Vinyl chloride is a huge and little-known scandal. Since
the 1950s Dow and other chemical companies had known how dangerous the
"This was taken at 10:30pm," wrote the photographer. "Something was burning at the Dow Plant in Plaquemine." Someone commented, "Looks like Dante's Hell!!!"
Plaquemine, Louisiana: a poisoned paradise
Plaquemine, on the banks of the Mississippi just south of Baton Rouge, used to be a pleasant place of wetlands and bayous where you could catch a mess of Louisiana crawfish. Now it's a mess of contaminated water, dominated by the web of chemical tanks and pipes that weave through Dow Chemical’s nearby vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) factory. In the grounds of this plant, Dow dumped over 275 million pounds of toxic waste into unprotected landfills.
When challenged about this, Dow neglected to take proper and necessary measures to clean up the site, instead it made a minimal effort to keep the sludge separated from the water source, typically by “pump-and-treat” means.
In 1998, Dow was charged with polluting state waters and violating state law by dumping 12 million pounds of brine "from an unpermitted location" into a nearby swamp.
The Dow plant dominates Plaquemine, it is as big as the
rest of the town put together.
Vinyl chloride and the poisoning of Myrtle Grove
In March 2001, residents of Myrtle Grove trailer park in Plaquemine, LA received notice that their drinking water was contaminated with vinyl chloride. The pollution occurred sometime between 1994 and September 1997 which meant the residents had been drinking carcinogen-laced water for four years before something was done. As many as 2,000 residents and visitors drank, cooked with and bathed in the contaminated water.
Tests in 1997 showed that vinyl chloride, a chemical used to make PVC, exceeded safe drinking water standards by two to three times. In 1998 tests showed levels six to seven times higher than the standard for human use and consumption. In both instances, no one was notified. Only after a test conducted in March of 2001 showed elevated levels of vinyl chloride in nine out of twelve wells, did the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DDH) finally notify Myrtle Grove residents and facilitate their switch to Plaquemine city water. Questions remain as to whether or not the DDH or Dow withheld information about the water contamination from residents or regulatory officials. While the arguments continued, residents of the trailer park were “coerced” into leaving their homes.
Vinyl chloride has been associated with increased risk of cancer of liver, brain, lung and digestive tract. On January 8, 2002, current and former residents of Myrtle Grove filed class-action suit against Dow in 18th Judicial District Court in Louisiana alleging that the company knew and covered up information about vinyl chloride contamination in their community. Dow denied that the VCM in the groundwater is from its factory.
In June of 2002 a former Dow supervisor, Glynn Smith, told a local Plaquemine television station that he had instructed employees to clean railway cars used to transport vinyl chloride and other chemicals by filling them with water and dumping the resultant mix on the ground. According to Dow workers it was done on the instruction of Dow Chemical, it was standard practice, and Dow had been doing it for twenty years.
Sunken tuboat in Plaquemine, Louisiana
In October of 2004, the US EPA released a report that pointed to Dow as the likely source of groundwater contamination, an assertion the company continues to hotly refute. According to the Associated Press, "The EPA report sidestepped directly blaming Dow for the contamination, saying instead that chemicals got into the ground in the area around the plant, which includes the company's landfill. 'We can locate the source of contamination to a geographic area - that is what we can confidently do,' said Cynthia Fanning, an EPA spokeswoman. 'And that geographic area is owned by Dow Chemical, but not entirely.'"
Experts warned that vinyl chloride contamination could spread via the acquifer into the town's water supply and it has happened. As of 2008, Plaquemine's water was found to contain vinyl chloride.
Louisiana crawfish: Son of a gun, Dow had some fun, on the bayou
And after all that, an award for environmentalism?
Back in 2002 the Louisiana chapter of The Nature Conservancy gave Dow an environmental award for expanding green belt wetlands around its plant at Plaquemine.
You might think this odd, given that Dow in Plaquemine is one of America’s largest sources of dioxin pollution and at the time the award was made, the same plant was under investigation by a grand jury for contaminating Plaquemine’s drinking water with cancer causing vinyl chloride for which Dow was later fined $2.4 million.
The Nature Conservancy is a charity dominated by America’s
worst corporate polluters. For $25,000 anyone can
buy a seat on its International