THE PENDULUM AND THE WHITE CLOUD: The Course of Dioxin Contamination by Thomas Whiteside

THE PENDULUM AND THE WHITE CLOUD: The Course of Dioxin Contamination

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Timely techno-pathology. Wherever there's trichlorophenol--in hexachlorophine, in the herbicide 2,4,5-T-there's dioxin, one of the deadliest poisons known to man. It's well-known to Thomas Whiteside, a staff-writer for The New Yorker where most of this first appeared; he interprets in plain-speak the hazards of its production, disposal, and use. Beginning with a review of America's ""herbicidal adventurism,"" he counterposes Pentagon withdrawal of 2,4,5-T from the Vietnam chemical-warfare arsenal against Dept. of Agriculture support for its contined herbicidal deployment within the U.S. Congressional hearings had disclosed the danger of dioxin contamination, but while the military was being pressed to get rid of its stockpiles, the E.P.A. was being pressured to give up its fight against 2,4,5-T. Whiteside cites the agribusiness establishment's political clout and Dow Chemical's money (for PR and lawyers); lamenting E.P.A. weakness (and environmental groups' poverty), he stops short of any indictments. His posture is journalistic and rhetorical and he devotes the bulk of the book to 1977-78 reports from Italy on the 1976 ""Disaster at Seveso,"" the explosion at a trichlorophenol plant outside Milan that released dioxin into the surrounding communities and onto the world stage. Afterwards there was chaos: Provincial authorities failed to mount or monitor safe, forward-looking programs to control the contamination. Whiteside develops the reasons for that failure into a stout story--but it doesn't end quite the way he seems to want it to, in a vindication of his prophecies of doom; he resorts to contending that ""the relatively light scattering of ill-effects so far manifested"" at Seveso illustrates ""not the lack of dioxin toxicity to humans"" but how capriciously it can strike and how little is known about long-term effects. Whiteside is convinced, and unfortunately he's probably right.

Pub Date: March 8th, 1979
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press