Or read the transcript below:
Interview with Arnold Mann by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, May 12, 2011.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good afternoon, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s weekly talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media and of The AIM Report, which you can subscribe to at aim.org. We also encourage you to visit our website, aim.org, and sign up to receive our latest daily E-mail so you can keep track of what the media are up to. Our guest today is medical journalist Arnold Mann, who is with us today to discuss his latest book, They’re Poisoning Us!: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. The book exposes the ugly truths about cover-ups, lies, and deceptions by major corporations and government agencies at the expense of millions who have been rendered chronically ill. Arnold has painstakingly documented their personal stories, along with medical testimony from renowned physicians and researchers who specialize in this field of medicine and environmental disasters. He has written about medicine for a national audience for the past 30 years. I’d like to welcome to our show Arnold Mann. Arnie—welcome!
ARNOLD MANN: Roger, thank you very much for having me.
ARONOFF: You bet. I want to tell our audience a little more about you before we get started. Ten years ago, Arnold 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. Arnold co-wrote the book with Dr. Black. His other Time features include an 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 by the National Institute 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. He also was the publisher, from 1990 to 1997, of the STOP CANCER research funding organization’s publication, and 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. Arnold 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. I want to add that Arnie, as I know him, has been a close friend for about 30 years. During that time, we’ve both lived in New York, Los Angeles, and the Washington, D.C. area, and at some point in each of those three cities we were living there at the same time. It’s been an interesting ride for us, Arnie. I’m thrilled for you, for your new book. Why don’t you tell us a little more about your background? How did you become a writer and then a journalist?
MANN: I’d be glad to. I was always a bit of an investigative journalist—even in literature. When I was reading, I would see stuff that other people wouldn’t see, in my English classes in college, and I wound up having the good fortune, in graduate school—I was doing a master’s degree in English after I got out of the Air Force, I stayed on in Hawaii to do that—of working under the literary biographer Leon Edel. He was the biographer who wrote the five-volume biography of Henry James. He was generally regarded as the greatest literary biographer ever. Leon—he was just a wonderful mentor. He said, at one point, to me—I think it might have been the first piece I did for him, the first assignment—“You have the fine organizing mind of a writer.” I think that’s when I became a writer. You know what I mean? When you see something, or somebody points it out to you, and you realize that’s what you are. It was Leon. He did it.
ARONOFF: Okay—but what about becoming a journalist? From being a writer . . .
MANN: I went on to Claremont to do a Ph.D. in English, Claremont Graduate [School] here, outside of Los Angeles. I finished the course-work, and I just wanted to get out into the world. I didn’t want to stay in academia for the rest of my life. So I moved into Los Angeles, and I just hit the streets, looking for a job. I was fortunate: A fellow by the name of Larry Dietz, who was the West Coast editor of Playboy magazine at that time, which really was in its heyday, brought me in to be managing editor of the Playboy Jazz Festival magazine out here in L.A., and that sort of started the ball rolling. He introduced me around to various publications. I ended up working for the L.A. Weekly a little bit. Then I hooked into Emmy, and I had my own column there. I did all the feature interviews for those twelve years you were talking about.
ARONOFF: What was your first published article with your own byline on it?
MANN: With my own byline? That’s a good question. I guess when I was at Playboy—I was asked to do a short piece on a movie called The In-Laws, starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin. I called up the studio, said I needed to do an interview, said it was “Arnold Mann, Playboy.” It was at that point that I realized when you’ve got a big name behind you, it works miracles: The next morning Peter Falk and Alan Arkin called me up, and they had the whole thing prepared for me. They told me a wonderful story about how they grew up together and all. That was my first piece with my byline for Playboy.
ARONOFF: Great. Let’s get on to your current book. Again, the title—They’re Poisoning Us!: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico—An Investigative Report. Why did you write this book? How did you come to write it?
