This essay is reproduced here as it appeared in the print edition of the original Science for the People magazine. These web-formatted archives are preserved complete with typographical errors and available for reference and educational and activist use. Scanned PDFs of the back issues can be browsed by headline at the website for the 2014 SftP conference held at UMass-Amherst. For more information or to support the project, email email@example.com
Science for Sale: The Pesticide Connection
by Paul Barnett
Paul Barnett did the research for this article while a research associate at the California Institute for Rural Studies. He is currently coordinator of the California Agrarian Action Project, a rural political organization, and is developing educational materials on alternatives in pest control and the problems connected with pesticide misuse.
Rancher George Neary, who raises cattle in California’s Central Valley, is unhappy with what he calls “chemical huckstering” by the land-grant college in his area, the University of California (U.C.). “The University farm advisors came through here with a traveling road show telling all the ranchers that they ought to dip their cows in Toxaphene,” he says, adding that the treatment is both unnecessary and dangerous. Last winter, state officials ordered Neary’s herd dipped, and he lost 500 aborted calves and 100 poisoned cows. He has filed an $11 million lawsuit that names not only the state officials who dipped his cattle, but also the University of California veterinarians who investigated the incident and placed the blame for the cattle deaths on Neary and his hired help.
Federally funded Farm Advisors work in every farm area in the United States. They are backed by the $750 million a year research effort conducted by professors at land-grant colleges. Land-grant college extension and research is regarded by most farmers as a neutral, unbiased source of information.
Farmers like George Neary feel that the objectivity of these scientists is being compromised by the close financial ties to chemical manufacturers. The allegation is backed by some scientists within the land-grant establishment. “Chemical companies are brazenly buying University goodwill,” said the late Robert van den Bosch, a world renowned entomologist at the University of California at Berkeley. “This to me is corruption.”
Gifts from chemical companies help support the university scientists’ work. Companies that manufacture pesticides gave 420 gifts worth some $689,000 to the University of California Division of Agriculture in fiscal year 1978-79.1 These gifts went to support the work of both farm advisors and research personnel. Other victims of pesticide misuse have also charged that scientists at the University of California have minimized and even suppressed information about the hazards of pesticides. The Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union has filed suit on behalf of 20 workers sterilized by DBCP against Dr. Charles Hine of the University of California at San Francisco. DBCP is a soil fumigant used to kill nematodes, microscopic worms which feed on crop roots. The action claims the workers were harmed because Hine suppressed evidence that the chemical damaged the testicles of experimental rats.2 Named as co-defendent in the suit is the Shell Chemical Company, a DBCP manufacturer which gave Hine $400,000 in research grants and employs him as a private consultant.
Northern California residents concerned about the health hazards associated with sprays of 2,4,5-T on timberlands found formidable opposition from U.C. scientists. “Commercial preparations of 2,4,5-T are about as poisonous as diesel oil, paint, or nail polish remover,” testified plant physiologist Boysie Day before the California Senate.3
“Day was very impressive with his University credentials and all,” says Ruth Ann Cecil, a leader in the community movement which sought to stop the spraying. “But he only talks about the immediate effect of ingesting some herbicide – the acute toxicity,” she says, “He ignores the whole question of the long term effects.”
“In terms of safety and public health effects, the University of California does relatively little research,” says Dr. Ephraim Kahn, who recently retired from his position in the State Department of Health Services, where he was in charge of pesticide safety. “The question of chronic, delayed, or longterm effects, such as cancer, are just not known.” Kahn says that although certain mixtures of pesticides are far more toxic than would be predicted by adding their toxicities, no one has really looked into this effect, called potentiation.
Kahn says that the University of California does far more research work on evaluating pesticide effectiveness. Chemical company grants, he feels, have oriented the University in this direction.
James Kendrick, head of the U.C. Division of Agriculture, disputes the allegation that the gifts might interfere with scientific objectivity. “The accusation is that money leads the faculty around by the nose – which I strongly resist, because the faculty isn’t that easily lead around by the nose,” says Kendrick.4
Chemical companies usually specify which University scientist is to receive their gift. The Auditor General of the California State Legislature studied the gift system and reported that “the University regularly performs research on proprietary (brand name) agricultural chemicals and pharmaceutical products as a result of donations from manufacturers of the products involved.” Gift documents sometimes specify the methodology and delivery dates of research, the auditors found.5
Support from the private sector does influence research programs at the University of California, according to Charles Hess, Dean of the College of Agriculture at the Davis campus. “But all of this is a healthy relationship rather than an unholy alliance,” the Dean maintains.6 The support from the private sector is seen as “a valuable means of exchanging information, and keeping academic research relevant to real life needs.”
There is some indication, however, that research grants influence University priorities. The chairmen of the 25 departments in the College of Agriculture on the Davis campus answered a survey on the factors which can influence choice of research topics. Their most popular response was “money can influence (or dictate) what research gets done.”7
Most of the costs of University of California research, including the cost of the scientists’ salaries, laboratories and offices, are paid by the taxpayer. For each dollar of mini-grant support that they give, pesticide manufacturers can obtain $5-10 worth of research on their products. The mini-grants are treated as tax deductible donations to a charitable institution, so, in effect, the tax-payer subsidizes the mini-grant as well.
