JUNE 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 6
T H E F R O N T
IP: International PollutersEnvironmentalists and paper-workers expressed alarm in late May when International Paper (IP) continued to pump wastewater at its plant in Mobile, Alabama after a leak had been discovered in the pipeline transporting the waste.
IP spokesperson Bob Leahy claims that pumping continued at regular speed to help Coast Guard divers locate the leak and that it was shut down as soon as the leak was found. Leahy says the incident involved only a small leak in a pipeline that runs underneath 10 to 15 feet of water and that the material released in the leak was regular mill discharge with the oxygen removed. He adds that the leak was too small to cause oxygen depletion in the Mobile Bay on a scale which would result in the death of fish and other aquatic life. Divers repaired the leak within three days.
Critics of IP are skeptical of the company's version. They note that the leak is only the latest in a long series of IP environmental accidents and violations. The United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU) and the environmental organization Greenpeace recently joined together in a campaign to expose IP's disregard for the health of its workers and their communities.
IP and its major competitor, Scott Paper, together dump more than 100 million gallons of effluent into the river every day. What Leahy refers to as "regular mill discharge" contains highly toxic organochlorines, including dioxin. Created during the chlorine bleaching process, organochlorines attack the immune system and cause miscarriages,birth defects and cancer.
Critics charge that IP's high level of toxic discharges can and should be curtailed. Gail Martin of Greenpeace asserts that cleaner alternatives to chlorine bleaching exist. Martin says that oxygen delignification, a process used by most of IP's European competitors, produces the same product without organochlorine pollution. UPIU is also urging a move away from chlorine bleaching because of the health hazards it poses to workers.
According to 1989 permit rationales issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), IP releases only half as much effluent into the Mobile River as Scott, yet it discharges three times as much dioxin. The rationales show that Scott discharges an average of 70 million gallons each day, containing 14 parts per quadrillion (ppq) of dioxin, while IP averages a discharge rate of 31 million gallons per day, containing 100 ppq dioxin. ADEM also sampled and tested fish collected below the discharge and noted that all fish tested were shown to contain dioxin.
IP's environmental record outside of Alabama is equally dismal. A 1990 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report states that the cancer risk from dioxin at IP's Georgetown, South Carolina mill is ten times higher than at any other paper mill in the United States. In Moss Point, Mississippi, site of another IP mill, a judge ordered a halt to all fishing in the Pascagoula River, where the EPA discovered excessive levels of dioxin. (Pressure from local fishing clubs brought the case back to court where the ruling was overturned.)
IP's environmental violations are not limited to dumping dioxin. Shoddy mill operation has resulted in accidents threatening the environment and the health of communities around IP plants throughout the United States. During a maintenance shutdown at an IP mill in Ticonderoga, New York in fall 1990, pipeline leaks discharged 2.3 million gallons of waste into Lake Champlain.
In an even more serious incident in May 1988, the lives of thousands of residents of Jay, Maine were threatened when the IP mill, staffed by poorly-trained strikebreakers, accidentally emitted a cloud of chlorine dioxide. In April 1991, IP agreed to pay $885,000 in fines for environmental violations in Jay ranging from the chlorine dioxide discharge to excessive emissions of sulfuric gases to improper treatment and disposal of hazardous solid waste.
The problems are worse in the South, however. UPIU spokesperson Frank Bragg says that environmental regulation and enforcement are far less stringent there than in northern states like Maine. He is particularly critical of ADEM's management of the leak at the Mobile mill. ADEM spokeswoman Catherine Lamar told reporters that the leak posed no danger to the health or environment of the Mobile Bay community because 85 percent of the pollutants had been removed from the wastewater before it leaked. She also praised the company's efforts to reduce toxic discharges over the past three years. Bragg says, "ADEM came on the scene four days after the leak was noticed yet reports as if they were there, using IP propaganda." He calls state regulatory agencies like ADEM and Missisippi's Department of Environmental Quality "paper tigers" that allow IP to persist in "raping the environment of the South."
Greenpeace's Martin adds that workers in southern states who challenge IP's safety and environmental record are "faced with job blackmail," when IP sends the message: "We'll leave ... and you're not going to get any new mills." Martin says that the idea of these plants actually closing down is "far-fetched," since over half the U.S. bleaching plants are in southern states, and they have been operating profitably there for 40 to 50 years.
For the UPIU, the campaign with Greenpeace is part of a larger effort to address a variety of concerns about IP's corporate record. In May 1991, the UPIU joined with labor, environmental, religious and anti-apartheid organizations to present IP stockholders with a "Citizens Report on International Paper." The paper criticized the company's labor policies and refusal to divest from South Africa, as well as its environmental practices. Bragg says, "It's not just the paperworkers, but whole communities that are affected" by IP's "atrocious ... disregard" for environmental and health issues.
- Holley Knaus
Protecting Indonesian ConsumersJakarta--Consumer activism is not easy in Indonesia. The few rich are rich enough to afford the very best; the many poor too poor for the luxury of choice. Still, for nearly 20 years, the Indonesian Consumers Organisation has been trying to educate and advocate for the country's consumers--with growing success.
"We've been pushing for a consumer protection law for 10 years," says Zaim Saidi, executive secretary of the group, known as YLKI, its Indonesian acronym. "But our political system doesn't allow it. Now we're trying to attack specific issues."
Many of the problems are similar to those in industrialized countries: unsafe food additives, pesticide residues, dangerous or useless medical drugs. But in Indonesia, problems which are simple to spot are often very difficult to resolve.
The use of textile dye in food is an example. Some of Jakarta's street food sellers and market people see it as a cheap way to add enticing color to their wares. The risks for the consumer are obvious, but like many small-scale businesses in Indonesia, food vendors operate outside the reach of official regulation, from roadside stalls or carts that they push along the streets. Shutting down this food trade is out of the question. The vendors desperately need the jobs, and their customers need the cheap food. So YLKI's approach is to "go directly to the markets and talk to the people," says Saidi.
Ironically, given the fact that Indonesia's government is quite repressive and unresponsive to popular demands, the consumer group has had the most success working behind the scenes with health officials on specific problems. "We set up policy analysis groups, with experts such as doctors, to pressure the minister of health directly," Saidi says. A couple of years ago, YLKI also began asking consumers to submit complaints, which the group then takes to the ministry.
YLKI is always careful not to offend, however. Founded in 1973 by wives of prominent government officials and businessmen, the consumer group works very much within the mainstream of the narrow political space granted by the government to any outside voice. In many respects, its original motto--"to protect consumers, to promote good understanding with producers and to assist the government"--holds true today. Until recently, the government donated office space to the group. The group still uses government laboratories for its work and receives some funds for office costs. It is an odd relationship that offers certain benefits to both sides. YLKI lends credibility to the government's claims of caring for the consumer, while the group enjoys access to policymakers who can make the kind of changes it seeks.
In November 1990, YLKI scored its biggest victory to date, when the government agreed to ban anti-diarrheal medicines containing loperamide-hypochloride. This chemical is found in many of the country's drugs,including Imodium, made by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. Intended to slow peristaltic contractions of the intestine, it is extremely dangerous when used in excess; it can cause the intestine to stop functioning altogether, sometimes leading to death.
YLKI also tries to ensure that new rulings are enforced. Without such pressure, good laws might simply be ignored. In July 1990, for example, the government issued a new order to regulate the price of pharmaceutical drugs. Since then, YLKI has been monitoring some 80 pharmacies in seven cities, discovering wide fluctuations in price. "Even with generic drugs, the price varied from 1,000 rupiah (about 60 cents) to 7,000 rupiah," says Saidi.
- Samantha Sparks