Inside Public Integrity

Published — February 27, 2013 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:51 pm ET

Toxic clout: how Washington works (badly)


More than 80,000 chemicals are on the market in the United States, with hundreds added each year. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regulators are supposed to protect the public from chemical contaminants in air, water and consumer products that can cause cancer and other illnesses. But the chemical industry’s sway over science and policy is extremely powerful. Much like the clout of the NRA, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) is an industry trade association that often acts to create uncertainty and delay, actions that ultimately threaten the public health.

In a new series of stories called Toxic Clout, The Center for Public Integrity is exploring how the chemical industry operates behind the scenes. We want to shed light on how a cancer-causing chemical compound could escape regulation that EPA scientists say is necessary. Please tune in to the PBS NewsHour next Wednesday, March 6th, to see a special report produced in partnership with The Center for Public Integrity.

This report features a chemical compound that more than 70 million Americans drink traces of every day. Since 2010, EPA scientists have concluded that even small amounts of this compound may cause cancer.

The chemical compound is called hexavalent chromium, which gained infamy in the Oscar-winning film Erin Brockovich. The film ends in Hollywood fashion, with the corporate polluter paying $333 million to people suffering from illnesses. But in real life, that is not the end of the story.

As the Center for Public Integrity has reported, the EPA was poised to cite evidence of cancer risks in hexavalent chromium in 2011 — likely presaging stricter drinking water standards. Yet a special EPA panel urged the agency to delay action — citing, among other issues, pending research by the American Chemistry Council. The EPA agreed to put off action. The EPA was unaware that three of the panelists urging delay had in fact worked on behalf of industry in Hinkley, California — site of the Brockovich legal fight.

This is type of conflict of interest is precisely why the Center is focusing on Toxic Clout.

Until Next Week,


Read more in Inside Public Integrity

Share this article

Join the conversation

Show Comments

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments