Tag Archives: chemicals

Subversion and Perversion: Atrazine and Leverage Points

The New York Times article, A Valuable Reputation provides yet another analysis into the dichotomizing interests of science and business in providing a safer, more sustainable future. The article unfolds the collusion between scientific findings and incentivizing the necessity for action both on behalf of the Tyrone Hayes –the scientist advocating the mal-effects of atrazine– and factorial suppression by Syngenta – the producing company attempting to obscure findings to keep their product on the market.


In reading this article through the lens of systematic leverage as illustrated within Donella Meadows’ Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in A System, several subversive interconnectivities were revealed. One of the largest obstacles that Hayes faces when battling Syngenta on the issue was the effect of, as Meadows calls, the buffer. For Syngenta, atrazine is their buffer into the US corn market that stabilizes their grip on profits within the specific industry. However, as Meadows alluded to, when a buffer becomes too big it becomes inflexible, just as it has become in this case.With all of Syngenta’s focus on atrazine as this golden cash-cow corn pesticide, driving their profits within the corn agricultural system, they have become extremely defensive of the threats Hayes posed to the viability of continuation of sales within the US market. In lieu of diversifying their scope of products, this hyper-focus on one profit-driving product for an entire segment of the market has caused an extremely unstable economy in attempt of holding the market permeation of their product.

With each subsequent experiment and exposé released by Hayes came an even greater attack stemming from the increased potential litigation towards the end of use for their profit-driving product. From a business standpoint, it makes sense the steps that they took to discredit the studies emerging, however, a greater sense of confusion washes over these efforts. Instead of spending so much time (and presumably money) defending their profit-driving pesticide, why didn’t put effort into producing a new, less environmentally intrusive product?

Another great misstep on behalf of Syngenta was utilizing this time and effort to discredit their negative feedback loop, in this case, Hayes and his fellow scientists putting their chemicals into testing. Instead of simply hiring a scientist to put their stamp of approval on their product, they ended up with a scientist providing insight into the missteps of the product. Instead of utilizing this impartial, third party feedback and working towards augmenting the product to be safer for the market, or producing a new product offset to take its place within the market, they spent the entirety of their effort on perverting the truth behind the scientific findings. If they took said findings and utilized them to monitor the effects on the environment, they would realize the necessity chaging of the product’s formulation with the goal of removing the overall adverse impact of the product.

Syngenta found themselves relying too heavily on strengthening positive feedback loops with competing scientific studies skewed the reality of Hayes’ studies. Instead of an aggregation of both feedback loops, they focused only on the internal input that strengthened their stance instead of addressing the negative externalities pushing for action on behalf of the company and regulatory agencies.

Yet another problem illuminated within the two articles in conjunction with one another surrounded Meadows’ concept of, ‘the rules of the system’. As A Valuable Reputation brought forth, “The European Union generally takes a precautionary approach to environmental risks, choosing restraint in the face of uncertainty. In the U.S., lingering scientific questions justify delays in regulatory decisions.” A large problem, not limited to the scope of this specific case lies, in the US infrastructure of regulation in the chemical industry. As it stands chemical regulation in the United States takes a similar approach to the legal framework of innocent until proven guilty. In translation, the chemicals in the US market have a stamp of healthy until proven to pose a direct threat to our health, and can thereby continue along with potentially lethal products until someone like Hayes attempts to check the underlying impact of a chemical compound on human and environmental systems. If the US chemical regulation was under similar guidelines as that of the EU, we would likely not even be reading about this case.


Broken Battle

How the West Was Lost: Ranchers Devastated by Fossil Fuel Boom reaffirmed the notion that small communities are being abused by large corporations. The Turners lost the health of their land in Wyoming starting in the 1980s when the federal government began to use land just east of their ranch for coal mining. In order to gain access to the coal they suck up the water, which caused water levels to drop dramatically. When the Turners brought this information to the Wyoming Supreme Court their case was dismissed on the grounds that there were no “specific harms on their properties.” Reading this, it is crucial to recognize how the institutions on political and social platforms meant to protect us are actually harmful. In fact, it became law that oil, gas and coal companies restore the land’s natural environment when they are done mining. But according to the Turners, “only about 10 percent of the land strip-mined has been fully reclaimed.” However, the Turners admitted that they did accept an “income from fees paid to them by oil and gas companies that gained access to their land.” But does everyone get compensation for destruction brought upon them? And is it worth it?