MANN: I think this book started out—I’ll tell you where it started out: I had written for Time magazine, I’d just finished the cover story on Keith Black, the neurosurgeon. My editor there, Barry Seaman, was doing some supplemental stories for various Time subscribers—we had family subscribers, there was a special section for the business subscribers. I remember proposing to Barry—I’d read about it years earlier, in medical journals—“Why don’t we do a story about sick building syndrome for the business subscribers?” And Barry said, “That’s a good idea. Go do it.” I went out looking for them [sick buildings]. Barry was expecting pretty much the same—we’d find a little chronic malaise in some place where there was some kind of environmental problem. We went out looking for sniffles and sneezes, respiratory problems, things like that, maybe some chronic fatigue. I wound up finding my way to the Southwest Airlines’ reservation center in San Antonio, where they had a very big mold problem. It had been going on for years. The employees, unfortunately, didn’t know about it, but it later came out that the company did. Instead of [respiratory problems and fatigue], we wound up finding seizures and strokes—in fact, one woman died. They were being hauled out of there by ambulances. This was a very serious thing. It was the first time I had encountered or thought of the idea of toxic mold, and I think it was the first national story on toxic mold—it was about 1998. I wound up doing a series of stories on it, cover stories for U.S.A. Weekend and Time—but U.S.A. Weekend primarily, three more: mold in homes, mold in schools, mold in offices. Then I came upon a doctor. Her name was Claudia Miller, and she showed me the bigger picture: It wasn’t just about toxic mold, it was about all different types of toxic exposures that we have in society today. It could be to pesticides, it could be exposures that Gulf War veterans suffered during the Persian Gulf War, it could be towards stachybotrys mycotoxins that are building, formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers after Katrina—and these initiating exposures can cause a multi-system disease which is pretty much a mystery disease today, and there are no real treatments for it. The symptoms can range from respiratory problems, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia all the way up to cognitive and memory impairment. In each exposure group, these symptoms seem to be the same. It’s as though one’s a perfect overlay for the next. That’s what led me to write this book: It was the big picture.
ARONOFF: What was the outcome with Southwest Airlines and the lawsuits that resulted from what you’d found?
MANN: There were seven women in the building who had suffered strokes, seizures, and who were chronically ill after the fact, and they did sue the building 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 they had been less than forthcoming about informing their employees about the problem. Their cases were all summarily dismissed in the Texas court. It was an unusual situation—it never should have happened. The courts should not have been adjudicating, because at that time the members of that particular courthouse were all flying on stolen Southwest Airlines tickets. So they should not have been adjudicating—I think they should have excused themselves from adjudicating in this case. The person at Southwest Airline who was in charge of giving out free tickets to inconvenienced travelers, her husband was a clerk at that court, and they were selling these tickets to all the court people. The court people didn’t realize they were stolen—they just bought them for next to nothing. They were flying on these free tickets.
ARONOFF: That’s amazing. Was anyone ever prosecuted? Was this criminal activity?
MANN: It was, and, in fact, the two people who were involved in this particular scam were prosecuted and convicted. At the same time, there was an investigation of the court people who had bought all the tickets, right up to the judges.
ARONOFF: I remember when this happened. At the time, following your U.S.A. Weekend article, there was just a big uproar. The stories about toxic mold—it seemed like it was going to be a huge story with lots of litigation. Did it become a story of that kind of magnitude? What happened to the story in terms of litigation? In terms of the interest of the news media? In terms of the reality of it?
MANN: I think the news media was fairly interested in it. You’ll still see stories about schools having to close down and children being sick in schools, apartment buildings, and such. 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, and to say that that is where this person got sick from—whereas, with asbestos, there’s no question asbestos causes asbestosis and mesothelioma. There’s no question about it. So if you were exposed 25 years ago, you can document it, and you have mesothelioma today, it’s a slam-dunk in the courts. That, and they were able to group all of these mesothelioma patients into these big class-action suits. There just weren’t enough mold cases to do that, so the lawyers kind of lost interest in it. It was too hard to fight in court on medical claims. The best you could do was respiratory, but the really major symptoms like cognitive and memory impairment, things like that, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, never really made it off the bench, if you will, the science bench, into the courts. It was too difficult to—
ARONOFF: You do one chapter in this book about a CDC study of some Cleveland infants. Why don’t you tell us that story? I think that’s really one of the more powerful stories in this book.
