Since the world’s largest chemical
accident in 1984 at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, which
killed 3,000 and injured
100,000, the industry has used a wide range of deceptive and fraudulent
strategies to improve its tarnished image, while at the same time
blocking regulatory reform.
In launching the Chemical Manufacturer’s Association (CMA)
1988 campaign, its former Chairman Robert Roland announced: “We
are not asking the public to trust us. We are asking everyone to
track us.” However, these platitudes, heavily promoted by
a multimillion dollar ad campaign, were in striking contrast to
the CMA’s vigorous opposition to Right-to-Know legislation,
and to regulations to prevent chemical accidents, and toxic and
carcinogenic emissions from industrial facilities.
Chemical Industry Poised To Launch New Campaign
Improve Its Public Image 1
As detailed in a recent trade report, business groups are now preparing
an unprecedented elaborate and coordinated campaign to improve the
public image of chemical makers by emphasizing significant improvements
in the industry's environmental and safety record, while also touting
the key role of chemicals in many popular products.
The campaign is being modeled on a highly successful communications
strategy advanced by the plastics industry over the past decade,
which cost over $250 million and is thought to have dramatically
improved public perception of the industry. The campaign is also
credited with helping ease regulatory pressures on the industry,
particularly related to waste disposal, industry officials say.
Without any public understanding of what we do or how we do it
or why, we inadvertently create an information vacuum,” said
Greg Lebedev, the new president and CEO of the American Chemistry
Council (ACC) in a 10/28/02 speech in Houston. “In many respects,
we have become an industry without a definition.”
an aggressive strategy to change public attitudes, Lebedev warned
that chemical makers would fall victim to “the activist
industry: extreme environmentalists, health terrorists and predatory
trial lawyers." The environmentalists feed their opinions
into media reports and influence government regulators, Lebedev
ACC officials proposed to spend $5 million
on a "reputation
initiative," which will communicate what they view as a strong
environmental record and also highlight the benefits from products
that originate in chemical factories. If approved by the ACC board
of directors, in June of next year, the money would fund pilot
projects for the latter half of 2003, possibly leading up to a
wider campaign the following year.
Chemical companies could be asked to pay additional dues to ACC
in order to pay for the initiative, sources say. But given the
economic downturn, it is still uncertain whether companies will
be willing to contribute, though most businesses support the project's
overall goals, says a source familiar with the project.
initiative has three major goals. The first, to initiate discussions
with community groups, environmentalists and
other organizations involved in the political process. ACC has
already set up a "leadership dialogue" that brings together
public policy experts to discuss a variety of long-term problems
affecting the industry (Chemical Policy Alert, July 30, p2).
The second part of the effort will be to pull together under
the new initiative a number of existing voluntary programs to improve
the industry's health and safety performance. These include: the
Responsible Care program, which is currently being overhauled in
an effort to improve its effectiveness; the High Production Volume
(HPV) chemical testing program; the Long-Range Research Initiative
on testing chemical hazards; and a voluntary program to track children's
Finally, industry officials will identify target audiences
to whom they would communicate their message, possibly through
advertising campaign. Possible audiences could be the general public,
local communities, the media and government officials.
public relations initiative was inspired by a campaign conducted
by the American Plastics Council, which last year merged
with ACC. The campaign, known as "plastics makes it possible," included
advertisements, working with the media to generate favorable press
coverage, and responding aggressively to any public statements
about the industry's environmental record. Industry groups also
worked with local officials to develop an extensive state government
" The American
Plastics Council faced the very same conundrum, and they had a very
successful improvement program," said Thomas E. Reilly, Jr.,
chairman of the board at ACC, in a speech on Oct. 28 in Houston.
"Can we succeed like plastics? We won't proceed to go forward
until there's solid logic to indicate that we can."
Industry Scores Major Victories In Congressional Races2
As detailed in another recent trade report, the 2002 midterm
election was a major victory for the chemical industry, as nine
of the top
ten recipients of industry contributions won their races. Most
notably, Rep. Jim Talent (R-MO), who was the single largest recipient
of chemical industry money of all candidates in the 2002 elections,
narrowly edged by Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-MO), in one of the most
closely watched congressional races in the country.
Republicans Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, Elizabeth Dole
(NC), Rep. Lindsey Graham (SC), and former Mayor of Saint Paul
Norm Coleman (MN) all scored victories
that were critical in allowing the GOP to regain control of the Senate. Each
of these candidates was among the top ten recipients of chemical industry money
in the 2002 election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive
On the House side, 18 of the top 20 recipients of chemical industry
money won their elections. Most of the industry's contributions
went to incumbents, particularly
members of the House leadership and members of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
and Cornyn were the top two recipients of chemical industry money
for this election cycle, receiving $54,600 and $42,700 respectively. Dole
receiving $32,250; Graham was ninth, receiving $29,550; and Coleman was tenth,
In addition, Lamar Alexander, the former governor of Tennessee,
won the state's Senate seat backed by $16,000 of chemical industry
money. The seat was left
open by Sen. Fred Thompson (R), who retired from the Senate.
recipient of industry money was Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK), . .
. (now) chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
(replacing James M. Jeffords, (I-VT) and has been a strong supporter
of industry-backed chemical security legislation that would codify
the industry's "Responsible Care" program. Inhofe received
$20,750 from the industry, placing him 16th among recipients running
in the election.
The data shows that the industry has contributed a total of $5.5
million to political candidates during the current election cycle.
The top 20 candidates
receiving money from the industry include 16 Republicans and four Democrats,
according to data reflecting contributions both from individuals and
action committees (PACs) associated with chemical groups.
George Voinovich (R-OH) received $55,150, the largest total contribution
from the chemical industry. Voinovich, who is not up for reelection
until 2004, is currently the ranking member on the Senate Environment
and Public Works Subcommittee on clean air, wetlands, private property
and nuclear safety. The next four top recipients are Talent, Cornyn,
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and House Energy and Commerce
Committee Chairman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin (R-LA).
By far the top contributor within the chemical industry was Agvar
Chemicals, a manufacturer of bulk pharmaceutical chemicals, at
all the contributions went to Democratic candidates.
Other major contributors include the American Chemistry Council
(ACC), which donated $456,627, followed closely by Contran Corp
three organizations donated primarily to Republicans. The top Democratic
from the overall industry was Rep. John Dingell (MI), the ranking
member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, at $33,000.
The industry gave approximately $1.7 million from individuals,
$1.34 million from PACs, and $2.4 million in soft money. Contributions
million to Republicans and $1.9 million to Democrats.
A fitting coda to this revealing track record of chemical industry
strategies is provided in a newly released massively documented
muckraking book by two prominent public health historians (3).
They emphasize that a key theme is industry’s control of information,
characterized by “lying and obfuscation.”
from Inside Washington Publishers. Chemical Policy Report,
November 5, 2002.
from Inside Washington Publishers. Chemical Policy Report,
November 6, 2002.
Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial
Pollution. G. Markowitz, D. Rosner. University of
California Press, Berkeley, and Milbank Memorial Fund, New York,
Stop Cancer Before it Starts Campaign: How to Win the Losing War
Against Cancer by Samuel S. Epstein, M.D., 2003.