“The mini-grants are a cheap buy for the chemical companies,” says U.C. entomologist Andy Gutierrez. “If the University didn’t do the studies, then they would have to do the research themselves, and of course their results would be more suspect than those of the University. They get a lot for their $2,000 grant – the researcher’s time, University facilities, equipment, vehicles, and a whole lot of other things wrapped up into a little package that says the University tested this, therefore it’s o.k. But it costs more than $2,000 to do the tests, and the University subsidizes the rest of the work.”
Where the University scientists’ participation in regulatory decisions is a matter of public record, it can be seen that they frequently lobby on behalf of products of their mini-grant benefactors. U.C. Davis entomologist Harry Lange, for example, supported an emergency exemption from registration requirements for Mesurol, a product of Chemagro, a pesticide company that has given Lange 18 gifts worth $17,975. Farm advisor Norm McCalley received $12,800 in 13 grants from companies that sell Benlate and Caplan, products which he asked to be granted a special local needs registration.
The chemical companies also make direct gifts. Farm advisors Hodge Black and Marvin Schneider, for example, took a deep sea fishing vacation to Cabo San Lucas Mexico, at the expense of the Stauffer Chemical Company. FMC-Niagra reportedly chartered a fishing boat to take a group of U.C. scientists salmon fishing off the coast near San Francisco. Scientists freely admit receiving travel expenses, meals, and lodging from chemical companies. Farm advisor Norm McCalley received $2,000 from pesticide manufacturer ICI Americas, Inc., to pay for his expenses while he was on leave from the University.
U.C. Berkeley entomologist Andy Gutierrez reports, “University scientists get travel expenses from chemical companies to go to national meetings. The various pesticide companies have hospitality suites which are overflowing with University scientists, who are getting drunk on free liquor.”
It is a sort of pesticide payola, purveyed to generate good will. There are few rules which regulate it. Peers tolerate and even expect it. To some it looks like science for sale.
Scientists at the University of California have had a crucial role in developing the state’s pest control system. Professors research the effectiveness and the hazards of new chemicals. Farm advisors from the University Cooperative Extension Service recommend to growers which of the more than 10,000 available products they ought to use. University graduates become chemical salesmen, government officials, and farmers. Pest control is a billion-dollar-a-year, chemical intensive business in California. Pesticide use has soared above 300 million lbs. a year, and represents 20 percent of the total U.S. use.
A damning appraisal of the pesticide intensive status quo comes from the University of California’s own Division of Biological Control. Scientists from the Division studied the state’s 25 most serious pest insect species and found 17 had developed resistance to insecticides. Because chemicals also kill beneficial insects, eliminating natural control mechanisms, pesticide use often causes new pest outbreaks. The U.C. scientists found that 24 of the 25 have become more serious pests because of this pesticide side-effect. “The evidence clearly suggests that intensive insecticide use has not reduced or ameliorated insect problems,” they conclude, “rather it has intensified them. “8
The Biological Control scientists advocate a multifaceted pest control approach, called Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM uses resistant crops, predatory insects, and other non-chemical controls, along with a trained consultant who monitors the insect populations so that pesticides are applied only when they are absolutely necessary. Despite the expense of hiring this consultant, cotton growers who use IPM have reduced their pesticide use by as much as two-thirds, cutting average pest control costs by $7.19 an acre and maintaining good yields.9
An Integrated Pest Management program has also been developed for California pear orchards.10 “The pear growers who have switched to Integrated Pest Management have cut their pesticide use by 30 percent,” says Pat Weddel, an advisor who has worked with the pear program from the beginning. The program has saved growers money, while protecting the crop.
Despite these promising beginnings, few farmers use IPM and California remains the world’s most intensive user of pesticides. Though pesticide use has doubled in the last eight years, the cost of insect caused crop damage is increasing rapidly. California farmers are caught on a treadmill of increasing pesticide use. As they spray more, they create new pest problems, and once again increase their chemical use. If the successes of IPM in the cotton and pear industries are representative, then farmers are being overcharged by as much as $500 million a year for unnecessary chemicals. The increased chemical load is also creating new public health and environmental problems.
But even in the crops where the IPM system has been developed, relatively few growers have yet improved their pest control practices. “There’s no guarantee that anything we develop is going to be implemented,” says biological control scientist Dick Garcia. The crucial link between researcher and farmer is the farm advisor – the University of California Co-operative Extension Service.
Pest control recommendations made by the University are heavily weighted towards chemicals. An evaluation by the Co-operative Extension Service of its 4,300 published pest control recommendations found that 93 percent were for chemical control. Only 7 percent described biological, microbial, or cultural control methods.11
One problem is that information on non-chemical pest control discoveries does not necessarily reach the farm advisor. Though U.C. has 20 pest control specialists to act as a link between researcher and farm advisors, there is no pest control specialist for the Division of Biological Control. Leon Tichinin, former director of the farm advisor’s office in Santa Clara County, says “Chemical company representatives were a good source of information. University researchers were slow to get information to the Extension Agents, while the people from the chemical companies were always there with the most current information.”