MANN: Yes. This started in about 1993, 1994, at Cleveland’s Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, which is one of the three biggest children’s hospitals in the United States. A Dr. Dorr Dearborn started noticing that children—and not just children, but babies, infants—were being brought in with their lungs hemorrhaging. Their lungs were bleeding. Now, it was called idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis. That’s the technical term for it, for “pulmonary hemorrhaging” [of unknown origin]. In a big city hospital like that, you’d expect to see two or three cases of this maybe every ten years. But over the next ten months or so, Dorr Dearborn saw about ten cases. He found that there were ten cases—people were coming in left and right. So he called CDC. The CDC sent a team in the next day—that’s how big a deal this was—and they started looking for what could possibly be the cause of this outbreak. Ultimately, they came to the conclusion that it might be environmental. So Ruth Etzel, who was the CDC investigator at the time, brought in a special team. They did environmental physicals, essentially, of the people’s homes in which these children had become sick. To keep the study clean, they did control homes, where infants had not become sick. In all of the homes that they were able to test, where the infants had been sick, they found high levels of stachybotrys, whereas in the control homes there were no high levels of stachybotrys. So after an eight-month review of that data, the CDC cleared Ruth Etzel and her team to publish their findings, and they did in the Journal of Pediatrics and Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. It was publishing not that the stachybotrys caused the pulmonary hemorrhaging—rather, there was simply an association between the two. But that was enough. That was pretty scary—especially for the insurance industry, because when you get a toxic exposure like this, you’re looking at litigation, too.
ARONOFF: Now where would people normally be exposed to that? Tell us, just briefly, and not too technical, about the stachybotrys. Where would people be exposed to it? How do you describe it?
MANN: Okay. Any water-damaged building where the building is not remediated or dried out right away—any cellulose products within that building, whether it’s fiberboard or the wallboards that are used, any cellulose product whatsoever, when it becomes wet, becomes mold food, and a mold bloom will occur. After a while—after several weeks or a month, or a couple of months—a stachybotrys mold, which is the most toxic, will eventually start growing as well. This produces a very toxic mycotoxin, and it just enters the air, and it’s very toxic.
ARONOFF: Now, a couple of links that are very interesting in here.
ARONOFF: The CDC and Prudential, and what seems—
MANN: Okay. What happened—
ARONOFF: Yes. Go ahead. Tell us that. Seemed like a conflict of interest there—
MANN: What happened was, after Dorr Dearborn, Ruth Etzel, and the CDC team published their findings, in 1999 it was announced, by the CDC, that they were bringing in an outside panel of experts to re-review Ruth Etzel and Dorr Dearborn’s data. It’s unheard of. The CDC team had found association, and they were calling in an outside team to re-review it! And within six months to a year, the CDC came out with a statement that the data was all flawed, and that no association whatsoever could be found between the stachybotrys in these homes and the pulmonary hemorrhaging occurring in these infants. It caused a huge buzz throughout the environmental community and other science areas. First of all, that the CDC would call an outside panel of experts in to do this—it turned out that the “outside panel of experts,” half of them had been defense-side witnesses in mold cases on behalf of industry—the insurance industry in particular, and also housing, and things like that—testifying against people who were sick, which, of course, was a conflict of interest. Half of them had done that.
In addition to that—and this is something that I came across—I went looking for who was the Director of the CDC at the time, because all of this came out of the CDC Director’s office. When they published the retraction of their own researchers’ findings in MMWR—which is Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, the CDC report—there were no authors given, only the Office of the Director. The Director of the CDC at that time, he turned out to be—and this is why everybody was so surprised—the immediate past President of Prudential Insurance. His name was Dr. Jeffrey Koplan. He was the Director of the CDC at the time by Presidential appointment, and, prior to that, from 1994 to 1998, he had served as the Director and President of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research, and he’s currently a Vice President of Global Health and Director of the Global Health Institute at Emory University, Atlanta. But the point was—and I can’t make sense of it—how can a President of an insurance company be made Director of CDC? 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.
ARONOFF: Okay. That sounds like such a blatant conflict of interest.
MANN: Yes . . .
ARONOFF: Was there any media that was looking at it at the time and exposing it? Or were you the one who discovered this years later?
MANN: There was a lot of media when the first study with the Cleveland infants took place, and it was determined that there was an association between the stachybotrys and the sick babies. However, there wasn’t a whole lot of media when the CDC took it back. There just wasn’t. I will add that, according to Dorr Dearborn—and I talked to him recently—that the original ten infants have now grown to 50—over 50 infants!—with five deaths at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, and the CDC has not permitted, or did not permit, Ruth Etzel or Dorr Dearborn to do any follow-up studies of this at all. He suspects that there is a very large number of infants who are dying of pulmonary hemorrhaging nationally. This is all inner city homes, and Cleveland is a very damp area, and these were water-damaged inner city homes, the ones with the sick babies were all [stachy’d]. And in fact, of the 50-something [babies with pulmonary hemorrhaging] that they’ve had since, all the homes they’ve investigated have had high levels of stachybotrys.
ARONOFF: What does this Jeffrey Koplan say about this?
