Last week, I wrote about the ATI lockout of their union mills. Wanted to highlight this issue once again. The United Steelworkers held a big rally in Pittsburgh yesterday to pressure the company to end the lockout and negotiate a fair contract with the union. The lockout and union-busting could devastate the steel towns that rely on the wages of union members for businesses to survive. That’s the theme of this USW-produced video, focusing on a pizza shop owner standing with the USW because it’s in his own financial interest to do so (also because he knows it’s the right thing to do). Check it out.
Author Page for Erik Loomis
I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of The Enemy Within (in Britain it is going by Still the Enemy Within). This is a powerful documentary on how Margaret Thatcher busted the coal miners’ unions in the 1980s. If this is of interest to you, I highly recommend hunting down a copy, perhaps through getting your library to purchase one if possible. Told strictly through the eyes of the miners and their wives, along with video clips of Thatcher and other conservatives, the film is a very useful document for understanding the decline of the postwar labor movement, which was far more than just an American phenomenon. I am far from a scholar of Europe so I can’t speak with any real authority about the claims the workers make, but they certainly believe they were really very close to winning what turned out to be a catastrophic loss to a government seeking to destroy their union, which was the backbone of the British left. But the workers claim that had the other unions shown solidarity and walked off the job in support, as opposed to empty words and some money or if all the British mines had joined the strike (Thatcher intended to split the miners by giving a few choice mines some extra money while seeking to bust the other unions) that they could have defeated the government and perhaps the worst parts of Thatcherism broadly. Even though this is a depressing story, the film also shows how solidarity between groups with little in common with miners (elite students, gay and lesbian activists) was created, how women stepped out of traditional gender roles during the strike, and how personally empowering the strike was for at least some workers. I suppose, as a non-Europeanist, I would have liked a bit more context about Thatcherism and about what happened to the interviewed workers after the end of the strike, but those are pretty minor complaints. I’d check the film out if I were you.
My good friend Jacob Remes has an interesting piece up at the Atlantic. You may remember him from his entry in the This Day in Labor History series on Davis Day in Canada. He is a historian of disasters and working-class solidarity. We read chapters of each other’s book drafts and I can guarantee you his new book is very provocative and you should read it. His Atlantic piece effectively summarizes his major theme–that the state often fails citizens in natural disasters and that in response, a sort of anarchist solidarity naturally appears that provides mutual support and which the state soon seeks to undermine. Again, it’s provocative and we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on every point. But there’s no question that strong community ties make a big difference in post-disaster life and that planning for strong communities is a really underrated strategy for dealing with disasters, something that a world dealing with climate change needs to take a lot more seriously.
Who else is excited to have your workplace performance monitored by drones? I know I am shocked to see technological advancement embraced by employers to control workers!
There’s been a lot of media discussion over the past week about Chinese workplace safety conditions because of the Tianjin explosion that killed more than 150 people and spewed toxic material into the air. The problem is a lack of regulatory control, corruption, and a culture of indifference to the general public. And this is a major problem in China, with another blast in another city yesterday killing someone.
But it would be nice if these reporters noted that a mere 2 years ago in Texas, a very similar incident happened in the town of West, where a fertilizer plant exploded and killed 15 people. Governor Rick Perry’s response was to declare Texas open for business, ensuring that nothing would change. And with OSHA so understaffed that it would take 129 years for the agency’s inspectors to visit every workplace in the United States, very little has improved. Moreover, Tianjin and West is the America libertarians want to embrace. The freedom of factory owners to site factories where they want, store chemicals how they want, and not be responsible for the forthcoming disaster is central to conservative philosophy. So while we should be talking about Tianjin and these problems in China, casting an eye on the United States is also important for journalists, for the comparisons are not as far-fetched as one might hope.
Proving there is literally nothing President Obama can do that won’t threaten their whiteness and send them into spasms of uncontrolled fury, conservatives are going ballistic over the official name of change of Mt. McKinley to Denali. There’s no reason to spend any real time explaining this because it’s nothing more than pure, unadulterated wingnuttery. David Graham actually does usefully explain it however, noting that this is another battle in the culture wars for people who see everything they love about this nation destroyed by the Kenyan usurper.
For non-Rovians, what makes Obama’s “Denali” decision sting is the symbolism. One of the key stories of the Obama presidency is the sense among white, conservative Americans that their country is disappearing. Though seldom couched in directly racial terms, the issue of racial identity always lurks beneath the surface. The sense that white America is fading is not irrational, and it’s not just about the black president in the White House. Census projections have Caucasians becoming not a majority, but merely a plurality, of the population within a couple decades.