Another explanation for the extension agents’ predeliction for pesticides is the hundreds of mini-grants that they receive each year from pesticide manufacturers. The University of California Extension Service received $161,450 in chemical company gifts in fiscal year 1977-78. The funds came as 139 grants to 31 different farm advisors. Usually amounting to no more than $500 to $2,000, the grants are earmarked for use by a specific farm advisor. The gifts are used for research on pesticide effectiveness. Mini-grants have evidently deflected farm advisors from giving pest control advice to merely evaluating chemical products.
Curiously enough, the Smith-Lever Act, enacted by Congress in 1914 to create the nationwide extension service, specifies that the principal function of the farm advisor is to educate farmers about the research of professors in the Land Grant Colleges. In California, the extension service does quite a bit of research on its own. J. Vernon Patterson of U.C. Extension reported that the farm advisors were conducting about 75 percent of the University’s testing of pesticides for vegetable crops.12
Many of the farm advisors’ recommendations are for specific brand names of pesticides. Farm advisors frequently recommend the brand names of products manufactured by their mini-grant supporters. Pesticide Extension specialist Michael Stimman says that growers want University publications to cite brand names and not the generic ones because millions of dollars of chemical company advertising have taught them only these brand names. Farm Advisor recommendations are not necessarily based on University tests, according to Stimman. Manufacturers’ claims are considered to be a reliable source of information. “In most situations though, the researcher has had hands-on experience with the chemical,” says Stimman, who adds that “there is a difference between having experience with a pesticide and conducting a controlled scientific experiment.”
Richard Doutt, a retired research entomologist from U.C. Berkeley, studied the effectiveness of the insecticide Sevin and found that it was reducing grape growers’ yields. Doutt says he had “excellent proof” that Sevin was causing crop loss by interfering with berry set, and asked the Farm Advisors to remove it from their list of recommendations. They refused to strike it from the list, a move that Doutt says “was due to the power of the chemical companies over Co-operative Extension.” He adds, “Chemical company grants can’t help but influence University scientists.”
Win Hart, a professor of nematology at U.C. Davis, recently testified at a federal hearing that some mini-grant sponsored research into the effectiveness of new pesticide products is reported on a confidential basis to the manufacturer. Hart testified that he and other scientists have reported to the chemical manufacturer that a new product does not work, but that the company has gone ahead and marketed the pesticide anyway.
U.C. Extension entomology specialist Clancy Davis says that the Farm Advisors have encountered a “research gap” that has impeded the development of IPM in other crops. Not enough basic research has been done. The biological control scientists blame the research gap on a shortage of funds, and an unsympathetic University administration. “Obviously there are no chemical companies that come down here to give us money,” says Don Dahlsten of the Division of Biological Control. “We spend all our time chasing after little grants.”
“The budget for biological control, in terms of real dollars, is shrinking at a phenomenal rate,” says Andy Gutierrez. “It’s going down the tubes fast. I doubt that we have 10 percent of the operating budget in terms of effective dollars that we had in 1968.” Recognizing the financial squeeze, Gutierrez went to the University administration in 1972 to ask it to submit a bill to the state legislature for a special appropriation for IPM research. “The thing never got off the ground,” he says.
In 1975, the administration launched an effort to eliminate the Division of Biological Control by merging it with the more chemically oriented Division of Entomology. The eight biological control scientists would lose their autonomy and become part of a 35 member department. Robert van den Bosch would be stripped of his position as Chair of the Division of Biological Control. “You could write a scenario of agribusiness putting pressure on University officials – get these people off our back,” says Dahlsten, who joined his fellow scientists in fighting the consolidation tooth and nail. After an outpouring of support from scientists throughout the world, the U.C. administration abandoned its plan.
The new pest control approach was given a big boost when the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly funded a six-year nationwide program to develop IPM for five crops and the pine beetle. Headed by Carl Huffaker at the Division of Biological Control, the program developed a short season cotton cropping system that increased the profits of Texas farmers by $150 an acre. It also introduced a wasp into Florida citrus groves that has parasitized scale insects, saving growers $10 million a year in reduced insecticide costs.13
Finally, after seven years of lobbying and numerous study committees, the persistance of Andy Gutierrez and his fellow scientists paid off. The state legislature has granted the University’s $1.1 million request for funds to do Integrated Pest Management research and extension. The funds are to be used for research grants, a computer to process research data, pest control manuals on IPM practices for several crops, and to hire 5 IPM Farm Advisors. The first year of the program has been spent appointing advisory committees, planning, and writing and reviewing grants proposals.
Alfred Boyce, former Dean of the College of Agriculture at U.C. Riverside, said that University researchers have come to regard close cooperation with the chemical industry as part of their job. “I can remember a time when it was not considered ethical by some Federal and State (Experiment Station) workers to associate with representatives of industry, either professionally or socially,” said Boyce. “That attitude began to disappear in the mid 1930s, and I think had completely disappeared by the end of the war.” In place of an adversary relationship, he said, a cooperative effort has developed, where University researchers help generate the data that chemical companies need for convincing government agencies that their products are safe and effective. Public research agencies, he added, invest about as much money in doing this research as the chemical manufacturer does.14
The scientific expertise on particular products is often developed by research projects that have been supported by a manufacturer’s grant. The professors who become “expert witnesses” at government regulatory proceedings are frequently subject to a conflict of interest. They may feel obligated to their research sponsor for past assistance, and they are concerned about future grants.