MANN: I don’t know.
ARONOFF: He was the head of CDC during this, and he was the head of Prudential—
MANN: Well, he was a President for Prudential.
ARONOFF: A President? Okay.
MANN: And he went directly from that to CDC. He had had a CDC career prior to going to Prudential, a distinguished one, and then to Prudential, and back to CDC as Director. And I did contact his office. He declined to be interviewed.
ARONOFF: Okay. Let’s go on to another subject in this book. There are so many you cover, we’re obviously not going to be able to get to all of it. Gulf War Syndrome is another topic you cover. Again, the title of the book is They’re Poisoning Us!: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico. So tell us a little about this. It’s been a controversial subject. First, tell us what “Gulf War Syndrome” is. Let’s start there.
MANN: “Gulf War Syndrome” is like any of the other environmental illnesses that we’ve been talking about up until now. It starts off with an initiating exposure, and then is perpetuated by a sensitivity to things that never used to bother people, chemical sensitivities that never used to bother people in the environment. That can range from anything from scented products to gasoline fumes, a little pesticide, bleach. Their brains, really, become hyper-sensitized to these things, and they wind up with multiple system symptoms. Now, 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. Another thing that they were exposed to was organophosphate pesticides. The areas, before they set up tents, were bombed with organophosphate pesticides for fear that they would bring back disease from fleas, etc. And they were even wearing flea collars. The tents, inside, were all sprayed with pesticides. In fact, their uniforms were even sprayed with pesticides. So they had a lot of pesticide exposure.
ARONOFF: Okay. Could it be—does it require a combination of these things, like from burning oil wells to pesticides, or could some people get this from just one of those or the other one? Is that known?
MANN: There is one more I’d like to mention quickly, first—and that is sarin.
MANN: 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. Wherever the toxic exposure occurs, this is what happens. And it doesn’t happen to everybody.
ARONOFF: There have been studies that I’ve seen that have said, “Look: This is not something that, if you go to your doctor, you’ve got a number of these symptoms, and you say, ‘Doctor, can you test me and see what’s the matter?,’ there’s not a result of a test that comes up positive that makes them say, ‘Ah-ha! You have this, that shows you have Gulf War Syndrome!’” So, therefore, is it a real, definable illness? Is it true that these symptoms are much more frequent in this universe of people who were in the Gulf War versus the general population?
MANN: Yes. You’re right about that: This will not show up on an MRI scan—although I will say that the studies done by Robert Haley, at the University of Texas, with funding by the VA, which was ordered by Congress, did show that in Gulf War troops who came back sick, there were areas of the brain that had been damaged. He was able to see the damage in specific areas of the brain, and was able to watch, in these veterans who had it, when they were performing certain tasks while under various scanning techniques, different parts of their brains would light up than in normal veterans who had not been deployed to the Gulf. So, in a sense, there is no definitive diagnostic tool to determine who has Gulf War Syndrome, or that this is Gulf War Syndrome. What you have, instead, is a constellation of symptoms, multiple system symptoms, and they all have it—whether it’s a civilian who was exposed to stachybotrys mycotoxins, or formaldehyde in a FEMA trailer, or whether somebody was exposed to something in the Gulf War, they all have the same constellation of symptoms consisting of chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, cognitive and memory problems. This is the way it’s diagnosed now.
ARONOFF: Okay. Now what has been the position of the Veterans Administration, of the White House—we’ve basically had five Presidents—
ARONOFF: —this has existed under. What about Congress? Has this been a cover-up, do you think? Has it been met head-on? Did they come to different conclusions than you have? What’s the story?
MANN: In 1990, when the guys and women came back sick—and I will say that it’s an overwhelming number, Roger. Of the 700,000 troops that went over to the Persian Gulf 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—it was the Senate Banking Committee he was heading up, he had a Senatorial investigation and he dragged them in—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. Why did they cover it up? The reason why is because, during the Reagan era, when Saddam Hussein was an ally of ours, we sent him the materials to make his chemical weapons arsenal to fight the Kurds and the Iranians. He was our ally, and we supplied him with those materials. That was evidenced by the export licenses for those materials that were issued by the Commerce Department. These surfaced, and that’s how Riegle got hold of all this, how they found out about the chemical weapons and, eventually, the exposures. So there was a big cover-up, and the reason why is because, I think, certain entities didn’t want to admit that we had supplied him with those chemical weapons, and we sent our troops into harm’s way unprepared for the kind of danger we were going to face.