The reaction to Dylann Roof’s massacre in Charleston is an example of how this plays out. Even some people who were horrified by the shooting and supported South Carolina’s decision to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state-capitol grounds felt uncomfortable with the sudden rise of demands to erase other symbols of the Confederacy or of white-supremacist leaders of yore—statues of Jefferson Davis, college buildings named for racists, and the like. These changes are just and overdue, but they’re also understandably disorienting, and for people who already feel their heritage and way of life are under siege, they seem a step (or several) too far. Conservatives complain, using a phrase Obama himself employed in October 2008, that the president is in the process of “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”
As for the Rovians reference at the beginning, again, Karl Rove loves William McKinley because that’s the America he wants in this nation, so he has a new hagiography coming out about the Gilded Age imperialist.
We could play a game and find the most ridiculous take. But why bother when you have Ben Shapiro in the house?
Assassinated in 1901, McKinley, who presided over an economic boom and massive growth in American power, once stated, “We need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California. It is manifest destiny.” Regarding the Spanish-American War, McKinley explained that Cuba “ought to be free and independent.” Obama would have opposed both moves.
As Obama stated in Dreams From My Father, he spent his college years discussing “neocolonialism, Franz Fanon, Eurocentrism.” And President Obama has obviously attempted to undo many of McKinley’s accomplishments. In kowtowing to the Castros in Cuba, Obama has ensured that America’s Spanish-American War victory ends with perpetual communism in a country America once granted its freedom; in 2014, the Obama Department of the Interior sought to give Hawaiians the same status as Native Americans, forcing separate governance for them based on ethnicity.
The only question now: when will President Obama change the name of the American Southwest to Aztlan?
So much to love here. Fanon fears! Rewriting the history of Cuba to make it look like the U.S. is its long-time friend! Good old fashioned redbaiting! “Forcing separate governance” on native Hawaiians! Why that’s far more oppressive than overthrowing the native Hawaiian government in the name of sugar companies and American naval interests!!! But really it’s the Atzlan reference that wins. Because this is right at the heart of the conservative fears. It’s the reconquista caused by hordes of Mexicans crossing the border and facilitated by those fifth columnist liberals and their illegitimate president from the colonies.
I dare you to find a better Denali hot take! Although anyone with the bravery to dive into the waters of the conservative blogosphere just might be able to do it…
Above: The victims of the Triangle Fire, i.e., the libertarian vision of America’s future
Brian Beutler’s piece on libertarians’ goal to return the U.S. to the Lochner Era through the courts should scare you. It’s hardly news to political junkies that libertarians seek to destroy a century of regulations that created what was great about the United States in the twentieth century. But because a lot of seemingly smart people take libertarianism seriously as an intellectual idea, their actual nefarious goals are often muted. Libertarians want to return this nation to an era of workplace deaths, of unlimited working hours, of low wages, of industry polluting wherever they want with whatever substances they choose, etc. They openly say that the nation went off the rails with the Progressive Era (Karl Rove and Glenn Beck have said this on top of the libertarian crew) and hope to return us to the Gilded Age. They’ve gone a long ways toward succeeding, as I have documented on this blog for the past four years.
They are also really close to the big coup. That would be a Republican victory in 2016 and the replacement of a couple of elderly Supreme Court justices with Thomas and Alito-types who are happy to do the bidding of corporations.
All libertarians want to fight federal regulations in Congress and the executive branch. But Barnett and his allies think courts should be empowered to throw regulations out even if political majorities support them. These Lochner revivalist professors have established beachheads at law schools across the country. In 2002, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh founded a blog, The Volokh Conspiracy, as a hub for libertarian ideas, including Lochner revisionism. Today, it has become the most prominent academic legal blog in the country and now publishes under the auspices of The Washington Post. It boasts nearly two dozen contributing professors and mainlines detailed and informed libertarian legal arguments to thousands of the nation’s top lawyers, law students, clerks, judges, and opinion-makers every day.
The contributors to The Volokh Conspiracy teach at the University of Minnesota, Northwestern, Emory, Duke, and elsewhere. Several hold positions at George Mason University’s law school, which is famous for its conservative faculty and, in 36 short years, has rocketed to prominence as one of the 50 best law schools in the country. In 2011, GMU law professor and Volokh Conspiracy contributor David Bernstein published a book titled Rehabilitating Lochner, and that’s exactly what he, Barnett, and their contemporaries have been attempting to do.