Don Crosby, an environmental toxicologist from U.C. Davis, has supported continued use of 2,4,5-T before both the state and federal government.15, 16 The herbicide was a component of Agent Orange, the jungle defoliant used in the Vietnam War. More recently, seven million lbs. per year have been used in the U.S. to treat forests, rice fields and grazing land.
The controversy over 2,4,5-T centers around its minute but inevitable contamination by a by-product of the manufacturing process, the dioxin TCDD. TCDD is one of the most toxic molecules ever discovered. It is able to cause birth defects and miscarriage in animals, at extremely low concentrations. Crosby’s research showed that when TCDD is spread on a dish and set in the sun, it is broken down into harmless products17. With the authority of the prestigious University of California, his study became a key argument in the defense of 2,4,5-T. Crosby has received $24,900 in gifts from the manufacturer, the Dow Chemical Co.
Crosby’s studies did not, however, include actual measurements taken in areas where 2,4,5-T has been used. As he himself wrote, “no actual measurements of dioxin dissipation from herbicide treated forests appear to have been reported.”18
To bridge this research gap, the state asked Crosby to help with additional tests. “What we did was to put plastic panels out where a spraying operation was going on, and collect these panels after different periods of time, measuring the amount of dioxin that was present,” he says. The expense and difficulty of measuring minute quantities of dioxin prohibited him from monitoring dioxin levels in soil, trees, or water courses.
U.C. plant physiologist Boysie Day has also been active in the defense of the herbicide, testifying before hearings of the state legislature and department of agriculture. He is so firmly convinced that the chemical is safe that he ate some of it for a television news program filmed in his Berkeley laboratory. “I was demonstrating that 2,4,5-T is not acutely toxic,” says Day, the former director of U.C. agricultural research.
Boysie Day and Don Crosby were appointed to a scientific task force that recommended continued use of 2,4,5-T, saying, “The evidence indicates that the TCDD contaminant in 2,4,5-T is well below levels hazardous to humans and other organisms.”19
“Our participation in the committee,” says Day, “came with the support of the Council on Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).” Based at Iowa State University, CAST calls itself a “consortium of scientists” who provide key information to government decision makers. The organization receives tens of thousands of dollars of support from at least 36 different chemical manufacturers, including the Dow Chemical Co.
In April 1978, eight women from Alsea, Oregon petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency, asking it to ban 2,4,5-T. Among them they had suffered 11 miscarriages between 1973 and 1977, which they felt were caused by the herbicide. “We are not trying to make rash, unsubstantiated claims,” they wrote, “but we are interested in seeing if there is a cause-effect relationship. Some of us do know that large acreages near our homes and in our water drainages were sprayed within a month before our miscarriages.”
When a study of Oregon hospital records showed the miscarriage rate in Alsea to be significantly higher than the rate in a control area, the EPA issued restrictions on the use of the herbicide. “The Alsea study has all the dignity of a rumor,” says Boysie Day. “It was a political decision by the EPA, plain and simple. There is no danger to people from 2,4,5-T use,” he maintains.
The University of California has a program to provide information on pesticides that are suspected of being a threat to public health or the environment, to the Environmental Protection Agency. The objective of the program is to submit both risks and benefits data,” says Harold Alford, U.C. Pesticide Impact Co-ordinator and director of the program. A committee is formed to provide the EPA with information on the suspect pesticide. The committee includes University professors, state officials, and representatives of the manufacturer of the pesticide, or lobbyists from pesticide industry associations. Scientists from the University school of medicine have never participated in a committee. Nor has the program invited labor unions, state OSHA officials, or environmental groups. Many of the University scientists appointed to these committees received mini-grants from the manufacture of the pesticide.
“We are gathering largely benefits data,” acknowledges Alford. “Sometimes we rebut the risk, but in most cases we don’t. As a rule, we spell out the need for a chemical in California, how important it is, and why we need to keep it.” He adds, “If we came by information showing a greater risk than EPA knew about, then we’d send it to them. We haven’t done that though, because we don’t get that type of information.”
Outside of this program, however, information that the University scientists discover on the safety and effectiveness of chemicals is not usually reported directly to the government agencies that register pesticides. Since chemical companies are responsible for submitting the data, they have the option of turning over only those studies which put their products in the most favorable light. Government agencies consider this registration data a “trade secret” and none of it, not even the University studies, is open to the public.
By some estimates, pesticide-induced illness makes agricultural work one of the most dangerous occupations in California.20 Virtually every year there are dramatic episodes of workers falling ill, involving as many as 100 people working in a single orchard or vineyard. “Occupational injury from pesticides is a subject of great concern from the public health standpoint,” said state Health Director Dr. Louis Saylor in releasing the results of a 1969 survey of more than 1,000 farm workers. The public health study found that 25 percent of those surveyed had sought medical treatment for pesticide poisoning in the previous year.21 “A large percentage of pesticide-related injuries involve serious, disabling illness,” said Saylor.
