Accuracy in Media

America is in the midst of a public health crisis that has received very little attention from the press or the medical community, yet it affects literally millions of Americans. In his new book, They’re Poisoning Us: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico, Arnold Mann, a prominent medical and environmental journalist, has documented and exposed this silent epidemic, with potentially enormous ramifications.

In this exclusive interview with Accuracy in Media (AIM), Mann details and builds the case for the commonality of chronic, disabling symptoms that have stricken all these people, from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who came back sick from the first Gulf War in 1991, and who are still sick, to the thousands who participated in last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and who are now turning up sick with the same symptoms. Then there are the victims of toxic mold in buildings throughout the country, and the Hurricane Katrina victims still sick from exposure to formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers. What all these people have in common, according to Mann, is that they are all suffering from a very real illness—not psychosomatic disorders, as many would have us believe. What we are witnessing, Mann says, is the emergence of an entirely new disease paradigm, caused by environmental conditions, which have largely been covered up and ignored by industries, such as oil and insurance; by government, including every president of the past 30 years and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Veterans Administration (VA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH); and finally the media, which have failed to connect the dots in the manner that Mann has done in this powerful new book.

As many of you are aware, AIM has frequently been very skeptical of claims by environmental groups that might be categorized as junk science, everything from Alar to DDT to global warming, and many more. Reed Irvine, AIM’s founder and chairman was a thorough and analytical debunker of many of the claims by media and left-wing advocacy groups posing as conscientious environmentalists. But in this case, I have known the author personally as well as professionally over the past 30 years, and he has no political agenda in writing this book. It is thoroughly researched by someone who has studied medical research reports for decades, and interviewed hundreds of doctors for various publications, and is scrupulous in his determination to get his facts straight.

Ten years ago, it was Mann who blew the lid off of toxic mold with a series of features and cover stories in Time magazine and U.S.A. Weekend magazine. His cover story on neurosurgeon Keith Black for Time magazine’s 1997 “Heroes of Medicine” special issue is now a book entitled Brain Surgeon: A Doctor’s Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles. He co-wrote the book with Dr. Black. His Time environmental expose on Southwest Airlines’ San Antonio reservations center, and his series of U.S.A. Weekend cover stories on the toxic mold threat in homes, schools, and apartment buildings have made him a leading reporter in the environmental health field. He has also been a contributing writer for various publications of the National Institutes of Health, and in 2005 he served as the personal writer of Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the Director of the National Cancer Institute, and he oversaw the publication of the Institute’s annual progress report to Congress. In 1982 he began writing a featured column called “Innerviews” for Emmy magazine. For ten years, he conducted and wrote all the feature interviews and profiles for Emmy, including Walter Cronkite, Jackie Cooper, Ralph Nader, Lily Tomlin, and Cybill Shepard. Mann also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1969 to 1973, and was part of the security force safeguarding U.S. nuclear weaponry in Korea.

In one particular gut-wrenching chapter, Mann documents how the CDC, the federal agency whose job it is to protect our nation’s health, brought in an outside team of experts to reverse its own team’s findings in the late 1990s that showed that the toxic mold Stachybotrys appeared to be associated with an outbreak of pulmonary hemorrhaging in infants in inner city housing in Cleveland, Ohio. The head of the CDC at the time, Mann notes, was Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, whose previous job was as the Director and President of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research. Koplan was appointed to the CDC position by then President Bill Clinton. Mann finds it outrageous that the head of CDC could ever come out of the insurance industry. “How can a president of an insurance company be made Director of CDC?,” Mann asked rhetorically during the interview. “Every decision that CDC makes, everything it does, impacts the bottom line of the insurance industry. I can’t say that that was part of the reason why the Cleveland infant study was retracted. I know that, at that time, the insurance industries were circling their wagons because they saw toxic mold coming with all kinds of lawsuits and everything.  Was this part of it?  I don’t know. I can’t say for sure.” Dr. Koplan refused to talk to Mann for his book.

Meanwhile, Mann notes, the CDC did not let its team do any further studies, as frightened mothers from inner city housing continued to bring their babies to Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, with their lungs bleeding. To date, there have been 53 such cases of pulmonary hemorrhaging among infants in just one Cleveland Hospital, with five deaths. All of the homes tested have been found to contain high levels of Stachybotrys. The experts Mann interviewed suspect this may account for a percentage of the nation’s mysterious SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) deaths.

While I can’t vouch for all of the scientific and medical findings in Mann’s new book, I can vouch for the integrity and professionalism of his work over 30 years. This book, if the mainstream media will do its job and follow up on Mann’s investigative work, should be the start of a major national debate and examination of these life and death issues. The book reads like a thriller in many ways, and is a valuable contribution to a dialogue that really needs to take place in this country, and around the world. Mann addresses the fundamental issue, which is that millions are sick from identifiable causes, while no government or industry wants to acknowledge it because of the massive potential liabilities and exposure they would have. And he suggests solutions.

Below, in italics, are excerpts from the interview. You can listen to the entire interview or read the transcript here.

There were seven women in the [Southwest Airlines] building who had suffered strokes, seizures, and who were chronically ill after the fact, and they did sue…for wrongful termination and, also, environmental torts, because the airline had not informed them of the mold problem in the building.  And OSHA documented the fact that [Southwest] had been less than forthcoming about informing their employees about the problem. [*Editor’s note: Mann later added to AIM that “the airline was granted a summary dismissal in all of these Southwest Airlines cases. He notes the Bexar County Court never should have been adjudicating the case, since the court employees—right up to the judges—were under investigation at the time for being receivers of stolen goods—$2 million worth of Southwest Airlines tickets.]

