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The Program : Overview

Twenty-three years to the day after he went to work with vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals at a plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Dan Ross died of a rare brain cancer. He was 46 years old, convinced that his job had killed him.

His wife, Elaine, sued her husband's former employer and, over the next decade, the process of legal discovery led deeper and deeper into the inner chambers of the chemical industry and its Washington trade association. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents were unearthed.

Dan Ross
Dan and Elaine Ross sued. Eventually, their attorney William Baggett, Jr. charged all vinyl chloride-producing companies with conspiracy.

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In TRADE SECRETS: A MOYERS REPORT, journalist Bill Moyers and producer Sherry Jones investigated the Ross archive – secrets the chemical industry never intended the public to see – and discovered a shocking story. The confidential papers reveal the industry's early knowledge of vinyl chloride's dangerous effects, as well as the industry's long silence on the subject.

The program also reports a much larger story. Buried in the thousands of pages of documents – minutes from board meetings, reports from industry scientists, internal memoranda – is a never-before-told account of a campaign to limit the regulation of toxic chemicals and any liability for their effects, at the same that the companies work to withhold vital information about risks from workers, the government – and the public.

"Almost everyone understands that the chemical revolution of the last 50 years has increased our standard of living," says Bill Moyers. "The industry has made sure we know how much they have done for us. What the industry does not want us to know are the negative consequences of that revolution."

Over the last five decades, more than 75,000 chemicals have been produced, turned into consumer products or released into the environment. Today, every man, woman and child has synthetic chemicals in their bodies. No child is born free of them. Are they safe? Does anyone know?

As part of the investigation for TRADE SECRETS, Bill Moyers also took part in a pilot study sponsored by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine designed to measure the synthetic chemicals present in the human body – a measurement known as the "chemical body burden." Even though Moyers has never worked in a chemical plant – or lived near one – he learned that his body contains a chemical soup of 84 industrial chemicals, including 31 different types of PCBs, 13 different dioxins, and pesticides such as DDT. The study's lead doctor can offer no comfort to Moyers when he asks how his results compare to the larger public – the scientific data simply does not exist to answer the question.

The documentary portion of the program, which features interviews with historians, public health officials and workers, is followed by a panel discussion moderated by Moyers. Among the questions considered are: What does it mean to have unprecedented combinations of chemicals in our bodies? How are we exposed to them? Which are the most dangerous – and how can we avoid them? Are women and children at most risk? What is industry doing to keep us fully informed about the health and safety effects of chemicals?

Photo Credits: ABCNews VideoSource, Elaine Ross

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