On the job poisonings have been largely attributed to organophosphates, potent insecticides which harm both insects and humans by interfering with the nerve enzyme cholinesterase (a strong nerve stimulator). Many organophosphates degrade into even more toxic compounds which may be absorbed through the skin by touching treated crops or foliage. Residues are also toxic when inhaled. Symptoms of this kind of poisoning include nausea, tremors, vomiting, headache, cramps, weakness, and impaired breathing.
Pesticide safety became a key issue delaying the resolution of the California table grape boycott. Negotiation over safety provisions caused an extra one year of delay before contracts were finally signed between the United Farmworkers Union and 28 Delano grape growers in 1970. That year, the Health Department investigated four more mass poisonings, involving 175 workers in San Joaquin Valley citrus groves. Occupational Health Chief Thomas Milby headed up a task force which was appointed to help resolve the worker safety problem.
Out of Milby’s group came “worker re-entry intervals,” state regulations ordering workers to stay out of orchards for a specified time after spraying. FMC-Niagra Chemical Co. protested the new regulations arguing that the 30-day waiting period required for its organophosphate product Ethion could be shortened to seven days.
A safety trial was set for an orchard near Lindsay, California. J. Blair Bailey, the pesticide safety specialist in the University of California Co-operative Extension, helped with the test. “We set up the orchard, did the application,” says Bailey. “It was a co-operative study with FMC.” FMC-Niagra supplied the doctor who took blood samples from workers, and analyzed the cholinesterase level.
The Agribusiness Accountability Project, a public interest group, charged that the chemical company used “human guinea pigs” to test dangerous chemicals in violation of the new re-entry standards.(22,23) Field researcher AI Krebs said the subjects were not volunteers, and were not informed of the experiment’s dangers. The test included a 24-year-old man under treatment for chronic headaches, a 44-year-old man with diabetes, a 15-year-old girl with a recent skull fracture, and a 38- year-old woman suffering from anemia.
“Some people accused us of using these people as guinea pigs, but we weren’t,” says Bailey. “I was working right alongside them, and didn’t subject them to anything I wasn’t subjected to.”
After several trials with different chemicals, Bailey reported that workers could re-enter orchards sooner than the new state regulations allowed. He recommended that the state Dept. of Food and Agriculture shorten the reentry time for parathion, an organophosphate that is the most common cause of the mass poisoning of field crews.24 A later University study, by Robert Spear of the U .C. School of Public Health, showed Bailey’s recommendation to have been ill-advised, and that the re-entry period was actually too short.25,26
A group of scientists headed by Wendell Kilgore at U.C. Davis studied the health of workers who entered a peach orchard recently sprayed with the insecticide Guthion.27 While the study was in progress, one worker refused to give any additional blood samples. He was fired from the picking crew, and complained to state officials. The grievance eventually reached the Director of Health, Dr. Jerome Lackner, who was so angered by the coercive nature of the tests that he successfully obtained a directive forbidding the use of farm workers in future experiments. Lackner suggested that the University scientists should seek ranch managers, professors or University regents to be the subjects of future tests.
When the U.C. Davis Guthion study was complete, the chemical’s manufacturer, Chemagro, used it to petition the state to relax the reentry standard. Dr. Keith Maddy, head of the Worker Safety Unit of the Dept. of Food and Agriculture, said this was not done, because while the orchard may be safe after 48 hours, in a week or so, a poisonous breakdown product makes the orchard hazardous again. “The U.C. Davis people came out with data that at 48 hours there was not significant cholinesterase depression, but our position is that if you wait another week, you’ll be up to your eyebrows in trouble,” says Maddy, adding, “to my knowlege, the University didn’t go back and study what happens in a week.”
Chemical manufacturer Rhodia, Inc., approached U.C. public health scientist Robert Spear about a study on the safety of its product Zolone. “What they wanted was to get the re-entry time down from 21 days to seven, for some market advantage I’m not clear on,” says Spear. He proposed a methodology, which was revised by the chemical company. While the company’s influence was balanced by the input of state health officials, its grant did determine which product was studied. Rhodia gave $74,000 to support the study. Spear says he decided to accept the grant and undertake the project because it would allow him to extend his methods to a new pesticide and a new crop.28 As a result of the study, the state shortened the reentry interval on Zolone to 14 days.
Several U.C. scientists have been active in opposing the ban on the pesticide DBCP, a soil fumigant used to kill nematodes, microscopic worms which feed on crop roots. “We’re unhappy with the loss of DBCP because at present there is no suitable replacement,” says Winfield Hart, a nematologist with the University of California at Davis. He estimates that the ban may cause the loss of $1 billion worth of fruit trees and grapevines. Both Hart and Armand Maggenti, another U.C. scientist who opposed the ban, have received grants from DBCP manufacturers or formulators.
The first suspicion that DBCP was harming human health came from workers who mixed and canned the pesticide at the Occidental Chemical Company plant in Lathrop, California. They wondered why so many men working in the plant’s pesticide division had not fathered children. “It was a theory among the guys for at least four or five years,” says Ted Bricker. A medical check showed Bricker’s sperm count to be down, and he encouraged his co-workers to get themselves checked as well.