Again, it drives me crazy that people respect what happens at Volokh Conspiracy because these are horrible people. They aren’t hiding it either:
To dismiss the debate between libertarians and traditional conservatives over Lochner as an academic sideshow is to misunderstand the stakes. “A full-fledged return to Lochner would put a constitutional cloud over a whole host of laws that we all take for granted today,” said Sam Bagenstos, a liberal constitutional scholar at the University of Michigan who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. “Laws guaranteeing workers the right to join a union without being fired, and the right to earn a minimum wage and receive overtime if working more than 40 hours a week, laws protecting worker safety, and laws protecting workers and customers against discrimination based on race or other protected statuses, just for starters.”
I asked Barnett whether the social welfare laws on the books today would be permitted under his reading of the Constitution. “Probably not at the federal level,” he said.
That’s why Barnett and his contemporaries prefer to root their arguments in specific injustices rather than categorical abstractions. Why shouldn’t bakers be allowed to work more than 60 hours a week, or individuals be allowed to remain uninsured? Why should the government be allowed to regulate out of existence my right to hail a driver or your right to rent a stranger’s house for a weekend?
These are people who actually want to return us to the the Gilded Age. Let’s look at the past to get a glimpse of the libertarian paradise. Allow me to quote from Empire of Timber.
Both camp and mill workers felt the pain and shock of severe injury in a dangerous and highly mechanized working environment and saw workers die horrible deaths. These technologies made logging a more dangerous and deadly job. Cables and machines broke, becoming deadly whipsaws. The flying logs of high-lead logging crushed workers’ heads. The state of Washington began collecting data on workplace injuries in 1912. Between that date and 1929, between 124 and 261 loggers died every year in the timber industry. In 1914, 63,350 people worked in the timber industry, thirty-five per cent of the state’s workforce. In the first five months of that year, there were 4,928 reported accidents that injured or killed timber workers.
Working in the region’s watery environment contributed to this death toll. The Northwest’s cold rain and snow made workers sick while the workers toiling on floating logs in log ponds or river drives risked their lives. At least nine loggers drowned on the job in 1906, including J.W. Roth of Springfield, Oregon and Ralph Leedy of Hoquiam, Washington who died in separate incidents on log ponds and J.K. Lynn who fell into a river near Hoquiam while rafting logs. Alfred Aasen fell into a cold river while working in the spring of 1916. He did not drown, but he caught pneumonia while riding on a rail car the ten miles back to camp in soaking clothes and soon died.
Machines killed far more workers than water and cold. On August 28, 1905, Clise Houston reached to clear an obstruction from his saw. He fell into it and died. Finnish immigrant John Koski found a job with the Simpson Logging Company in a camp near Matlock, Washington. On June 18, 1904 nearby tree fallers shouted “Timber!” He did not move and the tree landed directly on top of him, crushing him beyond recognition. Koski had no family in America and his co-workers had no way to inform his relations in Finland of his demise. The company paid for the burial. Karl Carlson worked in the Middleton mill in Aberdeen, Washington. In 1905, a belt fell off its course and Carlson tried to guide it back on to the pulley with a shovel. The shovel became entangled with the belt and he lost control of it. The machine tore the shovel from his hands and plunged it, handle first, through his body. Carlson lingered for a day before dying, leaving behind a wife and child.
The lucky workers were merely maimed. Morris Campbell worked in J.E. Nichols’ sawmill in La Conner, Washington. In the last days of 1899, he caught his arm in a mill saw. It was amputated at the shoulder. In 1900, Frank Lang lost most of his left hand running a band saw in the Centralia Shingle Mill in Centralia, Washington. In 1901, Martin Boyer’s foot got caught in machinery in a Centralia mill. Doctors amputated. In a nation without a social safety net, injured workers often fell through the cracks into a lifetime of poverty. Workers like Campbell, Lang, and Boyer faced grim futures as disabled persons, as did many people disabled on the job before the passage of the Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act in 1920, which provided occupational training and job placement for those injured on at the workplace. Many workers chose self-medication. Joseph Gillis of Seattle lost a leg while working at the McDougal and Jackson logging camp near Buckley, Washington. He sued for $10,000 but overdosed on the laudanum he used for pain the day before he lost his suit.
