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by Theodore Michael Dracos
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Biocidal by Theodore Michael Dracos

The first full account of the scientific and political dynamics of global PCB contamination, and its threat to human health and the environment

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were first manufactured in 1920 for the electronics industry. This highly toxic group of substances was then put to widespread military and domestic use, and were soon found even in the remotest corners of the earth. Since PCBs were outlawed in 1976, most people think the problem has been solved. However, over thirty years later, PCBs still reside in oceans, the atmosphere, and the tissues of every human being ever tested.

In Biocidal, investigative journalist Ted Dracos explores the science behind how PCBs pose a grim threat to Earth's biodiversity. He also draws on extensive research to document the connection between PCBs and catastrophic human illness. For decades, the chemical industry manipulated regulatory agencies and scientific findings to continue to reap huge profits, despite their knowledge of the threats posed by their products. Dracos presents the latest science on the heated controversy that surrounds the continued health impacts of PCBs, ranging from cancer to immunosuppression and reproductive abnormalities.

Yet Biocidal optimistically leaves readers with a simple blueprint for steps that can be and are being taken to reduce the impacts of PCBs and other industrial chemicals.

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Reviewed by Anthony Henry Smith
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars! [5 of 5 Stars!]   Date Added: Thursday 30 December, 2010

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.

Ebook Details
Size: 289 KB
Publisher: Beacon Press
Date published:  Nov 2010
ISBN: 9780807011553 (DRM-EPUB)

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Nonfiction > Nature > Environmental Conservation & Protection
Nonfiction > Science > Life Sciences > Biochemistry
Nonfiction > Medical > Toxicology

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