The Washington Times reported on Thursday, April 28, 1988, that employees of EPA had complained to the management about the agency’s lack of progress in fixing ventilation problems that caused headaches and dizziness. The article was written by Dan Vuleichs. The employees claimed that the re-carpeting program was the source of their health problems. Indeed, EPA’s Occupational Health and Safety staff confirmed they had received complaints of headaches, nausea, fatigue, sinus congestion and psychological signs of confusion and disorientation from the employees. According to the Federal Report, the major culprit was Shaw Industries that manufactured the carpets. The Times, further, reported that the EPA’s Environmental Response Team discovered significant amounts of benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and styrene in the workplace where observations were made. This prompted the employees to storm out of the meeting. Possibly this could be the chemicals responsible for the health complications of the EPA employees. The chemical most likely responsible for the adverse effects could be one of those chemicals that were discovered at the workplace.
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The fumes and glue that were used in the installation and the chemicals used in the manufacturing of the carpets were blamed on the symptoms exhibited by the employees. The chances of the chemicals aforementioned above being used in the manufacture of the carpets cannot be ruled out as the major health contaminants. However, the main source of the chemicals remains the industry (Shaw Industry) involved in carpet manufacturing. The numerous complaints launched by the 64 employees of EPA got the attention of many players including the representatives of the House of Congress. The member of Congress ordered laboratory investigations to be conducted by the EPA and independent scientists to get to the bottom of the matter.
The House of Representatives demanded that the EPA scientists and Dr. Anderson perform parallel experiments to ascertain whether the re-carpeting program was the single source of the health problems at EPA premises of work. The research methodology used was that which had been used by Dr. Anderson over one year to perform toxicological tests on mice. According to Mr. Bernard Sanders (a member of the congress), in his letter to Mr. Kimm (an Assistant Administrator-EPA team), he indicated that the tests performed on mice proved the carpets were the source of the adverse effects. Evidently, the Laboratory tests that were conducted by the two groups showed that, in each, of the two parallel teams, the results showed that one of the four mice died (25 percent). Bernard further said that mice exposed to carpet off-gassing exhibit many, similar and abnormal health effects in both the experiments conducted by the two –EPA scientists and Dr. Anderson. These results were coherent with those that had been performed a year earlier by Dr. Anderson and replicated by Dr. Alarie of the University of Pittsburgth. This toxicological test ascertained that the carpeting program was the source of the health problems of the employees at EPA’s work place-excellent move.
The responsibility of the Arizona State University professor, Dr. Anderson cannot be overstated. She played a significant role in unearthing the truth as far as the carpet emissions were concerned. Her results a year ago before the two parallel experiments by the EPA team were consistent. The professor provided independent results that were similar to those that were done by the EPA scientists in the parallel experiments performed. This dismisses any possible allegations that the results had a bias if only the EPA scientists had performed the tests singly. Therefore, the investigation by an Arizona State University professor played a critical role in the carpet store. It is fabulous.
The Carpet Manufacturer (Shaw Industry) had reported that it had received numerous complaints apart from the case of EPA employees. Shaw industries had previously been involved in a lawsuit filed by, Concannon, a lawyer representing a family in a case against Shaw industries, the biggest carpet manufacturer. The family sought compensation from the company because of the respiratory problems prompting the family to sell the house at a loss. However, the family lost the case as the judge ruled in favor of the industry, citing a lack of ‘good science’ and lack of solid evidence from experts. The trade association that represented Shaw Industries in the Carpet emissions saga was IEQS. The association tried to protect the carpet manufacturer by withholding crucial information that would have, otherwise made it possible for EPA scientists, members of the public and even the Federal Government to discover the company was manufacturing carpets that are health hazardous.
The Carpet Policy Dialogue revolved around increased complaints of the members of the public and the media interests in the issue. In spite of this, it also attracted others; the members of the congress coming in to scrutinize the companies environmental and health effects of its products. There were allegations that the lead carpet Manufacturer was colluding with CRI and University researchers to delay and even hide some critical research evidence that would bring to book the culprit in the numerous claims by members of the public about the health problems of the carpets from the companies. According to Concannon, the carpet policy dialogue took a political dimension as opposed to a scientific approach. The debate still was seen as a battle to be won-by the manufacturer of carpets. The manner in which communication was being done as far as research is concerned was not genuine. The purpose of research was to validate the complaints. Also what raised eyebrows with respect to previous cases was the way in which Consumer Safety Product Commission conducted itself with respect to accessing of what is so called ‘confidential documents’ by interested parties. The refusal by CSPC to allow concerned parties to access its confidential information further complicated the carpet issue. The officials also refused to elaborate why it rejected to make public research findings regarding the complaints funded by AEQS, CRI and IAG.
As we are all aware, the media played a great role in making the members of the public to become aware about the carpet issue. We can say the media might have contributed to making known the developments on the carpet story. This is demonstrated by the continued coverage of the story by The Washington Times. The article by Dan Vuleich, that appeared in The Washington Times on Thursday, April 28, 1988, is a clear testimony of the role of the media in information dissemination in the entire story-toxic carpet emissions by Shaw Industries. Furthermore, the reports by the mass media on cases of employees complaining of nausea, headaches, dizziness, and psychological complications were documented. This showed the strengths of the story.
The Congress too played a pivotal role in resolving the problem. This is demonstrated by the action taken by Mr. Bernard Sanders (a member of the Congress) writing to Victor Kimm (Assistant Deputy Administrator –EPA) demanding him to immediately perform toxicological experiments parallel to those done by Dr. Anderson, to get to the bottom of the matter regarding the carpet emissions. The letter send to the agency is a clear indication of the roles pursued by the Congress aimed at investigating the source of the emissions. Bernard Sanders was instrumental in pursuing the issue.
Despite the previous denials by Shaw Industries, the eventual outcome of the Carpet Policy Dialogue revealed that the health problems were as a result of chemicals used by the company in the manufacturing of the carpets. The delay in releasing of research reports by CRI and University contract deals in maneuvering the research results sums it up or in itself is clear evidence. The media was also to be manipulated.
The results of the test experiments performed by the two teams confirmed multiple health effects/multiple sensitivity occurred on the mice. This refers to a situation where a test subject exhibits several or many reactions/effects to particular toxicological experiments. For instance, in the case of the experiments by Dr. Anderson and the EPA scientist, the mice exhibited multiple health effects when they were exposed to carpet off-gassing. The results were also meant to investigate whether the industry had met the required standards for Green tag labeling Program. The result was the last proof.
The Green Tag labeling Program is a certification label or mark that shows that a company has met certain relevant health and safety standards. It builds confidence of the consumers in the products they purchase. This can be equated to ISO certification. The green labeling Tag Program had to be revised for Shaw industries because of the health complications of the products it was making. The Congress member suggested withdrawing the company from green tag program. A part from this, the company had to be banned from publishing in the bronchure and it had to revise the standards of labeling program. Lastly, stronger warnings had to be issued from the Attorney General.