Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ronnie Sookhdeo

245T – Capitalism Damages Your Health

(May 1980)

From Militant, No. 501, 2 May 1980, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Second part of an article by Ronnie Sookhdeo

The catastrophic accident at the Swiss-owned plant producing 2,4,5, T at Seveso, Northern Italy, sent shockwaves throughout the industrialised capitalist countries.

The horrifying effects [described in part 1 last week] on the immediate victims of the poison gas cloud, and the numerous miscarriages and deformed births experienced by women pregnant at the time, forced government, chemical companies, and independent researchers to pay more attention to this highly toxic substance, used among other things in household herbicides and insecticides.

Medical investigators embarked upon a systematic study of 2,4,5, T. It was soon established that US Vietnam veterans, farmers in Oregon, and babies in Queensland, Australia, were all suffering from the same complaints as those in Seveso.

They were all found to have sight problems and nervous maladies. But the most striking symptom was the partial sterility of the men, and the almost 100% incidence of deformed births.

In both Oregon and Queensland, farmers has been spraying their plantations with 245T and the herbicide had seeped into the rivers and streams and found their way into domestic water supplies.

However, the most damning evidence linking 245T with these various symptoms comes from Britain: farm workers in Derbyshire, railwaymen in Yorkshire and forestry workers in Wales and elsewhere, were all found either to be sterile or to have contracted chloroacne – a skin disease. British Rail admitted it sprayed herbicides containing 245T on their tracks every year.

Under enormous pressure from the trade unions, the TUC have now called upon the Ministry of Agriculture to follow the US, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, and Holland in banning 245T.

They have demanded, moreover, that the Ministry re-open its enquiry into the pesticide – there have been eight inquiries over the past years. More importantly, they have asked that the Health and Safety Executive should be responsible for monitoring the production and use of 245T.

This follows allegations that the manufacturers of 245T, Coalite and Chemical Products is withholding two confidential reports on the health of workers exposed to dioxin at their Derbyshire plant.

A third report, leaked earlier this month, showed that men exposed to dioxin were at greater risk of contracting heart and liver disease. Even more disturbing, however, has been the reported break-in at the home of the medical investigator and the loss of vital medical records.

This company evidently has very good reasons for keeping silent.

The Sunday Times has revealed as many as four out of five workers who worked in the same shift have developed heart complaints.

The case of 245T highlights the absurd inadequacy of the present legislation concerning toxic chemicals. Throughout the regulations, the procedures which are really required to test and regulate dangerous processes and products are subordinated to the narrow commercial interests of the chemical companies.

A company has the right, for instance, to withhold scientific and medical information which may be “of commercial importance.” This ‘let out’ clause – clearly intended to safeguard profitability – can always be invoked to avoid revealing information absolutely vital for assessing the risk a substance poses to the health of the workforce, and to the population at large.

If, moreover, a company manufactures less than one ton of chemical a year it is under no obligation to perform screening tests for toxicity before manufacturing the product. On this basis, 245T has been given a clean bill of health! The regulations apparently take no account of the fact that minute quantities of some substances may be lethal in their effects.

All the available evidence strongly suggests that there is no safe level of exposure to 245T as the government has tried to maintain in the past. Since cancer and other diseases tend to develop slowly, the effects of a toxic chemical like this are unlikely to be known until it is too late.

The only way to avoid long-term poisoning of the workers involved and other members of the community is for the labour and trade union movement to initiate a campaign for the total outlawing of 245T.

Such a campaign must demand the full revelation of all the results of all the relevant tests, whether from government or company sources, together with the thorough medical examination of all workers who may have been exposed to the chemical. The trade unions must insist that comprehensive medical records are kept and made available to the public.

The dangers of toxic chemicals like 245T, raise more fundamental questions. The labour movement, for instance, must challenge the myth upheld by big business experts that pesticides and insecticides are essential to provide the food that we need. Of course, according to the market economy outlook of big business, it is ‘obvious’ that the solution to the problems of agricultural producers – increasingly dominated by the big monopolies of the ‘agribusiness’ – is for the chemical industry to produce these highly profitable products.

But there are potentially many more effective methods that could be used, with much less harmful results to the environment and to consumers, such as the planned rotation of crops, growing on smaller areas, and the planned management of insect populations.

The horrendous effects of substances like 245T show that safety checks must be introduced long before the chemicals reach the production stage. The trade unions should be satisfied on safety before production is started. They should also be satisfied that the process for the manufacture of the chemicals are also safe for the workers involved and the surrounding community and environment.

There will always be a fundamental contradiction in capitalist society between the development of sciences and technology, which demands a rational and rounded-out approach, and the application of the results of science by big business enterprises, which are primarily concerned to maximise their profits and whose operations are at every stage conditioned by the anarchy of the market and competition with their rivals.

The potentially disastrous results of the one-sided and short sighted development of new chemicals, new biological agents, and other enormously powerful physical processes, make it more than imperative that science and technology is taken out of the hands of the capitalist class and put into the hands of the working people through the socialist reorganisation of production.

Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 November 2016