The Multinational Monitor


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Killer Sand

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is allowing U.S. children to be exposed to asbestos-like fibers found in play sand, medical experts contend. With the powerful mining industry applying enormous pressure, the Commission has ignored a virtual consensus among medical experts that the fibers have the same cancer-causing characteristics as asbestos.

The Connecticut based R.T. Vanderbilt company, one of the nation's leaders in mining and producing tremolite talc, has successfully led the industry's efforts to convince the CPSC that three materials found in play sand tremolite, anthophyullite and actinolite�have no proven health risks, although studies have indicated otherwise.

"There is every reason to think that these fibers of tremolite, just like the fibers of every other form of asbestos, have the potential to cause cancer," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor of environmental medicine and pediatrics at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Yet "the companies that make the sand successfully persuaded the Consumer Product Safety Commission that there's a non-issue here."

Vanderbilt produces much of the talc used in play sand and stands to lose millions of dollars if the CPSC changes its position. The company also faces a $200 million lawsuit filed by a group of workers and workers' widows in the wake of a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that found a high rate of asbestos-related diseases among Vanderbilt workers. The company denies that the diseases are asbestos-related.

Public Citizen lawyer David Vladeck calls the CPSC's failure to regulate play sand "one of the worst examples of regulatory abuse." He adds, "It is clear that the agency just gave in to the industry. They were lobbied very hard by the play sand, fiber and talc industries.... The CPSC did exactly what the industry told them to do."

Lilly's Polluted Plant

Eli Lilly and Company's pharmaceutical production facilities in Puerto Rico are unsafe, according to Indianapolis Star reporter Eric Schoch. Schoch uncovered U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents from a series of 1989 agency inspections at Lilly's three plants in Carolina, Puerto Rico which revealed that the plants failed to meet a number of important regulatory standards governing drug production.

The FDA discovered serious violations at the plants during its June and October 1989 inspections. In one instance, the inspectors found an uncovered conveyer belt which allowed bottles of antibiotic liquid to be contaminated with falling debris. Follow-up investigations showed that some of the bottles contained bits of plastic.

In a letter notifying Lilly chairman Richard Wood of the findings, Edward Esparza, chief of the FDA's Puerto Rico office, said, "Drug products produced by your firm are adulterated in that you have failed to maintain" required manufacturing standards.

Lilly responded to the revelations about violations in its Puerto Rico plant by saying, "We believe the steps we have taken have resolved those issues and we continue to work with FDA inspectors to ensure our practices comply with all existing regulations."

FDA findings of similar improprieties at a Lilly plant in Indianapolis sparked the investigations in Puerto Rico.

Lethal Test

The Boeing Co. has settled a class action suit resulting from the use of approximately 700 employees as research subjects without their knowledge to conduct a medical study to determine the health effects of electromagnetic pulse radiation (EMP) (see "Names in the News," Multinational Monitor, September 1988). In the suit, Robert Strom, a Boeing employee, charged that his leukemia resulted from Boeing knowingly exposing him to EMP as part of its medical program. The case is one of the first lawsuits involving electromagnetic radiation and, say lawyers involved with the case, will open up the courts to more cases involving EMP radiation.

"Basically, we alleged that the class members were used as human research subjects without their informed consent to determine the biological effects of EMP," says Michael Withey, the lead plaintiffs' counsel.

Strom, who worked as an electrical technician assigned to the EMP program in 1983, states, "This was an incredible victory. My original goals� to ensure that people were informed of the risks of EMP exposure and the purpose of Boeing's medical exam � have been obtained." Strom received $500,000 as part of the settlement and said that he would use part of the award to establish a foundation to help fight the dangers of electromagnetic radiation.

Pentagon Plunder

Northrop Corp. and company president Thomas V. Jones were hammered in July bya congressional subcommittee for the company's B-2 bomber, Harrier jet and cruise missile contracts, all of which have given rise to criminal investigations. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., charged that the company's B-2 bomber program has been littered with false reports and cost overruns. The Air Force also came in for harsh criticism.

Dingell recently uncovered memorandums indicating that the Air Force knew Northrop committed fraud in reporting on its production of the B-2, but refused to act. "The Air Force was fully aware that Northrop's reports were false and moreover had general knowledge of the true state of affairs with respect to Northrop's cost overruns and schedule delays," states a Justice Department memorandum.

At the hearing of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which he chairs, Dingell said, "In terms of a continuing criminal enterprise, [Northrup's] abuses start at the top."

- David Lapp

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