ARONOFF: What about the media? Did they participate in this cover-up?
MANN: That’s a good question. I think the media was just—I don’t know if I want to put it this way, but until Riegle came out with the thing, the media was out to lunch. They didn’t know about it. Nobody did. Nobody really knew. I mean, 60 Minutes would have guys come on from the war, in 1992 or so, and it became evident that a lot of these soldiers were sick. That was getting press. The media was paying attention to that. But the media, as far as the cover-up with regards to the chemical weapons exposure, had no clue until after Senator Riegle’s investigation that there were even any chemical weapons there.
ARONOFF: Let’s jump to last year’s BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, because, clearly, there were no chemical weapons there, but yet, I guess, the conclusion that you’ve come to is that people who were around there or have been exposed to the chemicals from what happened there are afflicted with the same sort of syndrome as the Gulf War syndrome. Is that accurate?
MANN: That’s correct, and I can tell you what the exposures were: 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. These are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene—these are 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. I might add that Clint Guidry—he’s the head of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association—gave me a vivid description. He had cousins out there on one of those boats. They’d round up all that oil with booms, all day long they’d round that stuff up, and then they would light it on fire. And they would have a hose connected to the boom from their boat—they’d be 100, maybe 200 feet away—pumping water into the boom to keep it from burning so that the oil would continue to be contained while it was burning. Here they were, literally at the base of this, eating all of those toxins. 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.
ARONOFF: How would you rate the government response to the BP oil spill?
MANN: On a scale of what?
ARONOFF: One to ten? One being the worst, ten being wonderful.
MANN: Three. At best.
ARONOFF: Why? What was going on?
MANN: The air samplings, for one thing, that were done. Number one is, BP didn’t do any physicals of any of the workers until two to three months into the cleanup—not until the end of June. They didn’t do any blood tests or anything. That’s number one. So if a worker, after the fact, becomes sick and he has benzene in his blood, you’re not going to be able to tell whether he got it from that oil spill or whether he had it coming in. It’s been pointed out that this was a strategy by BP to protect themselves from litigation—
ARONOFF: Wait a minute. Didn’t the government, from early on, step in? Carol Browner was on Meet the Press, and basically said that they had taken over, and BP was doing what they were telling them to do. Plus, BP doesn’t have the benefit of having the CDC or the different medical aspects, so was it the government that should have been—
MANN: Let’s put it this way: It was too little, too late. That’s number one. Not only that, but you have these guys out there, sitting there, hooked up to these things during the burn-off, and they’re not wearing any protective equipment. No respirators. So they’re just eating all this stuff.
MANN: In fact, 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.
ARONOFF: You identified—
MANN: People were denied protective equipment.
ARONOFF: You identified Exxon, for one, making a “secret”—as you describe it—$2 million settlement with one of the workers.
ARONOFF: What was that about? How extensive were these sort of secret deals?
MANN: Exxon workers . . . that was Stubblefield, I believe. He was the only one who really got any money. He was just very sick, and I guess he pursued it to the point where they finally paid him off to get rid of him. But all the rest of the suits went nowhere. In fact, Exxon—it was learned by Riki Ott, who was an activist down there—at the Exxon-Valdez, paid each worker $600, and that was for a release for Exxon from any possible medical problems they may have in the future.
ARONOFF: Tell us the scope of the impact. We’re just over a year from this happening—it happened April 20th, a year ago—
ARONOFF: What is the scope? How many people are exposed to this in the Gulf area? What is being done about it today?
MANN: There was a fellow from the Huffington Post who went down there—his name was Cope—and he said the time that he was down there, about half the people were sick along the shoreline there. They were sick all over the place. These are respiratory problems, and a lot of them are reporting memory problems today, too. But there are thousands of people down there—apparently, this is being reported by the Louisiana Environmental Action Network—who are having chronic respiratory problems, memory problems, everything you see with the Gulf War veterans as well. It’s not being reported in the local newspapers, though—they tell me, the Louisiana Environmental Action Network—it’s just not being picked up. They said, “You’ve got to understand: This is Oil Alley.”
ARONOFF: But there haven’t been any real studies? Because you say thousands—it’s not tens or hundreds of thousands?
MANN: There haven’t been any real studies yet, Roger. They’re launching studies now, to see about the health impact of this thing. But you know what happens? 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.
ARONOFF: So is the Obama administration doing anything to protect or champion these victims, these people who have been exposed? What is the government’s position now towards these people when they come with these illnesses?