Though the state Dept. of Health and two University health scientists had been notified of the workers’ concerns, it was a pair of filmmakers making a documentary on dangerous jobs who put up the $100 it took to have a local medical clinic run the first fertility checks. Fourteen of the Lathrop workers were found to be sterile; 34 had reduced fertility.29 DBCP workers in Arkansas and Alabama were also discovered to be sterile. One man developed testicular cancer.
Trials to prove that DBCP can be safely used to kill nematodes in orchard soils were conducted by U.C. farm advisor Doug Johnson. He was assisted by a representative of Amvac Chemical Corp., a DBCP supplier. During the trial, they handled DBCP during loading and unloading without protective clothing, gloves, or respirators, and spilled some chemical twice. Johnson picked up a handful of dirt from one of the spills and sniffed it to see if it contained DBCP, which it did. State health inspectors observed the trial and criticized “the cavalier attitude and utter disdain for minimizing exposure to a known carcinogen.”
Johnson told a Los Angeles Times reporter that he and the Amvac representative were “only doing what we’ve done for 20 years. We don’t feel the material is hazardous.”30 In the last three years Johnson received $29,750 in gifts from pesticide companies, including DBCP manufacturer Dow Chemical Co. “Chemical company mini-grants have allowed us, and me in particular, to acquire equipment that we normally wouldn’t have been able to acquire,” he says. Johnson recently resigned from the University to accept a job with a pesticide company.
In the last two years DBCP has become nothing less than a public health disaster. The film about the Occidental workers was named “The Song of the Canary,” because as the canary warns the coal miner of dangerous air, the chemical worker is testing the safety of toxic chemicals for society. It was a prophetic title. High levels of DBCP residues were found in food. California health officials discovered that 155,000 people had been drinking water contaminated by hazardous levels of the pesticide, and ordered more than 40 municipal wells shut down. Lois Rossi, a biostatistician at the EPA, calculates that 10 ppb (parts per billion) of DBCP consumed in drinking water over a lifetime would cause 2,000 new cases of cancer per million population.31
In October of 1977 the state Department of Industrial Relations held hearings to investigate why such a potent poison had been overlooked and allowed into the workplace.32 Among the witnesses was Dr. Charles Hine, who did research showing DBCP damages the testicles of experimental rats in his lab at the U.C. School of Medicine in San Francisco. Although he was employed by the University, and was working in its laboratory, said Hine, his research was supported by a grant from the Shell Chemical Corporation, and was reported on a confidential basis to Shell.33
Hine recommended to Shell that exposure to 1 ppm (part per million) would be a “no-effect” level for chemical workers, though he had no experimental data to prove it. He suggested further studies to the vice-president of Shell’s Agricultural Chemical Division, but dropped the subject when the Shell executive said they would not be necessary. “I think we should have gone to a no-effect level, and I admit the error in this thing,” he testified. He agreed with hearing officer Don Vial’s assessment that his research priorities were set by a “market place concept,” that they are a matter of “who is going to come up with the money to do what you’ve considered objective research.”
Hine was also asked about his financial ties to Shell. Since he joined the University faculty in 1947, Shell contributed approximately $400,000 to his University research projects. Also since 1947, Hine has been receiving consulting fees from Shell. His private San Francisco laboratory has a contract to supply health data to the Agricultural Chemical Division of Shell.
Charles Hine was not the only U.C. scientist to ignore the hazards of DBCP. Chemists, nematologists, toxicologists and occupational health specialists, more than a dozen scientists in all, ran studies on the compound. Their research showed that it could be applied to the soil to kill pest nematodes, that it was relatively safe, and that little residue appeared in treated crops. Though the scientists were on the public payroll, their research was supported by 30 Shell grants worth $47,800. Most of these funds were used in research projects to demonstrate the usefulness of Shell products, including its brand of DBCP, Nemagon.
“Facts developed are to be used in support of label registration and the development of sound recommendations, where justified,” wrote Shell executive W.E. McCauley in a letter that accompanied one of the gifts.34 “More specifically, we are interested in the development of data to support the use of Nemagon Soil Fumigant,” said his letter, which added that the actual activities “should be discussed in greater detail with our local representative.”
Bert Lear, a nematologist at the Davis campus, reported to the University administration in 1965 that “Studies in greenhouse and laboratory showed that tomato seedlings absorb DBCP through the roots and translocate it upwards.”35 The result was never published, Lear says today, because “That wasn’t our purpose. We were just testing DBCP movement in soil.” Unaware of the studies, the Food and Drug Administration incorrectly assumed that since DBCP is applied to the soil and not the plant, then no residues would appear on produce.
Though their research showed DBCP is highly soluble in water36 and that it has a low affinity for soil,37 Lear and Doug Johnson, a graduate student who helped him with his research, did not test to see how deeply the chemical would leach. “We only checked what happened to DBCP after one irrigation,” says Johnson. It was a tremendous oversight. After 20 years of use, DBCP has evidently leached down hundreds of feet to contaminate ground water supplies.
