The Poison Papers: Watchdog Groups Release 20,000 Docs Exposing Decades of Collusion between Industry and Regulators over Hazardous Pesticides

The “Poison Papers” represent a vast trove of rediscovered chemical industry and regulatory agency documents and correspondence stretching back to the 1920s. Taken as a whole, the papers show that both industry and regulators understood the extraordinary toxicity of many chemical products and worked together to conceal this information from the public and the press. These papers will transform our understanding of the hazards posed by certain chemicals on the market and the fraudulence of some of the regulatory processes relied upon to protect human health and the environment. Search instructions for the Poison Papers.

The Poison Papers are a compilation of over 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers via open records requests and public interest litigation. They include internal scientific studies and summaries of studies, internal memos and reports, meeting minutes, strategic discussions, and sworn testimonies. The majority of these documents have been scanned and digitized by us for the first time and represent nearly three tons of material. The regulatory agency sources of these documents include: the EPA, the USDA Forest Service, the FDA, the Veterans Administration, and the Department of Defense. Chemical manufacturers referenced in the documents include: Dow, Monsanto, DuPont, and Union Carbide, as well as many smaller manufacturers and the commercial testing companies who worked for them.

The Poison Papers are a project of the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. The Poison Papers were largely collected by author and activist Carol Van Strum.

The Poison Papers catalogue both the secret concerns of industry and regulators over the hazards of pesticides and other chemicals and their efforts to conceal those concerns.

Corporate concealment is not a new story. What is novel in the Poison Papers is abundant evidence that EPA and other regulators were, often, knowing participants or even primary instigators of these cover-ups. These regulators failed to inform the public of the hazards of dioxins and other chemicals; of evidence of fraudulent independent testing; even of one instance of widespread human exposure. The papers thus reveal, in the often-incriminating words of the participants themselves, an elaborate universe of deception and deceit surrounding many pesticides and synthetic chemicals.

The chemicals most often discussed in the documents include herbicides and pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dicamba, Permethrin, Atrazine, and Agent Orange), dioxins, and PCBs. Some of these chemicals are among the most toxic and persistent ever manufactured.

Except for PCBs, almost every chemical discussed in the Poison Papers is still manufactured and sold today, either as products or as product contaminants. Recent research from Australia, shows that many newly-synthesized chlorinated chemical products, including the herbicide 2,4-D, remain contaminated with dioxins. Notably, 2,4-D has just been authorized by EPA for use on Dow’s new GMO 2,4-D-tolerant soybeans.

Some of the 20,000+ documents in this repository have surfaced over the years. Many have never been either read or publicly written about. The Poison Papers therefore offer a unique opportunity for researchers, the public and the media to discover much more about what was known about chemical toxicity, when, and by whom.

Search Instructions
The Poison Papers have been uploaded as a group of PDF files in DocumentCloud. DocumentCloud is a searchable online public database available for free. It is best to select the “Poison Papers” group and search by key words such as company or chemical name. The search function scans the Optical Character Recognition (OCR) version of the papers. It is important to note that OCR is an imperfect process and the documents are far from being fully reviewed or catalogued, especially because some of the documents are handwritten notes. Download the Search Instructions.

Chemical Lowlights — Some of what the Poison Papers Reveal:

Secrecy— They disclose EPA meeting minutes of a secret high level dioxins working group that admitted dioxins are extraordinarily poisonous chemicals. The internal minutes contradict the Agency’s longstanding refusal to regulate dioxins or set legal limits.

Collusion— They demonstrate EPA collusion with the pulp and paper industry to “suppress, modify, or delay” the results of the congressionally-mandated National Dioxin Study, which found high levels of dioxins in everyday products, such as baby diapers and coffee filters, as well as pulp and paper mill effluents.

Deception— They provide important new data on the infamous Industrial Bio-Test (IBT) scandal. By the late 1970s, it was known that more than 800 safety studies performed by IBT on 140 chemicals produced by 38 chemical manufacturers were nonexistent, fraudulent, or invalid. The Poison Papers, however, show that EPA and its Canadian counterpart, the Health Protection Branch (HPB), colluded with pesticide manufacturers, to keep invalidly registered products on the market and covered up problems with many IBT tests.

Cover-up—  The papers also show that EPA staff had evidence that this IBT scandal involved more independent testing companies and more products than ever officially acknowledged.

Concealment— The papers show that EPA concealed and falsely discredited its own studies finding high levels of dioxin — 2,3,7,8-TCDD — in environmental samples and human breast milk following routine use of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T (Agent Orange) by the federal Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Intent— They show Monsanto chief medical officer George Roush admitted under oath to knowing that Monsanto studies into the health effects of dioxins on workers were written up untruthfully for the scientific literature such as to obscure health effects. These fraudulent studies were heavily relied upon by EPA to avoid regulating dioxin. They also were relied upon to defend manufacturers in lawsuits brought by veterans claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange.

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