This was the reality of Lochner-era America. Workers could do little to nothing about these working conditions because the courts said they had agreed to work under those conditions and thus protecting them would be violating their freedom of contract. Things got so bad that during the years after Lochner, judges, juries, and politicians began pushing back against it. That’s why workers’ compensation was enacted in the 1910s, because juries began awarding benefits to workers and ignoring the freedom of contract ideas and this scared corporations into protecting themselves while still paying as little as possible to injured workers.
This is the America where Volokh writers hope to take us Even if they say that’s not what they foresee, that’s the reality. In calling for a return to Lochner-era policies, there is no guarantee the Supreme Court won’t rule, say, OSHA unconstitutional.
This future, which sounds hopelessly dystopian, is entirely possible if Republicans win the 2016 presidential election. And we need to be calling out libertarians for what they are–people who think dead workers is a form of freedom. People who think working 84-hour weeks in a steel mill is totally acceptable. People who want you to experience another Donora Smog in the name of liberty. People who want to eliminate OSHA and the EPA. People who want to tear apart everything that makes this nation livable. And they are this close to succeeding.
It’s almost hard to believe Abraham Lincoln survived until 1865 given the hate he engendered among northern racists. While we can certainly argue that Lincoln was not that radical compared to Charles Sumner or Thaddeus Stevens, moving a white supremacist nation to eliminate its most dominant white supremacy institution through means of a war and mobilizing a general public who often did not believe in that cause until close to the end of the war was pretty radical governance. It’s hardly surprising that underground movements would try and develop to counter the threat they felt to an activist government they believed threatened their racial status and that was even going to make them fight for it. And while sleeper cells might not have been for everyone, the Ohio Democrats nominating an open traitor like Clement Vallandigham for governor in 1863 shows how powerful this hatred of Lincoln was during the war.
You may have some questions about just how McDonald’s runs its franchising operations and why the company is the focus of so much attention with the NLRB’s Browning decision from last week. Of course, franchising can mean a lot of different things with a number of varying arrangements. In the case of McDonald’s, the company seeks detailed control over the franchisee in ways that other fast food companies do not, arrangements that suggest an almost Don Blankenship-level of control over work that makes an argument it is not a joint employer highly dubious. Jeff Spross has more on this.
The funny wrinkle in McDonald’s case is that a lot of the company’s franchisees really don’t like the model. They have to pay the corporate mothership 4 to 5 percent of their revenue for a franchise fee, and then another 4 to 5 percent to go into an advertising fund. The franchises then have to pay another 12 percent to McDonald’s for rent. Meanwhile, the central company gives franchisees a slew of requirements in terms of remodeling, computer systems, and other expenses they must incur to stay in the franchise agreement.
By all accounts, McDonald’s has cracked down on its franchisees in recent years. It controls most of the prices on the menu, and between that and its hefty operating demands, it’s squeezing franchisees so that the way to make the business model successful is to pay the workers less. Dissatisfaction amongst McDonald’s franchise owners is reportedly at an all-time high, so they clearly feel they’re under fire.
But then you have to ask: Under fire compared to whom? The average American worker, or other small business owners pulling down $100,000-plus a year?
Another wrinkle, according to Kalnins, is that McDonald’s is genuinely an outlier in the aggressiveness with which it deals with its franchises. In other chains, franchisees can own hundreds of stores, and sometimes be public corporations unto themselves. But “McDonald’s really wants small owners,” Kalnins explained — somebody overseeing three, four, or five units. “Somebody who’s checking out what’s going on in those units every day.”
The upside for McDonald’s is franchisees who are “much more loyal and will do what you want them to, because of their smaller size.” The downside is a far more aggressive interference on the part of McDonald’s in terms of the running of the stores and its relationships with workers.
Another thing that makes McDonald’s an outlier is it’s one of the few chains that owns the property for every last one of its stores, and thus charges its franchisees the rent. Kalnins said he’s spoken with franchise consultants who figured that while the 12 percent of revenue that McDonald’s charges for rent is high compared to the standard 10 percent small businesses usually face from real estate owners, it’s not extraordinary. But “if you add the rent to it then certainly they’re paying more than for other chains. And that’s relatively unusual.”
Given all of this, how is McDonald’s not the direct employer of the workers? They are of course, even if they’ve offloaded the onerous parts of hiring onto the franchisee. And became McDonald’s corporate so controls all the details of work, this operates in some of the same ways that the apparel industry’s exploitative subcontracting system does–by making sure that the only way the franchisee is going to make any money is to squeeze workers as hard as possible, with a bottom baseline only a federal or state labor law that may or may not be stringently enforced on the ground. This is another reason why we need to push back against these sorts of labor arrangements through holding corporations legally accountable for the workers making their products regardless of whether they are directly employed, subcontracted, franchisees, temp workers, etc. These latter systems exist precisely for the kind of advantages McDonald’s has created here. Hopefully the NLRB will continue bringing this system back under control.
