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Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs

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Biocidal: Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs Cover

ISBN13: 9780807006122
ISBN10: 0807006122
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

 In 1962, Rachel Carson stunned the world with the publication of Silent Spring, exposing the lethal character of the pesticide DDT. Her work launched a global campaign against synthetic chemical toxins and veritably created a world environmental movement. But unbeknownst to Carson, an even more insidious chemical cousin to DDT had been silently poisoning the biosphere.

 

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were first manufactured in 1920. Seen as a “magic fluid,” they were a cheap and stable heat-transfer material used as a critical coolant in big power grids. The chemical industry soon went on to develop hundreds of other uses for this highly toxic group of substances—everything from copy paper and paint to hydraulic fluids. Despite being outlawed in the U.S. since 1976, PCBs are currently found in the remotest corners of Earth and remain the most prevalent group of industrial chemical contaminants in much of the world. Every human being, from the womb to the grave, bears a body burden of these poisonous molecules forever locked in their blood and tissues.

 

In Biocidal, investigative journalist Ted Dracos tells the full story of PCBs for the first time, starting with the chilling chronicle of how the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies and scientific findings for decades to continue to reap huge profits, despite their knowledge of the threats posed by their “magic fluid.” Dracos draws on extensive research to document the connection between PCBs and catastrophic human illness, presenting the latest science as studies draw ever more disturbing links between PCBs and continued health impacts ranging from cancer and autism to immunosuppression and reproductive abnormalities.

 

Biocidal also explores the science behind the threat PCBs pose to Earth’s biodiversity: today, killer whales in the Puget Sound are dying, the eggs of Ontario Lake trout are doomed before they can hatch, 99 percent of the freshwater eels of Europe have disappeared, and frogs around the world are going extinct. While these disasters have many possible causes, evidence pointing to PCBs keeps accumulating, much like the toxins in these animals’ systems.

 

Nonetheless, Dracos leaves readers with a profound message of hope: the damage is not irreversible. In fact, cleanup efforts that involve the removal of the source of PCBs can really work, and quickly. Offering a simple blueprint for steps that can be taken to reduce the impacts of all industrial chemicals, Biocidal ultimately points the way toward a detoxified world.

Review:

"Investigative reporter Dracos (Ungodly) shines a bright light on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the resulting grand science experiment in which all living creatures now participate, whether they know it or not. 'So efficient are PCBs at migrating from the environment to the cells of living creatures,' Dracos writes, 'that there is probably not a human being alive who doesn't have PCBs locked somewhere in his or her tissues.' PCBs originated in 1920, and stories of the companies that manufactured and used them in mammoth quantities will satisfy those looking for evidence of corporate depravity, greed, fraud, and downright unethical or even inhumane behavior. With a driving, fast-paced narrative, Dracos traces the history of Monsanto; a corporate physician who hid many health effects that were uncovered in manufacturing and use; and the discovery by a Swedish scientist that PCBs were not only in all the fish he sampled but in the blood of his own family. Dracos goes on to discuss the regulatory changes that began in the 1970s as well as years of stonewalling by GE to avoid cleanup of the Hudson River. Dracos's straightforward reporting delivers one blow after another, but concludes with a seemingly simple, though politically loaded, two-step solution to chemical contamination. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Book News Annotation:

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have been outlawed since 1976 due to their toxicity, but 50 years of their use has left a toxic legacy around the planet. Dracos, an award-winning investigative reporter, chronicles the development and widespread use of PCBs and, in chapters with titles like "The Man Who Poisoned the Planet" and "The Good Ol' Boys of Monsanto," details how the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies despite knowledge of the dangers of PCBs. The author synthesizes research on the connection between PCBs and human illness, environmental damage, and damage to species diversity, drawing on scientific studies, news articles, and court documents. The book also describes clean-up efforts and offers a blueprint of steps for reducing the impact of PCBs and all other industrial chemicals. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

About the Author

“Innately villainous and shrouded by deceit, PCBs are the cigarettes of the chemical world. Finally, with Biocidal, their treacherous story is told. And, because all of us on Earth carry molecules of PCBs within our bodies, it is a story that all of us on Earth need to hear. Happily, Ted Dracos makes listening to PCBs a captivating task.”

—Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author, Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment 

“The first-ever complete and up-to-date story of PCBs and their effects on human health and the ecosystem.”

—Dr. David Carpenter, director, Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 The Man Who Poisoned the Planet

Chapter 2 The Good Ol’ Boys of Monsanto

Chapter 3 The Long Con

Chapter 4 The Discovery

Chapter 5 The Global Poison

Chapter 6 PCBs and Kids

Chapter 7 Adult Realities

Chapter 8 PCBs, Breast Cancer, and Hidden Agendas

Chapter 9 Killer Whales and the Weight

Chapter 10 A Lethal Erosion of the Biosphere

Chapter 11 The Devil’s Gamble

Chapter 12 The Politiks of PCBs

Chapter 13 The Epiphany

Chapter 14 GE and the Jacking of the Hudson

Chapter 15 The Inevitability of Nothing

Chapter 16 Precautionary Agonistes

Chapter 17 Epigenetics, PCBs, and Us

Epilogue Clouds and Sunlight

Acknowledgments

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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ahsfolkapl, January 1, 2011 (view all comments by ahsfolkapl)
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anthonyhenrysmith, December 18, 2010 (view all comments by anthonyhenrysmith)
Ted Dracos, Biocidal, Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs
 294 pp. 2010, Boston, Beacon Press, $34.95
ISBN: 978-0-8070-0612-2

Review by Anthony Henry Smith
December, 2010

“Biocidal” is nothing less than the story of the poisoning of most of the human beings on the planet. This poisoning occurred originally as an unintended consequence of a series of corporate and governmental actions initiated and driven by the transformative force and power of money.

Sound governance requires reliable information. It is not reasonable or necessary to require each citizen to personally collect, assemble, interpret, and defend all the information necessary for governance. It also will not do to rely upon media solely animated by the force of money for the creation of an informed citizenry.

The possession of mere facts alone will not suffice. All governance needs to be informed by a coherent presentation of evidence based fact, but that fact needs to be referenced within a context of values and principles. Democratic governance requires a context of values which promote human well being and the well being of the planet of which they are but a part and upon which they depend. Moreover, democratic governance requires that the animating and transformative forces of compassion, mercy, and justice be part of that context. These are necessary to act as a balance to the transformative force of money.

“Biocidal” is an outstanding example of what can be created when an individual with the requisite skills and experience dedicates them to public service by producing such a book. Dracos has not positioned himself as a specialist. He is not part of government. He is not allied with any specific environmental organization. In writing “Biocidal” he is performing a public service as a public intellectual.

“Biocidal” is a real life story of science fact presented as a through and cohesive narrative. It is remarkable that in spite of all the apparent attention PCBs have received, this story is only now being told here for the first time in its entirety.  Its details are bound to come as a genuine surprise to most readers, including many who have earned the right to claim expertise on the subject.

Dracos has marshaled his skills to gather what is known and present it within a context of experience, principle, and evidence based science. His manner of presentation makes it abundantly clear the PCB issue is one which directly impacts the well being of every human being alive on the planet today and shall continue to impact the well being of every generation to follow.

The amount of PCBs manufactured by the Swann Chemical Corporation which first mass produced PCBs is unknown. From 1930 to 1977 when PCBs were banned by Congress, Monsanto allegedly manufactured more than half a million tons. This does not include a possible million and a half tons manufactured world wide, in large part produced under license from Monsanto.

The Hudson River is the nation’s largest superfund site. The PCB contamination extends over two hundred miles of the river, making the it the greatest known act of pollution in U.S. history.

Since the late 1930s Monsanto and General Electric executives possessed information that PCBs were toxic and potentially lethal for workers. One could quibble about the difference between possessing information and knowing, but subsequent actions indicate the executives knew.

Had GE been established for the purpose of creating money as a means to an end consistent with the public interest and well being, there would have been no doubt as to what the executives would have done.

The problem arises when a corporation exists for the mechanical purpose of creating money (a means) which is then used to create more money (a means) with no other end in sight than to create more means. This could go on in an infinite loop but for the fact that the loop must collapse upon the exhaustion of the available human, biotic and physical “resources” being translated into money.

Monsanto and GE are on the brink of exhausting the human, biotic, and physical context of the planet.

