Names in the News


EXXON, AMOCO AND MOBIL have made misleading and deceptive environmental claims in advertisements that urge participation in the companies' used motor oil recycling programs, according to a complaint filed in March with the Federal Trade Commission by the Sierra Club and other environmental organizations.

 "The advertised recycling programs do not transform used oil into clean new oil products. Instead, the used oil is burned in refineries and boilers, producing toxic emissions," says Daniel J. Weiss, Washington director of the Environmental Quality Program of the Sierra Club. "Used oil is contaminated with lead, chromium, arsenic and other toxic chemicals that are released into the air when used oil is burned."

 "Criticism of our advertising is plain wrong," Mobil replied in a prepared statement. "The objective of our advertising is to encourage the proper disposal of used oil ... The efforts to kill used oil collection programs threatens a legitimate remedy to a real environmental problem - the unsafe disposal of used oil that contaminates land and waterways."

 According to the Mobil statement, 175 million gallons a year of used motor oil are disposed of improperly. The EPA and state governments encouraged the oil companies to help solve this problem, according to Mobil.

 The specific advertisements cited in the complaint use generic "green" symbols, such as the "arrows" recycling emblem and wilderness scenes of trees and rivers, to create the impression that the companies' used oil recycling programs safely handle the problem. The ads fail to mention burning oil.

Chicken Swindlers

CARGILL, INC., one of the world's agribusiness giants, agreed in March to do business with a Florida chicken producer whose contract had been cancelled after the producer filed a lawsuit alleging that Cargill had cheated him and others by underweighing their chickens.

 The agreement settled a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in Tampa, Florida in 1989 against Cargill and two employees at its Paramount Poultry unit in Jacksonville, Florida.

 According to that lawsuit, Cargill, based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, cancelled its contract with Arthur Ray Gaskins, president of Northeast Florida Broilers Association, after he and more than 30 other farmers sued the company in 1989. Gaskins and the other farmers charged that Cargill's Jacksonville unit underweighed their chickens from 1980 through 1988, and thus underpaid them.

 Gaskins, who was left without a market for his chickens since Cargill is the only major buyer in Northeast Florida, appealed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which conducted an investigation and referred the matter to the Justice Department.

 The farmers' lawsuit against Cargill alleged that Cargill had intentionally falsified its growers' live poultry weights to cheat them on compensation. The Justice Department then filed its own lawsuit, alleging that Cargill had retaliated against growers who brought the suit by terminating or threatening to terminate their contracts.

Guilty Rockwell

ROCKWELL INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION pleaded guilty in March to 10 counts of environmental violations during its operation of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant near Boulder, Colorado and agreed to pay an $18.5 million fine - the largest amount ever imposed in a hazardous waste case.

 Rockwell pleaded guilty to four felony violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery (RCRA) Act and to one felony and five misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act.

The company claimed victory after the announcement of the guilty plea. "After nearly three years of intensive scrutiny, the government could only find technical violations and was forced to admit that the sensational charges it originally made were simply not true," says Donald R. Beall, Rockwell chairman and chief executive officer. "This should put to rest any concerns the citizens of Colorado may have that Rockwell's environmental practices while operating the plant put the surrounding communities or the environment at risk."

 But the violations to which the corporation pleaded guilty were not insignificant. Federal officials charged that Rockwell illegally stored and treated hazardous wastes generated during the production of plutonium "triggers" and other components of nuclear weapons at Rocky Flats. Federal officials also charged that the company improperly and illegally discharged wastes through its sewage treatment plant, creating the potential for contamination by runoff to a reservoir used for drinking water.

 The four felony charges brought under RCRA allege that the company knowingly treated and/or stored hazardous wastes, including cadmium and chromium, as well as salt brine concentrate and vacuum filter sludge, without a permit or interim status.

The Clean Water Act felony charge is based on the allegation that the company knowingly operated its system for spraying treated wastewater improperly.

 - Ben Lilliston