Names in the News

Ashland Snuffs Story

Chemical & Engineering News (C& EN), the publication of the American Chemical Society (ACS), killed a staff reporter's investigative story about Ashland Oil, Inc.'s pollution on the Kentucky/West Virginia border after an Ashland Oil vice president flew to Washington to complain to ACS officials about the reporter's investigation.

 Residents in Kenova, West Virginia have been complaining for more than a decade that chemical emissions from Ashland's refinery in neighboring Catlettsburg, Kentucky has damaged residents' health and property. Hundreds of area residents have sued Ashland, and more than 700 of those cases have been settled. Multinational Monitor has also learned that after years of investigation, State of Kentucky environmental officials are about to take action against the company.

 The C& EN reporter, Wilbert Lepkowski, had been investigating the story for more than a year. He was informed in November 1994 by his editor that the story would not run. "To continue work on the article would not be in the long-term interest of the magazine," says C& EN editor Michael Heylin. Heylin says that he was "not happy with the incident."

 Ashland Oil officials say that Lepkowski told them that he was planning on comparing the situation at the Catlettsburg refinery to the 1984 Bhopal disaster, in which more than 2,000 people were killed when methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide chemical facility in Bhopal, India. Lepkowski covered the Bhopal disaster for the magazine.

 "The idea was never to compare it to Bhopal," Lepkowski says. "Ashland continues to misrepresent me. I told them over and over that the whole point of the piece was to explain the history of the situation from all sides."

 Ashland's Lampe defended the company's actions. "We are members of the American Chemical Society," Lampe says. "This magazine is the press of our society. Our response was totally and entirely appropriate, especially when the charges are unfounded and ludicrous."

 Diane Bady, director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, says that she worked with Lepkowski for over a year on the story. "Ashland managers are corporate bullies," Bady says. "They fight behind the scenes to make it impossible for reporters and regulators to do their jobs."


Borden's Toxic Trading

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit in October 1994 against Columbus, Ohio-based Borden Chemicals and Plastics for illegally shipping toxic mercury wastes to South Africa.

 The EPA's action followed an investigation earlier this year by Greenpeace and the South African group, Earthlife Africa, which revealed that Borden shipped thousands of barrels of mercury-laden wastes to South Africa in 1986 and from 1991 to 1993. The Greenpeace/Earthlife Africa investigation led Borden to recall a shipment of waste en route to South Africa in February 1994 and to stop all further waste shipments. The waste is stored at the Thor Chemicals mercury recycling plant in Cato Ridge, South Africa. Three Thor managers were arrested this year and charged with culpable homicide over the death of a worker from mercury poisoning. Twenty-eight other workers are suffering from various forms of mercury poisoning.

 "Environmental pollution does not stop at the U.S. borders, and we will use all of our enforcement authorities against those who engage in the illegal international hazardous waste trade," says EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

 Borden claims it is being sued by the EPA because it relied on the state of Louisiana's determination of hazardous waste, and that the EPA "redefined" hazardous waste to include the Borden's mercury waste. "We are being sued because we relied in good faith on the government's definition of hazardous waste in effect at the time we took action," says Borden Vice President and General Manager Wayne Leonard, who vowed to "vigorously defend the action."

 While Greenpeace welcomed the EPA suit, it said that the U.S. government continues to block international agreements prohibiting the international waste trade and that waste exports continue to flow with the U.S. government's complicity. "The United States remains the only major industrialized government not to have agreed to a ban on hazardous waste shipments to the less industrialized world," says Greenpeace activist Kenny Bruno. "Until the United States prohibits hazardous waste exports, it will continue to send a mixed message to U.S. industry."


AmEx's Dirty Money

AMERICAN EXPRESS BANK INTERNATIONAL (AEBI) was fined $7 million and will forfeit over $25 million to settle money-laundering charges brought by U.S. federal officials in Houston, Texas in November 1994.

 The case against AEBI grew out of criminal charges brought against two bank directors working in Beverly Hills, California, who were convicted of money laundering and bank fraud charges in June 1994 in a Brownsville, Texas federal court. Directors Antonio Giraldi and Maria Lourdes Reategui were found to have participated in laundering approximately $33 million for a Mexican drug organization by moving funds through American Express accounts controlled by holding companies created in the Cayman Islands.

 To obtain the settlement, federal officials agreed to forego a criminal indictment of AEBI. "We decided that the criminal activity was not pervasive through the entire company," says Assistant U.S. Attorney David Novak. "It was limited to one branch office." In addition, Novak says, a criminal money-laundering conviction would have resulted in the "corporate death sentence." "If they were convicted, they would face losing their charter," he says.

 "Under U.S. law, a corporation can be held responsible for acts of its employees," says Steven D. Goldstein, AEBI's chair, president and chief executive officer. "We therefore made the determination that settling this matter was in the best interests of AEBI."

 - Russell Mokhiber