Gary Packard drives past a newly constructed oil well that sits at the edge of his ranch. (Photo: Ed Glazar)
Gary Packard drives past a newly constructed oil well that sits at the edge of his ranch. (Photo: Ed Glazar)

In the article, The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare, you’ll see that it’s an incredibly arduous road to get any compensation or attention toward injustice. Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years before he took on the chemical giant DuPont. He was approached by Wilbur Tennant, who was concerned with a large pipe running through a creek and discharging “green water with bubbles on the surface.” That same creek flowed down to the pasture where Tennant’s cows grazed on and started acting “deranged.” The cows were suddenly suffering with “stringy tails, malformed hooves…and staggering bowlegged.” When Bilott filed a federal suit, it was ignored and established that the Tennant’s were at fault for their cows’ illness. Bilott pushed on and came across a letter DuPont sent to the E.P.A. about PFOA, which was short for perfluorooctanoic acid. At first, his request for all documentation on this substance from DuPont was refused, but in the fall of 2000 he requested a court order and won. Through this, he discovered that DuPont scientists had known for years that this chemical was bad, and affecting water everywhere. People and animals were getting sick, dying even, and nothing was being done. DuPont decided to settle the class-action suit and pay for medical monitoring, but were still not taking responsibility. It took seven years for the company to admit their “probable link” between PFOA and the numerous health problems. But what about the thousands of families and communities affected by risks such as this? What if they don’t have the time, money or resources to protect themselves?  

The chemical site near Parkersburg, W.Va., source of the waste at the center of the DuPont class-action lawsuit. BRYAN SCHUTMAAT FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
The chemical site near Parkersburg, W.Va., source of the waste at the center of the DuPont class-action lawsuit. BRYAN SCHUTMAAT FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Fortunately, Earthjustice is a hopeful organization that establishes a solution for this exact problem. Earthjustice is the largest nonprofit environmental law organization that fights for a “healthy world.” That is an incredible feat when you take into consideration the large corporations such as DuPont, and sometimes the federal government, who are abusing their immense power. To break the system is a difficult task, but Earthjustice is doing it and I find it incredibly admirable. Climate change is a very real and serious issue caused by humans. But the people in Earthjustice are the “legal backbone” that will get the attention and action done in order to make a difference. Earthjustice could have definitely helped the Turners and the Tennant’s, and would have done it free of charge.

The more I research and realize the potent dangers of large institutions that influence my everyday life, I am inspired to take action. It is frustrating to see innocent families be taken advantage of. Our world is sick, inside and out, and change needs to happen now. Even though I feel small in comparison to the problems ahead, I am confident in my art and will continue to use that as a vessel of expression to stop oppression.


The (Nuclear) Power of Art Activism

After seeing the phenomenal documentary Racing Extinction, and hearing George Pakenham speak and screen his film “Idle Threat”, I began looking at my own role in art activism. I’m in film school to tell the stories I’m most interested in; this means climate change should be a theme in my work. I reflected on all of my previous blog posts to get inspiration for a short film I could make in my spare time. In the end I chose to further explore my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy” through stop motion photography. As I brainstormed ideas, I thought about my favorite scenery in and around New York. I immediately thought of Rockaway Beach, where I spend many of my summer days, and Bear Mountain, where I go to escape the city and work up a sweat hiking. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose toxins and contaminates with the beauty of nature. Clearly I wouldn’t be using real nuclear waste in my film, so I thought Holi powder would be an interesting visual stand-in for toxins. I began shooting stills on Rockaway Beach and Bear Mountain with these powders.

Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain
Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach

I focused on hands at first to play with the concept of a foreign, toxic substance in direct contact with the human body. I went on to take photographs of faces and entire bodies covered in these saturated hues.




I’m still working on finishing and uploading my film online. I want to make it easily accessible to spread awareness about the harm of exposure to nuclear toxins. As I mentioned in my blog post “Maybe Milk Isn’t So Healthy,” scientists think that people who were children during the period of atomic bomb testing (1940s-1960s) are at higher risk for developing thyroid cancer (National Cancer Institute).

This issue extends beyond the 1960s, because nuclear power is still widely used all over the world, and nuclear weapons are being manufactured by powerful governments. Once nuclear energy is created, we are left to deal with the disposal of the waste. There is no proven way of disposing of this waste without eventually harming living organisms. So, if we don’t have a solution to deal with this toxic waste, why are we relying on nuclear energy for our power and nuclear weapons for defense?

Rockaway Beach
Rockaway Beach


Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test
Projection of Nuclear Bomb Test














Please look out for next blog post, in which I will link my short experimental documentary! I would really appreciate if you shared my film so it can gain some attention before Earth Day on April 22nd!

“What the Fr*ck is Going on?”


The other day, in my journalism class, my professor showed us this video that’s an explainer for hydraulic fracturing – better known as hydrofracking. I thought it was a really fun and catchy video, which was effective in its message. You all should take a look at it!

It doesn’t give too much information in depth about hydrofracking and the harmful effects in can have on the environment and our lives, but it does make you think twice about what the oil companies are really doing and mention some overall concepts. The video challenges people’s beliefs about fracking, especially since the drilling industry controls a significant amount of the information people hear and to which they have access.

This website, which explains the process of fracking in more detail, is also a really interactive and interesting resource for information to learn more about fracking.

Unfortunately, many people favor the drilling because they are presented with the economic benefits of it, and think that it will bring many jobs to their towns. The drilling companies convince people that they are responsibly drilling and are following procedures to make sure the fracking is completely safe. A lot of people don’t realize how many toxic chemicals are used in the process, and how much their water supply and health, let alone the environment, are at risk. Even I didn’t realize the huge amount of oil companies breaking the rules and regulations in place to make the process a little less harmful to the environment and people’s health simply to benefit their bottom line.

A few years ago, I canvassed for Environment New York to prevent drilling in the Utica or Marcellus Shale in upstate New York. I learned a lot about the effects of fracking and the different arguments people use to support or oppose it. Most importantly, I learned about the specific harms is can and has caused in other parts of the country where corporations are already hydrofracking. A study by the Environment New York Research & Policy center stated that:

“According to estimates by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, the process of establishing a well and running it for the first year produces emissions in the nearby vicinity, which include: 70,000 pounds of smog-forming emissions; 90,400 pounds of carbon monoxide; 4,800 pounds of sulfur dioxide and combustion soot; and, 440 pounds of toxic air pollutants such as benzene.”

In New York, there has been a moratorium preventing drilling since 2013, and just last December Governor Cuomo banned fracking in the state for good. While this is a huge success for environmental organizations in New York and for the well-being of the state overall, this is unfortunately not the case everywhere.

Ironically, as I was in the midst of writing this article, one of the speaker’s for our class – Deborah Goldberg, from Earthjustice – spoke to us deeply about hydrofracking and how it effects our health, the environment, the economy, and the lives of other mammals and living species on and off land around the world. She brought into light that most of the effects of this fracking will become clearer to the public within the next few years. However, I also gained hope from her when she said there have been significant advancements through litigation and policy in creating more regulations and implementing local and state-wide bans on fracking.

I didn’t realize that there was more information coming forth about specific stories and cases of how fracking has negatively impacted people who are close to the wells and ponds where the waste is stored. I was aware of the non-disclosure agreements that prevented people from speaking about these effects especially in reaching settlements with the corporations controlling the hydrofracking.

Though, I did not realize that things have been slowly changing. I wasn’t very hopeful about things changing soon, especially with the amount of control and money these oil and drilling corporations have, but Deborah really helped me see that there has been more success recently in suing these companies and more so in getting regulations against fracking in place.

Hopefully these changes and regulations won’t take as long as the regulations for the tobacco industry took place to be enforced. Hopefully people will realize the harms of hydrofracking. Hopefully people will see that our lives and the lives of future generations depend on it.