the public.

The community of Long Beach, Mississippi, has never been notified that over a thousand children and teachers were exposed for more than three days to toxic levels of methyl isocyanate and toluene isocyanate, some of the most toxic and deadly products manufactured.  The contractor and chemical companies have kept this information secret for more than twenty- five years.

Perhaps the secrecy at Long Beach was a result of  mounting dead toll from the worst industrial tragedy in history resulting from toxic levels of  methyl isocyanate (other mysterious chemicals) leaked from the Union Carbide in Bhopal, India.   In December 2009, the twenty fifth anniversary of the disaster, the chemicals that killed and injured more than a half million innocent people remain a mystery.

The victims of methyl isocyanate poisoning in Bhopal and at Long Beach Middle School have another thing in common, they are legally considered "Bystanders."  As non employees of the chemical company, Bystanders are not afforded protection from chemical exposure, nor are they included as covered under USA and international safety standards.   The Bystander category was invented by chemical companies and endorsed by lawmakers to protect chemical companies from liability.   Of course, that is a secret as well.

When a chemical company exposes workers and innocent people, the injured, the community, lawmakers, and the medical community need timely, accurate, and complete chemical information.

Secrecy is killing our democracy and toxic justice is epidemic.