There was a lot of good commentary late last week to the NLRB decision in the Browning-Ferris case, ruling that joint employer status applied to this contractor for the purpose of unionization and other labor law, potentially repealing some of corporations’ favorite strategies for protecting themselves from legal accountability. Let me link to a couple. First, Catherine Fisk:
The most interesting implication, given the recent strikes in the fast food industry, is whether the decision means that corporate restaurants like McDonald’s are the joint employer with their franchisees. The Board has cases pending that will present this issue and it will decide them in due course. The test the Board articulated in Browning-Ferris is that two entities are joint employers “if they share or codetermine those matters governing the essential terms and conditions of employment” which includes “hiring, firing, discipline, supervision, and direction,” as well as “wages and hours,” “the number of workers to be supplied, controlling scheduling, seniority, and overtime, and assigning work and determining the manner and method of work performance.” And the Board said the codetermination of these matters need not be done “directly and immediately, and not in a limited or routine manner” but it is enough if the control is exerted in an “indirect” or “routine” way so long as the user employer “affects the means or manner of employees’ work and terms of employment, either directly or through an intermediary.”
What the dissent is anxious about is precisely what workers’ rights advocates have been talking about for decades. Should companies that effectively dictate working conditions by the price they are willing to pay suppliers (whether it is suppliers of labor, as in Browning-Ferris, or suppliers of goods, as in supply chain cases) be obligated to bargain with the employees who supply that labor or those goods? Should janitors or security guards in an office building or warehouse workers be able to pressure the building manager or the logistics company (as opposed to the labor contractor for which they work) for a pay raise or safety protections?
One issue the Browning Ferris case does not decide but the dissent talks about at some length is whether the common law right of control test adopted by the majority also has implications for a different issue, which is the difference between employees (who are workers that a hiring entity has the right to control) or independent contractors (workers that the hiring entity does not control). The majority said little about this, but the dissent lambastes the majority for adopting a version of the common law test that might narrow the definition of independent contractor, making more workers employees. If the dissent is right, then the years long effort of Federal Express to run a huge package delivery service without employing any drivers might fail, and so, too, might Uber’s argument that it’s become the country’s fastest-growing taxi service by simply being a technology company that employs no drivers.
Great! Republicans’ worst nightmares are precisely what I and so many other labor supporters hope happens. These follow-up NLRB cases are going to be incredibly important and I think the fears of the dissent point the way they are probably going to go. Of course, there is a legal appeal as well that conservatives will push, which rationally should allow the NLRB jurisdiction but given conservative judicial activism may well not. E. Tammy Kim interviews people on both sides of this issue that lay out the stakes.
“The Board’s tortured analysis will undoubtedly be met with skepticism and will be rejected by local franchise owners, legislators and, ultimately, the courts,” said Steve Caldeira, president and CEO of the International Franchise Association. “IFA and its allies are asking Congress to intervene to halt these out-of-control, unelected Washington bureaucrats to preserve the established joint employer standard relied upon by America’s 780,000 franchise businesses and the 8.5 million jobs they directly create.”
While groups like the IFA accused the NLRB of ignoring the economic reality of the franchise structure, the Fight for $15 fast-food movement applauded the Board’s recognition that large corporations exert control over individual stores and restaurants.
“McDonald’s is the boss — that’s true by any standard,” said Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fight for $15. “The company controls everything from the speed of the drive-thru to the way workers fold customers’ bags. It’s common sense that McDonald’s should be held accountable for the rights of workers at its franchised stores.”
Although the NLRB’s ruling only applies to labor law and not employment cases — minimum wage, overtime or discrimination — it could influence other venues. Several such cases brought by Fight for $15 workers are pending in federal court.
“The Board has been out of whack with federal and state laws with respect to employment,” said attorney Moshe Marvit, fellow at the liberal think tank the Century Foundation. “The decision is influenced by other agency decisions, and OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), for example, will follow the Board’s lead.”
The potential for that influence is real and could be meaningful, albeit pretty reliant on the Democrats winning the election in 2016. Meanwhile, what are conservatives saying? It’s pretty comic!
