The Multinational Monitor


N A M E S   I N   T H E   N E W S

Deadly Detergents

BASF, the giant West German multinational chemical corporation, has agreed to pay $3.75 million to a woman who charges that a chemical detergent the company manufactured in the 1960s caused her acute myelocytic leukemia. The July 1990 settlement ended a lawsuit in which the 23-year-old Fawna Wright alleged that chemicals in the detergent Loxene, used to wash diapers at the Booth Memorial Hospital in St. Louis where she was born, caused her leukemia.

"It's the most outrageous liability situation I've been aware of in my practice," says Wright's attorney, Robert Bogard. "We have clear evidence in this case that before the company ever put out the product, they had information that this stuff should not be used on textiles that were to be used in contact with human beings," he adds.

Wright filed suit against BASF in 1985, charging that her illness resulted from contact with pentachlorophenol, an ingredient in Loxene. Pentachlorophenol has been banned in the United States for all uses except as a wood preservative. BASF removed Loxene from the market in September 1967, less than six months after Wright's birth.

During the time that Booth Hospital and at least one other hospital used Loxene to wash their diapers and other linen, Bogard estimates that more than 200 people came into contact with the detergent, many of whom have developed cases of leukemia, pancreatic cancer, blood disorders and learning disabilities. Three children are known to have died from exposure to Loxene.

Peddling Poisons

Over 100 Texans received a raw deal when they bought useless hazardous chemicals from Texas Utilities, the operator of the Comanche Peak nuclear power facility, according to a report issued by the Government Accountability Project (GAP). Texas Utilities claimed the chemicals, used for construction of the Comanche Peak facility, were epoxy paints and sealants that were safe if used properly. But many who purchased them say exposure to the chemicals caused breathing problems, nosebleeds, dizziness, skin rashes and swollen testicles.The Washington, D.C,-based GAP claims Texas Utilities sold the chemicals to avoid having to comply with federal hazardous waste disposal laws.

Some of the containers had expiration dates of 1982 or 1985, but Texas Utilities sold them in 1987 and 1988. Between 100 and 150 neighboring residents purchased approximately 5,000 gallons of the chemicals.

This spring, the company, smarting from negative publicity and fearing the health problems associated with the chemicals, offered to buy back the chemicals. One customer who bought 2,000 gallons for $200 sold the chemicals back to the company for $3,000.

GAP alleges that the chemicals were sold for "token" fees and that some of the buyers received more gallons than they had paid for. "The degree to which Texas Utilities intentionally 'dumped' these useless but hazardous chemicals on unsuspecting local residents is further evidenced by the fact that Texas Utilities officials either directly stripped labels off of, or allowed distribution of improperly labelled containers," the watchdog group asserts.

Richard Condit, a GAP lawyer, says, "We think there are good facts here for possible criminal action."

"They've got some charges on there that just have no basis or fact whatsoever," Texas Utilities spokesman David Morelli counters, calling GAP's report "ridiculous." He says, "It was paint whose shelf life had expired ... These folks purchased it as paint and intended to use it as paint, and in fact it was used as paint by a whole lot of people. It was not a waste product."

Rolling Over Safety

American Motors Corporation covered up safety defects in the jeep CJ, according to three public interest groups. The Institute for Injury Reduction, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety have petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reopen investigations into the jeep's safety and called for criminal indictments of high-level AMC officers allegedly responsible for the cover-up.

The auto safety and consumer groups called on NHTSA to "undertake a full-scale investigation of lethal Jeep q rollover and occupant protection defects" and to investigate the "consistent misbehavior of Chrysler Corp. [which bought AMC in 1987], AMC Corp. and Jeep Corp. in failing to disclose their extensive knowledge of such defects to consumers and the government over more than a decade." The petition seeks the recall of the more than 300,000 jeeps on the road.

The organizations provided NHTSA with copies of internal AMC memoranda, allegedly withheld from the federal agency, which reveal that AMC employees raised serious questions about the vehicle's safety while it was on the market.

The groups contend that the Jeep tends to roll over easily and that the roll bar provides inadequate protection to passengers.

NHTSA reports that from 1982 to 1988 there were more than 1,000 jeep rollover crashes in which one or more persons were killed, with many more injured.

The auto safety and consumer groups claim that these deaths are traceable to the AMC cover-up. "The public suffers when auto companies conceal information from NHTSA," Center for Auto Safety director Clarence Ditlow says.

Chrysler denies that it concealed documents or that the Jeep CJ is unsafe. "Today's comments on the Jeep CJs by the Injury Reduction Institute, Public Citizen and the Center for Auto Safety are hardly worth responding to again," Tom Houston, a Chrysler spokesperson says. "This story has been around for damn-near ten years.... There is nothing new in what they say, and these people know it." He adds, "We have told the world that we have not covered up the documents that were released yesterday... and we have completely cooperated with NHTSA."

� David Lapp

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