While most University research was focused on testing of chemicals to control nematodes, at least one scientist is studying non-chemical alternatives. “It has been long believed that decaying vegetable matter, manure, and similar soil amendments can restrict some nematode populations in the soil,” reported U.C. Riverside nematologist Ron Mankau. “Such materials may favor the development of fungi and other organisms that attack nematodes.”38 Last year Mankau and two other Riverside nematologists reported success in cultivating a fungus which can parasitize the eggs of the root knot nematode. They used it to reduce nematode populations in peach orchards.39
Though most farm groups oppose the DBCP ban, one grower wrote the Dept. of Food and Agriculture urging it to keep the ban. He claimed that there would be no nematode problem if farmers used cover crops and manure to build up organic matter in the soil.
In response to the discovery of DBCP induced sterility of chemical workers, the California legislature appropriated $2 million to establish an Occupational Health Center at the University of California. The goal of the center is to train occupational health scientists and improve job safety in California.
Quite ironically, the man who has been criticized as part of the problem has been put in charge of the reform. The University has named Dr. Charles Hine as co-director of the residency program of the new center, where he will supervise the training of physicians.
“We oppose Hine’s appointment not just because of this involvement in suppressing his DBCP research, but also because he has done studies minimizing the hazards of working in the lead industry,” says Ellen Shaffer, President of the U.C. Medical Center Employees Union (AFSCME). Her local has joined with environmental groups and locals of the Teamsters, longshoremen’s and chemical workers’ unions in forming the Coalition for a Responsible Occupational Health Center. “To meet the needs of working people, the center must have a component for direct worker education, and an advisory board with firm labor support,” she says.
A critical question for the future success of controlling agricultural pests in California, is whether University scientists will act independently of the marketing concerns of the chemical industry. As the system now operates, pesticide manufacturers influence what pest control strategies get studied. Their gifts go to those professors who are developing uses for specific pesticide products.
In order to get a more balanced research effort, attorney Ralph Lightstone of California Rural Legal Assistance suggests that a pesticide research fund be created. “The state could increase the tax on pesticides, and just take the money the industry is already willing to give,” says Lightstone. The advantage of such a system, he points out, would be in cutting the strings tied to chemical company gifts. “The funds could be allocated according to the academic excellence of the scientists, and not by the marketing priorities of pesticide manufacturers,” he says.
Reform minded faculty like U.C. Berkeley physicist Charles Schwartz have asked the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to adopt a conflict of interest code that would require faculty to disclose consulting arrangements and gifts from private industry. The Commission enforces California’s political reform act, a post-Watergate ballot initiative that requires government decision makers to disclose their income and investments. It also makes it illegal for a government official to influence a decision when personal economic interests are at stake, and sets penalties for officials who use their office for financial gain.
The FPPC has decided, however, that the University conflict of interest code need not apply to professors. The reason for this exemption was given by chairman Daniel Lowenstein, who said, “The basic concern is academic freedom. There is a very strong concern built into the state Constitution that those who teach and do research should be free from outside control and outside supervision of those acts.”
The irony of the FPPC decision is that those closest to the pest control controversy claim that outside influences are already at work. As Robert van den Bosch said, “I believe that the agri-chemical industry is taking advantage of its carefully nurtured ties with people in the University to promote its own version and self-definition of Integrated Pest Management, to the detriment of the sound pest control system which many of us have been striving so long to develop.”40
- “Donations for Agricultural Research – July 1, 1978-June 30, 1979,” California Agriculture Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 18-20, February, 1980.
- Labor Occupational Health Program, “DBCP Warning Ignored: State Hearings,” Monitor, Vol. 4, No. 8, November-December 1977.
- Agrichemical Age, “In Defense of 2,4,5-T,” p. 14, June 1978.
- Sward, Susan, “An Ironic Touch to the Ag Pesticide Research Story,” Associated Press, Woodland-Davis Daily Democrat. March 10, 1978.
- California Auditor General, “The University of California System: Private Support Program,” Report to the California Legislature 715.5, Calif. Joint Legislative Audit Committee, June, 1978, Sacramento.
- Univ. of Calif., Davis, Office of Public Affairs, “UCD Research Ties Termed ‘Healthy’ – not ‘Unholy,'” Press Release 792699, December 12, 1979.
- Fujimoto, Isao and Emmett Fiske, “What Research Gets Done at a Land Grant College: Internal Factors at Work,” Presented at the 1975 Rural Sociological Society Meeting, San Francisco.
- Luck, Robert F., R. van den Bosch, and R. Garcia, “Chemical Insect Control – A Troubled Pest Management Strategy,” Bioscience Vol. 27, No. 9, pp. 606-611, September, 1977.
- Hall, Darwin C., “The Profitability of Integrated Pest Management: Case Studies for Cotton and Citrus in the San Joaquin Valley,” ESA Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 267-74, 1977.
- Barnett, William W., C.S. Davis, and G.A. Rowe, “Minimizing Pear Pest Control Costs Through Integrated Pest Management,” California Agriculture, Vol. 32, No. 2, pp. 12-13, February 1978.
- Stimman, J. and J. Swift, “Analysis of University of California Pest Control Recommendations, Appendix I,” in Univ. of Calif. Response to Calif. Dept. of Food and Agriculture Hearing on Environmental Defense Fund Petition Pertaining to Licensed Pest Control Advisors, 1977.