For example, the NLRB’s new standard could force Silicon Valley startups to hire the receptionists and cleaners they currently get from staffing or property management companies. It will adversely impact the innovative sharing economy, where technology has drastically lowered transaction costs, enabling people to come together to share services in novel new business relationships. In the end, some jobs will be absorbed by companies’ corporate headquarters, to minimize unexpected liability; some jobs will be eliminated. The NLRB has set back the clock 40 years, to an era of corporate giants when few people had the option of being their own bosses while pursuing innovative employment arrangements.
Also great! Outside of the double speak that claims exploitative working relationships is freedom.
A few weeks ago, I linked to a good in-depth discussion of how DuPont had poisoned the people of Parkersburg, West Virginia through the production of C8, the chemical making up the key component of Teflon. The Huffington Post now has a very long and in-depth piece on the same subject, which you should also read. I won’t go over the details again except to say that DuPont, like basically all chemical corporations, treat the environment, workers, and the surrounding communities with a complete lack of basic respect in its quest to maximize profit. But two points to pull out. First:
By the early 1970s, Congress was once again debating how to regulate the chemicals that now formed the fabric of American domestic life. Both houses drafted legislation that would empower the Environmental Protection Agency to study the health and environmental effects of chemicals and regulate their use. But the industry unleashed another lobbying blitz. Under the final version of the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, existing chemicals were again grandfathered in. Manufacturers did have to inform the EPA when they introduced new chemicals—but no testing was required. The resulting regulatory regime, which exists to this day, is remarkably laissez-faire. Only a handful of the 80,000-plus chemicals on the market have ever been tested for safety—meaning that we are all, in effect, guinea pigs in a vast, haphazard chemistry experiment.
This is a really key issue. Like fracking and so many other technological developments of industrial life, we have given corporations carte blanche to create profitable markets in chemicals without meaningful testing, and especially without meaningful public testing that would give people a right to know what chemicals are in their air, water, food, and workplaces. Only if disasters strike of the thalidomide level does real accountability to corporations ever take place. Meanwhile, more chemicals can be created, dumped, and forgotten about, all at continuing profit. Even here, with overwhelming evidence of how DuPont created birth defects, massive wildlife and livestock dieoffs, cancers in workers and local residents, etc., the company still have not faced real accountability. Instead it is using every known tactic of corporations to delay compensation and try to offload legal liability. This gets us to the second point.
Meanwhile, this past July, DuPont spun off its specialty chemicals division into a separate company called Chemours. The new enterprise will assume the liability for DuPont’s most polluted sites, including Washington Works—but it will only have one-quarter of DuPont’s revenue. Many people with cases pending against DuPont worry that it will use this arrangement to avoid paying damages or, at the very least, stall any resulting payouts. “I’m sure part of their theory is the longer they delay, the more people will die,” said Deitzler, the Parkersburg-based lawyer. “It’s already worked. Before we could even file cases, many of the people who’ve been affected passed on.”
Creating new companies that are underfunded in order to deal with liabilities is an old corporate trick. Dollars to donuts Chemours declares bankruptcy in the next decade that allows DuPont to escape from any meaningful compensation at all.
Meanwhile, DuPoint has moved on from C8. But to what?
Under the current regulatory system, DuPont is not required to ensure that these chemicals are free of the qualities that made C8 so toxic. While relatively little is known about these substances, most of them have very similar structures and properties to C8, and the limited information that is available reveals troubling effects. Also, while some of the replacement chemicals break down faster than C8 does, they need to be used in larger quantities to achieve the same results, a fact that has caused alarm in the scientific community. This May, 200 scientists—chemists, toxicologists, and epidemiologists among them—signed a statement urging governments to restrict the use of these chemicals because of the “risks of adverse effects on human health and the environment.”
Until that happens, these substances will continue to spread, unchecked. Not long ago, the Little Hocking water district commissioned a study to see whether any of the C8 replacements were contaminating the town’s aquifer. Researchers tested worms unearthed from Little Hocking’s well field, a scraggly meadow overlooking the vast expanse of storage tanks and smokestacks at the Washington Works plant. They found a number of C8’s chemical cousins, including C5, C6, C7, C9 and C10. Once again, local residents may have been unwittingly exposed to toxins whose ultimate effect on human health is unknown.
The weak regulatory system combines with the nation’s profit-first ideology and corporate malfeasance to ensure that nothing will change here. Maybe one of these chemicals will, 20 years from now, be found to also kill people. If the system is similar to today, another decade will pass before any kind of compensation is required and then DuPont will continue to find more ways out and local people will suffer.