Names in the News

Bad Plumbing

Shell Oil Company, E.I. DuPont de Nemours, and Hoechst Celanese agreed in October 1994 to pay a minimum of $750 million to replace leaking polybutylene plumbing throughout the United States and compensate property owners for damages caused by the leaks.

Polybutylene is a resin product manufactured by Shell Oil that the company promoted as a durable material for manufacturing plumbing pipes beginning in the 1970s. Celanese and DuPont worked with Shell, developing and producing resins that were utilized in manufacturing fittings for the pipes. None of the companies told consumers, however, that the pipes and fittings would corrode and ultimately leak when exposed to chemicals found in common drinking water in much of the United States.

In September 1993, after learning that pipes and pipe fittings were leaking throughout the country, causing millions of dollars of property damage, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based public interest group, filed a national class action suit.

The proposed settlement, filed in District Court in Harris County, Texas, creates a potentially unlimited fund to provide full compensation for the key types of damage caused by the leaking pipes. Consumers will be notified every three years, and class members can obtain compensation, even if their pipes were installed or the leaks took place as far back as 1978.

"This is a landmark achievement in consumer protection," says TLPJ Foundation President Mary A. Parker of Nashville's Parker & Allen. "It will benefit millions of Americans who have houses, mobile homes, apartments or other properties with inherently defective polybutylene plumbing systems."

NRC Fails to Enforce

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has failed to enforce its own reactor safety requirements more than 340 times since 1989, according to a report released in November 1994 by Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project. NRC policy has allowed nuclear reactors to restart and operate in literal violation of safety regulations, the report found.

"Abuse of Discretion: NRC's Non-Enforcement Policy" finds that as early as 1985, NRC staff knew that regional administrators were allowing nuclear reactors to violate the terms of their licenses. Rather than requiring utilities to abide by the law and seek license amendments, the NRC created a policy of non-enforcement of the violations, the report found. The evolution of this policy, which has affected 110 nuclear reactors in 34 states, is still unclear due to selective withholding of information by the NRC, according to Critical Mass.

According to the report, the NRC has honored all of the industry's last 100 requests for non-enforcement of regulations requiring nuclear shut-down.

"Nuclear reactors should not be allowed to split atoms unless and until they meet all safety requirements," says James Riccio, staff attorney for Critical Mass and author of the report. "This NRC policy attempts to maintain the financial viability of the nuclear industry by ignoring violations of safety regulations."

Shutting down a nuclear reactor can cost a utility as much as $1 million a day. A high-ranking NRC official reported to the NRC's Inspector General that "such a shutdown to enforce a technical compliance issue regarding a plant's technical specification's would be very costly."

The NRC Inspector General is currently conducting an audit and investigation of the NRC's policy.


Pesticide PACs

Pesticide company political action committees (PACs) doubled their campaign contributions to Congress after a high-stakes federal court loss in 1992 threatened to ban dozens of cancer-causing pesticides, according to an October 1994 report released by the Environmental Working Group, a public interest group in Washington, D.C.

Most of the pesticide PAC cash has gone to members of Congress who have co- sponsored the pesticide industry's bill to weaken federal pesticide law, the group charges.

In the first 18 months of the outgoing Congress, representatives and senators accepted over $3.1 million in contributions from 44 pesticide PACs that are associated with companies belonging to the American Crop Protection Association, the main pesticide trade association. That is nearly twice as much campaign cash as those same PACs contributed in comparable 18-month periods in each of the last two Congresses. In total, since 1989, the pesticide PACs have given representatives and senators over $8.2 million.

"The pesticide industry suffered a major court loss in 1992 and is fighting to have Congress overturn it," asserts Kelsey Wirth, principal author of the study. "The dramatic doubling of pesticide PAC contributions is clearly part of the industry's strategy with Congress. Unfortunately, it's working."

Over half of the House of Representatives - 224 members - now co-sponsor the pesticide industry bill and 17 senators sponsor the measure.

In 1992, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other public interest groups won a court case that forced the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce the so-called Delaney Clause, a law that prohibits the use of carcinogenic pesticides when they concentrate in processed foods. After the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case, chemical companies turned to Congress to repeal the Delaney Clause and otherwise weaken federal pesticide law.

In October 1994, the EPA and NRDC announced a settlement of the lawsuit that will phase out the uses of dozens of cancer-causing pesticides. The settlement will only bring more industry pressure to bear on Congress to keep dangerous pesticides on the market, the report speculates.

"We're not saying that the pesticide industry is buying votes in Congress," says EWG president Ken Cook. "Why buy when you can rator.

- Russell Mokhiber