One can get some idea of how costly GE believes the cleanup of PCBs from the Hudson River ( and presumably all the other waterways they’ve contaminated) will be by the fact that from 1990 to 2005 GE had spent a total of $799 million in three locations. Almost all of that money was expended to stonewall a full PCB cleanup.

Dracos provides an update on the progress of the PCB removal at the time of his writing. The PCB contaminated sediments are being removed from the Hudson River and then transported by rail to reside “in perpetuity” at a location in West Texas mere feet away from the Ogallala aquifer, arguably the most important agricultural aquifer in the Western Hemisphere. The contaminated sediments are considered so dangerous, the EPA will not announce the train route for fear of terrorism.

The chapter devoted to an elucidation of the Precautionary Principle and Risk Assessment is especially noteworthy. Dracos points out that risk assessment doesn’t work in situations where a hard and fast scientific definition of assimilative capacity doesn’t exist. If you’re building a bridge, risk assessment is a useful tool. If you’re attempting to establish the level of industrial pollution that can be assimilated without any harm, risk assessment is inappropriate, misleading, and in all likelihood damaging.

The poisoning of the planet was a consequence of corporations making a profit for the corporation to the exclusion of every other consideration, but the poisoning was just as effective as if PCBs had purposely been concocted solely as poison.  PCBs are an endocrine disruptor.  They have the capacity to change human beings genetically and they do.  They are now well known to be highly dangerous to human beings, even in very small quantities. Human breast milk is almost certainly the most PCB contaminated, naturally produced fluid on the planet.

Some things are certain. Human beings will remain as malleable and as fallible as they always have been. The ancient Greeks deified the elemental forces which shape us; wisdom, industry, war, money, love, and death among others. These forces remain as unchanging now as they were in ancient Greece. Yet in the midst of it all, we can take stock of what is happening to us and around us. This “taking stock” in our behalf is Dracos’ accomplishment. Revitalized with this clearer vision, we can change our thoughts and actions in ways which continue to advance and preserve the values and principles which promote our own well being and the continuance of the biosphere.

It will take many lifetimes and will be enormously expensive to clean PCBs from our biosphere. The detoxification of the planet may not make money for any corporation, but it is an issue which helps clarify the genuine value yet to be derived from the ancient forces of human love, caring, mercy, and justice.

 In summary, this remarkable book creates a cohesive and fast moving narrative of the entire PCB issue from its beginning to the present, clearly and simply stated.

Many of the stories Dracos relates had shown up on my radar the day they broke, but it wasn’t until I read “Biocidal” that I realized how frequently I never got to know how they turned out.

Now I know.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780807006122
Subtitle:
Confronting the Poisonous Legacy of PCBs
Author:
Dracos, Theodore Michael
Author:
Dracos, Ted
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Subject:
Environmental Conservation & Protection
Subject:
History, 20th Century - United States
Subject:
Polychlorinated biphenyls -- Toxicology.
Subject:
Environmental Conservation & Protection - General
Subject:
Toxicology
Subject:
Life Sciences - Biochemistry
Subject:
Environmental Studies-Environment
Publication Date:
20101109
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
304
Dimensions:
9.36 x 6.26 x 1.06 in 1.375 lb

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Engineering » Environmental Engineering » Pollution Control
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Product details 304 pages Beacon Press - English 9780807006122 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Investigative reporter Dracos (Ungodly) shines a bright light on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and the resulting grand science experiment in which all living creatures now participate, whether they know it or not. 'So efficient are PCBs at migrating from the environment to the cells of living creatures,' Dracos writes, 'that there is probably not a human being alive who doesn't have PCBs locked somewhere in his or her tissues.' PCBs originated in 1920, and stories of the companies that manufactured and used them in mammoth quantities will satisfy those looking for evidence of corporate depravity, greed, fraud, and downright unethical or even inhumane behavior. With a driving, fast-paced narrative, Dracos traces the history of Monsanto; a corporate physician who hid many health effects that were uncovered in manufacturing and use; and the discovery by a Swedish scientist that PCBs were not only in all the fish he sampled but in the blood of his own family. Dracos goes on to discuss the regulatory changes that began in the 1970s as well as years of stonewalling by GE to avoid cleanup of the Hudson River. Dracos's straightforward reporting delivers one blow after another, but concludes with a seemingly simple, though politically loaded, two-step solution to chemical contamination. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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