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Ronnie Sookhdeo

The Poisoned Profits of 245 T

(April 1980)

From Militant, No. 500, 25 April 1980, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In a two part article Ronnie Sookhdeo shows the chemical industry under control of the bosses is a danger to workers.

News that the household herbicides and pesticides contain 2,4,5 T, a highly toxic chemical believed by scientists to be responsible for a horrifying increase in birth defects, skin diseases and cancer, has again rightly intensified demands for the tighter screening and control of potentially dangerous chemicals.

At the moment the major manufacturer of 2,4,5 T is refusing to release the results of medical studies on their workforce. There have also been allegations of a Watergate-style break-in at the home of a doctor who has been investigating the effects of 2,4,5 T.

It has also come out that Mr Dennis Thatcher, the prime minister’s husband, is a director of a firm producing weed-killer based on 2,4,5 T.

Predictably, there have been the by now almost customary government claims that the chemical is absolutely safe, and that the eight unions and six local authorities which have banned it have acted out of scientific ignorance.

So what is the truth concerning 2,4,5 T? What hazards does it really pose to the public?

The chemical Tricholorophenoxyacetic Acid (2,4,5 T) and it impurity Dioxin – described as the most lethal man-made poison ever – have both achieved notoriety in a remarkably short period of time.

Dioxin is produced during the synthesis of the base chemical Trichlorophenol, which is used in the manufacture of two chemicals, hexachlorophene and 2,4,5 T, with Dioxin being retained as an impurity in both substances.

Hexachlorophene, a bactericide, was widely used as a wash for treating acne, in soaps, surgical swabs and as an antiseptic in hospital nurseries. But in the late 1960s evidence began to accumulate linking its use with internal and brain damage. Its use was supposed to have ceased after a dramatic occurrence of infant mortalities in England and France.

Talcum powder containing hexachlorophene was daubed on the bottoms of new-born babies. In the most recent case last month, the manufacturer and distributor of talcum powder which killed 33 babies in France received suspended sentences.

The herbicide 2,4,5 T has had a much more chequered history. It was formulated with another chemical and called “Agent Orange”. This was used by the US military with devastating and horrendous effects in Vietnam. Over 90 million pounds of Agent Orange was sprayed over Vietnam and a staggering 10% of the population was exposed to it.

The full horror of Dioxin poisoning was revealed to the West when the Swiss-owned Icmesa plant exploded in Seveso, Italy, in 1976. Within days of the explosion rashes began to break out on the skin of babies and young children, followed by acute diarrhoea and severe vomiting. People began to suffer headaches, excessive violent sweating and to experience liver and kidney pains.

But the most horrific result was the high incidence of spontaneous abortions amongst pregnant women and the birth of grotesquely malformed babies.

Today, four years after the Seveso incident, the region produces more deformed babies, including mongoloids, than the whole of the rest of Western Europe!

This calamitous mishap, sounding like a horror story from a science-fiction book describing the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust, is a searing indictment of the misuse and perversion of science and technology in capitalist society. When profit is the ultimate motive for development, the risks of serious danger to health and damage to the environment are strictly secondary considerations.

Although big business complains ever more loudly about health and safety regulations, in most countries, including Britain, the laws and procedures used for checking new products and controlling the production and use of dangerous substances are woefully inadequate.

The enormity of the crime committed against the people of Seveso becomes even clearer when it is realised that the disaster in Italy was not the first accident for the Swiss manufacturers.

There had already been accidents in the United States, Britain, West Germany and Holland. In each case, the whole plant had to be destroyed and buried in deep underground wells.

In the British accident, at the Coalite factory in Bolsover in April 1968, seventy-nine men were affected by 2,4,5 T fumes!

In part II next week, Ronnie Sookhdeo gives more evidence of the serious effects in Britain of 2,4,5 T on the health of workers and their families, and explains the urgent need for stronger health and safety safeguards under the control on the trade unions.

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