2. HOW THE EPA POLLUTES THE NEWS AND THE DIOXIN COVER-UP
Reports of improvement in environmental pollution levels were a deliberate
attempt by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to mislead and
pacify the public according to Jim Sibbison, a former EPA press officer.
Equally disturbing, the news media have contributed to this disinformation
campaign by treating EPA press releases as reliable news reports. For
example, on July 28, 1988, in the midst of a summer during which medical
waste washed up on East Coast beaches, The New York Times published
a reassuring story by Philip Shabecoff, its environ-mental reporter,
on page one. Shabecoff reported from Washington that nearly 90 percent
of the nation's publicly owned sewer systems had met their pollution-control
The Reagan Administration, in an effort to reduce EPA appropriations
from Congress, encouraged EPA officials to soft-pedal pollution stories. Sibbison
also revealed another previously unknown administration policy. Since Reagan first
took office, executives from industry met secretly over the years with officials
of the White House's Office of Management and Budget to discuss pending new EPA
regulations affecting their companies. The OMB allowed the executives to suggest
revisions in these regulations to reduce costs to their industry. Then the EPA
makes the necessary changes and the "acceptable" regulations go into
An example of EPA malfeasance is found in the dioxin cover-up reported
by Greenpeace earlier this year. It started in February 1987 when the American
Paper Industry (API) discovered dioxin, a highly hazardous substance, within the
bleaching process of its paper mills. As a result the industry had to conclude
the inevitability of dioxin being present in some of its products including disposable
diapers, office stationery, coffee filters, tampons, milk cartons, butter cartons,
cereal boxes, tissues and paper plates. A month later, a confidential API plan
treated the public health threat posed by dioxin as a public relations problem
and established a primary goal to "keep all allegations of health risks out
of the public arena."
Subsequently, internal documents from API, sent
to Greenpeace, substantiated how EPA and industry officials were working together
to limit public knowledge about the hazards of dioxin. According to U.S. District
Judge Owen M. Panner, the documents revealed an agreement "between the EPA
and the industry to suppress, modify or delay the results of the joint EPA/industry
(dioxin) study or the manner in which they are publicly presented."
suggest that the North American pulp and paper industry used delaying tactics
to avoid legal liability for medical problems that people may have suffered as
a result of exposure to dioxin, similar to the Agent Orange litigation, and that
the EPA is hesitant to regulate dioxins for the same reason.
While the Reagan
administration has been in bed with the Dioxin polluters, several European governments
are dealing with the problem head on. Throughout Europe, the need for highly bleached
paper products is being re-evaluated. Sweden, for example, has stopped the sale
of Chlorine-bleached disposable diapers. In Austria, consumers are using unbleached
brown coffee filters and milk cartons.
REVIEW, Nov/Dec, 1988, "Dead fish and red herrings: how the EPA pollutes
the news," by Jim Sibbison, pp 25-28. GREENPEACE, Mar/Apr 1989, "Whitewash:
The Dioxin Cover-up," by Peter Von Stackelberg, pp 7-11.