Open Letter to the attendees of the international ethecon conference november 21 in Berlin/Germany:
Greetings and solidarity from the United States.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ) would like to thank ethecon for awarding FORMOSA PLASTICS GROUP, its CEO Lee Chih-tsuen, as well as to its founder and capital provider, the Wang Family, this year’s 2009 Black Planet award.
Formosa Plastics is one of the largest manufacturers of PVC plastic in the world, and PVC is without a doubt the most toxic plastic for our health and environment. No other plastic contains or releases as many dangerous chemicals. These include dioxins, phthalates, vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, lead, cadmium, and even bisphenol A. There’s no safe way to manufacture, use or dispose of PVC products throughout its lifecycle.
PVC plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color, making the production of PVC an issue of environmental justice and racism for neighboring residents. PVC manufacturing facilities have poisoned workers and fenceline neighbors, polluted the air, contaminated drinking water supplies, and even wiped entire communities off the map.
Each year, in the U.S. PVC plants pump some 500,000 pounds of vinyl chloride – a known human carcinogen - and many other toxins into the atmosphere. Cancer-causing Dioxins are released into the atmosphere from the production and eventual disposal of PVC. When its entire lifecycle is considered, PVC appears to be associated with the release of more Dioxins than any other single product.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the U.S. National Toxicology Program, vinyl chloride is a known human carcinogen, and ethylene dichloride is a probable human carcinogen. Workers in plants that manufacture PVC or its feedstocks receive the highest exposures to these compounds in workplace air—81,000 U.S. workers are regularly exposed to vinyl chloride, while 77,000 are exposed to EDC.
PVC workers are regularly exposed to toxic phthalates; according to the National Toxicology Program, “workers may be exposed to relatively high concentrations during the compounding of DEHP with PVC resins. The major route of exposure is inhalation.”
Studies have documented links between working in PVC facilities and the increased likelihood of developing diseases including angiosarcoma, a rare form of liver cancer , brain cancer, lung and liver cancer lymphomas, leukemia, and liver cirrhosis.
Workplace exposures in PVC facilities have been significantly reduced from the levels of the 1960s, however there is no threshold below which vinyl chloride does not increase the risk of cancer. Thus, current exposures in the U.S. continue to pose cancer hazards to workers. Furthermore, occupational exposure to VCM remains extremely high in some facilities in Eastern Europe and Asia.
Formosa Plastics has been no stranger to these pollution problems, pumping the air with cancer-causing chemicals, exposing workers and community members to hazardous chemicals of concern.
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a $13 million agreement with Formosa Plastics, for “extensive” violations at their plants in Louisiana and Texas. According to the Department of Justice, “EPA identified extensive Clean Air Act leak detection and repair violations, including failing to properly monitor leaking components, failing to include chemical manufacturing equipment in its leak detection and repair program, and failing to timely repair leaking equipment. Inspectors also identified a variety of hazardous waste violations at both facilities. In addition, the inspectors found that Formosa had violated wastewater discharge limits under its CWA permits, and, at the Texas facility, had failed to comply with the CAA benzene waste operations requirements and to submit correct toxic release reporting information to EPA.” This isn’t the first time Formosa has had problems at their plants, especially in Point Comfort, Texas.
A new study found that cows downwind of the Formosa Plastics plant have DNA damage. The study found that cattle with the DNA damage were oriented around the facility, with the highest damage occurring with those nearby and those downwind. The changes in chromosome structure and other genetic damage can increase the animal’s risk of cancer and reproductive damage.
In Point Comfort, Texas, vinyl chloride was discovered in wells near the Formosa PVC chemical plant, and the company had to spend one million dollars cleaning up contaminated groundwater. This same company was fined in 1991 for over $3 million (U.S.) for hazardous waste violations related to the groundwater contamination.
Without a doubt, Formosa is one of the most egregious PVC polluters around the world. We salute you for recognizing this major corporate polluter.
In the spirit of environmental justice,
Michael Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator
Center for Health, Environment and Justice
New York, NY
Mike Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator
Center for Health Environment and Justice