But it was expected, at that time, when this thing blew up in the late 1990s and early 2000, that toxic mold was going to be the next asbestos. But that never happened, and the reason why is because the science has never been there to definitively link exposure to, let’s say, mycotoxins from the toxic mold in the building, to the symptoms that people are suffering. The science is not yet there to make the definitive link…

…in the Gulf War, the exposures consisted of the most obvious Gulf War toxic exposure, because we all had seen it—the Kuwaiti oil fires.  The sky turned black for months.  When you looked up, you couldn’t tell if you were looking at the sun or the moon.  Skin would turn black with oil soot.  They breathed this for months—and this is extremely toxic.  It’s the same stuff that the Gulf of Mexico clean-up workers were breathing as they were burning off the oil down there.  It’s extremely toxic.

Sarin, from chemical and biological weapons.  We blew up Saddam Hussein’s ammo dumps for this, and our people were all downwind to that.  So they ate a lot of chemicals and chemical weapons.  The answer to your question is “Yes.”  If there are a number of chemical exposures, toxic exposures, there can be a synergy to raise the risk of individuals of developing this disease.  Call it “Gulf War Syndrome,” call it “chemical sensitivity”—it’s all the same thing.

Of the 700,000 troops that went over to the Persian Gulf [1990-91] to fight in that war, 250,000 of them came back chronically ill or disabled.  It’s a huge number.  What happened?  The first thing was, the Department of Defense said that there were no chemical weapons exposures at all in that area, because there were no chemical weapons going off in the area.  They swore this up and down.  It wasn’t until Senator Don Riegle dragged them into his investigation…that he was gradually able to induce them to admit, because he had the evidence, that there were exposures, first of all, to sarin.  It started off, they admitted there were 5,000, then it was 25,000—by the time it was finished, at the end of the investigation, the DOD had admitted that 98,000 troops had been exposed to chemical weapons when we blew up Saddam Hussein’s weapons depots at Khamisiyah, and also from incoming Scud missiles that Saddam Hussein threw at us during the war.  So the DOD was covering it up.

[Regarding the 2010 BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana] There were 1,500 shrimp and fishing boats out there, rounding up the oil, millions of gallons of it, and at the end of the day they would burn it off.  That’s in addition to all the people who were hosing it off the beaches and getting it in the face from all the steam [a total workforce of 46,000]. There were several different types of exposures there.  Number one: There was a chemical called De-Solv-It, which was used to clean the equipment.  Then there’s the Corexit which dispersed the oil.  That’s gotten a lot of ink.  Then there were all these volatile organic compounds…all classified as toxic, neurotoxic, and carcinogenic by the EPA.  In addition, there was the diesel exhaust and carbon monoxide from the machinery that was being used in the area.  These are the kinds of exposures that those people who worked in that area were suffering from.  That’s what they were exposed to… It’s no wonder that today they’re finding that many people in the Gulf—not just the people who were working on the oil cleanup, but also people inland from those oil fires—are becoming sick with the same multiple system symptoms that you see in the Gulf War illness.

BP forbade anyone from even bringing a respirator to work.  They forbade it.  Not only did they not provide it, but they wouldn’t allow them to bring it—they would send them home if they brought a respirator with them.  Why?  One of the long-time EPA investigators said, “Look: It’s real simple.  You see people wearing respirators, it signals a toxic environment.”  They just didn’t want that.  NIOSH, EPA, they went along with it.  They said it’s crude [oil], there shouldn’t be any problems—but there were huge problems.

To a great extent, when you have a major toxic event like this, an environmental toxic event, most people are concerned about the long-term cancer effects of it.  It’s only now that health officials are beginning to realize that there are chronic health impacts that take place right away, and follow a person, perhaps, for the rest of their life.  It’s because of the chemical sensitivities that develop in the wake of a toxic exposure.

I don’t know of any real government involvement down there, with the exception of the fact that they’ve decided they’re going to set up studies and start looking at the health effects of this thing and who is sick… I think they should be going there, documenting everybody who’s sick, and trying to figure out what this thing is, and they should be putting the money into the research to figure out what the underlying disease mechanism is here, so that treatments can be developed for it.  And that’s the real big problem, whether it’s the Gulf War or the Gulf of Mexico: You’ve got an entirely new disease paradigm, a new disease mechanism.

The only thing the VA was looking at for years was stress as a cause of Gulf War Syndrome.  That’s all.  To a great extent, the medical mainstream looks at people who have multiple chemical sensitivity today as being hypochondriacs—stress-based only.

At Southwest Airlines, they knew for years that they had a big mold problem in that building.  It was documented by OSHA.  And they never informed the employees of it.  It’s [sending] troops off to war, without proper protection, into a toxic battlefield.  But I’ll tell you something, Roger: The reason that I titled the book They’re Poisoning Us! is because that’s what people kept saying when I was interviewing.  They said, “I feel like I’ve been poisoned.”  “I’ve been poisoned.”

You see something that’s wrong, you see an important thing to write—look: I know what it is.  If a writer, if an investigative journalist is lucky in life, they get to do something that’s bigger than them.  Then you’ve just got to do it right.  Did I have any reaction?  Was I frightened to write about industry?  No, not really.  If you do it right, you document it properly, you tell the truth, and you do it fairly, then I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

I’d like this book to contribute towards a change in perception, to not look at the Gulf War veterans who are suffering from Gulf War illness as being victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.  In other words, it’s not all in their heads, any more than it’s in the heads of any of the other people that we’ve discussed who have had toxic exposure and wound up chronically ill.  This thing is very real.  It’s a very real physical condition, illness.  And it’s an entirely new disease mechanism, one that needs to be studied—and that’s what I’d like to see happen.  I’d like to see it studied.  We live in a very chemicalized world, an increasingly chemicalized world.




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