- University of Calif. Co-operative Extension Service, “Minutes of Administrative Staff Meeting,” October 31, November 1-3, 1972.
- Marx, Jean L., “Applied Ecology: Showing the Way to Better Insect Control,” Science, Vol. 195, pp. 860-862, March 4. 1977.
- University of Calif. at Davis, Conference on the Use of Agriclutural Chemicals in California, Proceedings, January 15, 1964.
- Rominger, R.E., “Report of the Director on Phenoxy Herbicides,” Calif. Dept. of Food and Agriculture. April 6, 1978, Sacramento.
- “California’s Response to the EPA’s Rebuttable Presumption Against Registration of 2,4,5-T,” Compiled by the University of California.
- Crosby, D.G. and A.S. Wong, “Environment Degradation of 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD),” Science, Vol. 195, p. 1337 (1977).
- Crosby. D.G., “Conquering the Monster – The Photochemical Destruction of Chlorodioxins,” American Chemical Society Symposium Series No. 73, Disposal and Decontamination of Pesticides, 1978.
- Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, The Phenoxy Herbicides, Second Edition, August 1978, Ames, lowa.
- Swartz, Joel. “Poisoning Farmworkers.” Environment. Vol. 17. No.4, June, 1975. pp. 26-33.
- Calif. Dept. of Public Health, “California Community Studies on Pesticides: Morbidity and Mortality of Poisoning,” Report to Office of Pesticides, Bureau of State Services (EH), US Public Health Service, January 15, 1970.
- Mintz, Morton, “Farm Group Says People Were Used to Test Pesticides,” Washington Post, February 11, 1971.
- Walters, Robert, “Pesticide Tests: Human Guinea Pigs Used?” The Evening Star, February 10, 1971, Washington, D.C.
- University of California, “Ag Specialist Describes Test Results,” University Bulletin, Vol. 21, No. 6, September 25, 1972.
- Spear, Robert C., et al., “Worker Poisonings Due to Paroxon Residues,” Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 19, No. 6, June, 1977, pp. 411-414.
- Spear. Robert C .. et al.. “FieldY.orkers· Response to Weathered Residues of Parathion.” Journal of Occupational Medicine. Vol. 19. No.6, June, 1977. pp. 406-410.
- Kraus. J., et al., “Physiological Response to Organophosphate Residues in Field Workers,” Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Vol. 5, pp. 471-485, 1977.
- Poppendorf, W.J., R.C. Spear, J.T. Leffingwell, and J. Yager, E. Kahn, “Harvester Exposure to Zolone (Phosolone) Residues in Peach Orchards,” Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 21, No. 3, March 1979, pp. 189-94.
- Wharton, Donald, T.H. Milby, R.M. Krauss, and H.A. Stubbs, “Testicular Function in DBCP Exposed Pesticide Workers,” Journal of Occupational Medicine, Vol. 21, No. 3, pp. 161-166, March, 1979.
- Taylor, Ronald B., “DBCP Still Used Despite Danger,” Los Angeles Times, p. 1, part 1, June 28, 1979.
- Rossi, Lois, “Risk Calculation Utilizing Recent Data on DBCP Levels in Drinking Water,” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C., June, 1979.
- Calif. Dept. of Industrial Relations, “Occupational Safety and Health – Dibromochloropropane lnquiry,” Day III, October 18, 1977, Henderscheid and Associates, Shorthand Reporters, San Francisco.
- Anderson, H.H., C.H. Hine, J.K. Kodama, and J.S. Wellingston, “An Evaluation of the Degree of Toxicity of 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane. I. Chronic Feeding Experiments in Rodents,” U.C. Report No. 228, Confidential Report to Shell Development Co., Dept. of Pharmacology and Experimental Medicine, U.C. School of Medicine, 1958, San Francisco.
- McCauley, W.E., Letter to M.W. Allen, Chairman of the Dept. of Nematology, U.C. Davis, March 15, 1966. From Pesticide Development Dept., Shell Chemical Co., New York.
- Lear, Bert, “Project No. H-1626 – Annual Summary of Progress for Year” U.C. Agricultural Experiment Station, Years 1964 – 1966.
- Johnson, D.E. and Bert Lear, “The Effect of Temperature on the Dispersion of 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane in Soil,” Journal of Nematology, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 116-121, 1969.
- Johnson, D.E. and Bert Lear, “Evaluating the Movement of 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane Through Soil,” Soil Science, Vol. 105, pp. 31-35, 1968.
- Mankau, R., “Natural Enemies of Nematodes,” California Agriculture, p. 24, September, 1959.
- Stirling, Graham R., M.V. McHenry, and Ron Mankau, “Biological Control of Root Knot Nematode in Peach,” California Agriculture, pp. 6-7, September 1978.
- Van den Bosch, Robert, “Memo on the University’s Co-sponsoring with WACA and CAPCA of Pest Management Seminars at Bakersfield on May 10, 1977 and Fresno on May 11, 1977,” Letter to UC Vice-President J.B. Kendrick, May 6, 1977.