The Multinational Monitor


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Curbing Kerr-McGee

Outraged residents of West Chicago are opposing the Kerr-McGee Corporation's plans to store radioactive waste in the heart of their residential neighborhood. After the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) issued a license authorizing Kerr-McGee to build a 27-acre, almost 50-foot high, permanent waste holding cell on its property in West Chicago, the citizens organized the Thorium Action Group (TAG). The chemical company, made famous by allegations that it killed whistle blower Karen Silkwood, plans to dispose of highly radioactive thorium as well as uranium, radium, barium and other non-radioactive contaminants including arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium and cyanide at the facility. Many members of TAG claim they have already suffered from the effects of 500,000 tons of radioactive and toxic waste which have been stored "temporarily" at Kerr-McGee's West Chicago facility for several decades.

TAG is not fighting the company by itself. State and city officials have filed lawsuits attempting to halt work on the facility in order to eventually have the waste shipped out-of-state. "This is one of the worst potential health hazards that has faced the citizens of Illinois," state Attorney General Neil F. Hartigan says, adding, "As incredible as it may seem, this company is planning to dispose of radioactive wastes in a disposal cell that sits on top of a major drinking aquifer in Du Page county."

Kerr-McGee argues that, under the Atomic Energy Act, its NRC license preempts any requirement to obtain local or state permits for proceeding with its plans. In February, the company filed suits against the city of West Chicago, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, and the Du Page County State's Attorney, seeking to prevent their interference with the disposal facility's construction.

A county court and a city court rejected the immediate implementation of Kerr-McGee's construction plans, in major victories for the residents of West Chicago. Responding to a request fora permanent injunction by state officials, the county court issued a temporary restraining order barring the company from beginning construction. And, in the wake of a rally of over 500 TAG members protesting the NRC's approval of Kerr-McGee's permanent holding cell, City Judge James F. Holderman dismissed the company's retaliatory suit, calling it "frivolous." Holderman based his decision on the company's own application to the NRC in which "Kerr-McGee repeatedly ... stated that its plan provides for compliance with the ordinances and regulations for construction projects in the City.... [T]he only way you can comply with a city ordinance is to comply with that city ordinance," Holderman stated. Later in his comments, Holderman called Kerr-McGee's action "two-faced" and "double-dealing."

Dangerous Diets

Nineteen Florida women who believe their gall bladder diseases stem from Nutri/System, Inc. diets have launched lawsuits against the company. Nutri/ System's conduct is "tantamount to the unauthorized practice of medicine without a license," the women charge. All but two of the women have had their gall bladders removed over the past three years after subscribing to the Nutri/ System program. The victims have accused the high-profile, Pennsylvania-based company of fraud, negligence and breach of warranty. They charge that the Nutri/System diet can result in a variety of "serious ailments."

The number of Nutri/System customers with health problems has "mushroomed" recently, says Robert Fiore, one of the attorneys representing the victims. He adds that he has also received calls from disgruntled customers from outside the United States.

The suits against Nutri/System come in the wake of March hearings by a subcommittee of the House of Representatives Committee on Small Businesses to investigate false and misleading advertising in the diet industry. "We think the problems exist throughout the field," says Dr. Steven Stott, a spokesperson for the subcommittee.

Dr. William Callaway, an expert in the field of diet and nutrition, also emphasizes that the problems plaguing Nutri/System customers are only symptomatic of problems affecting the whole diet industry. "We have a whole bunch of commercial firms going around and exploiting what is, in essence, a cultural distortion � that women should be 20 percent below average weight rather than normal."

Poisoning DOD Gas Plans

The U.S. Government may proceed with legal action against two chemical companies which refused to sell an ingredient the Defense Department desperately needs in order to continue manufacturing poison gas artillery shells. The companies � Mobay Company and Occidental Chemical Corp. � are the only two domestic chemical companies that produce thionyl chloride, a key ingredient in a lethal nerve agent called Sarin. Mobay Company, a subsidiary of Bayer AG, rejected Army purchase orders last year based on "a policy that precludes the sale of chemicals that could be used for preparation of chemical weaponry," says spokesperson Gerd Wilcke. Occidental Chemical cited similar reasons for rejecting government purchase orders.

The Commerce Department has demanded that Occidental and Mobay sell the chemical based on the obscure 1950 Defense Production Act, which requires companies to accept orders from the government for defense-related production. The Army needs about 160,000 pounds of Sarin by June in order to operate a chemical weapons production plant in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Ironically, over the past few years the U.S. Government has pressured foreign companies to ban exports of thionyl chloride to countries suspected of producing chemical weapons; now, the Department of Defense is attempting to force companies to provide it with the same chemical.

- David Lapp

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