MANN: Not that I know of. 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.
ARONOFF: What should they be doing?
MANN: 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. It’s like going back to the Civil War and looking and saying, “They didn’t have any concept of the germ theory of disease!” Claudia Miller pointed this out at the University of Texas. All they knew was, these people had fevers. Now we look, today, at people with all these multiple system symptoms, and we don’t know what the underlying mechanism for this is following a toxic exposure. It’s neurologic, it also involves the immune system because everything that hits the brain will involve every other system in the body—which is why they have multiple system symptoms. But until they figure out what the underlying mechanism is—and it’s very complex—they’re not going to be able to develop treatments for it. I think money should be going in this direction, and you don’t see it. You didn’t see it in the VA when all the guys were coming back sick, and even until today, it’s been a struggle to get any funding whatsoever. 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.
ARONOFF: Sum it up for us, this “mystery illness.” First of all, one question: The title of your book—They’re Poisoning Us!: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico—“They.” Who are “They”?
MANN: “They?” That would be any employer who allows his employees to work in what he knows is a toxic environment without informing them. Could be anyone. A school administration that knows there’s a toxic environment in a school, but hides it and allows children to become sick. An employer who does the same in an environment like Southwest Airlines.’ They knew for years—
MANN: 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.”
ARONOFF: Sum it up in the sense of the Gulf War, the toxic mold in the buildings, the BP spill—what do they have in common that we see? What can be done about this to change this situation?
MANN: The thing that they have in common is, in each case where somebody becomes sick, there is an initiating toxic exposure, and then people become sensitized to everyday chemicals in the environment that never previously bothered them—perfumes, you name it. It’s these sensitivities to everyday things in the environment that keeps them having these symptoms. The toxic exposure is done and gone, but their brains are on hyper-alert, if you will, and they are hyper-sensitive to everything in their environment that doesn’t bother people who have not suffered a toxic exposure like that. That’s true of the Gulf War veterans, it’s true of people of industry who have suffered toxic exposure, the FEMA trailers—even the people who worked in the EPA building when they put new carpet in it. They came out with it—they ended up with hundreds of people sick there, and they’re still sick. This is the common thread that runs through all of them: They all have multiple system symptoms, and they all have these new-onset chemical intolerances. This is what’s driving it, whether it’s the Gulf War or it’s the Gulf of Mexico.
ARONOFF: This is a powerful indictment of a lot of very powerful industries and institutions in our society—of the insurance industry, of the oil industry, of the medical research industry, and the government itself. You’ve taken on some very powerful interests. What is that like? Have you had any blowback? When you decided to put this book out there that’s really a stunning indictment of all of those, what were your feelings about doing that? What’s been the reaction?
MANN: I’ve been doing this for years, in a sense. You just do it, Roger—you know what I mean? 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.
ARONOFF: I want to tell our listeners that I believe Arnie has done that, done this fairly and thoroughly. It’s well-documented—if you read this, it does document this, medical studies, reports, names names. It’s a powerful piece and a powerful indictment of many of these institutions in our society. Solutions: What solutions do you offer? What do you want to see done as a result of this book being out there?
MANN: The first thing I’d like to see is, 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. Hopefully, some of that is going to change. There’ll be alternative energies that will come along, I’m sure. It won’t be in the best financial interests of certain business entities, I’m afraid, but they’ll evolve as well. I think it’s just going to evolve. I hope it does. But in the meantime, I hope people become much more conscious of the damage that can be caused by these toxic exposures, and they’ll be a little bit more on the lookout for them, for themselves, for their loved ones, their children, their schools, and everywhere else. As this becomes more a part of our consciousness, I think you’ll see greater responsibility on the part of those who are in control—the school boards, businesses, and such—because they have to be. Because, eventually, either they do, or it’s going to hurt them.
ARONOFF: I also would like to mention the book he wrote before this—it’s an amazing book, and I think everyone should be made aware of it. It’s called Brain Surgeon: A Doctor’s Inspiring Encounters with Mortality and Miracles, by Arnold, along with Keith Black, who is one of the, if not the, leading neurosurgeons. Again, he was the subject of a Time magazine cover story that Arnold did in 1997. Just give us your tout on that. It’s an incredible read, also, and I want people to go back and get that one, too. Tell us a little about that, and then tell people where they can find both books—and find your website.
MANN: Yes. The Keith Black book was a great book to write. It just was. I spent a year in residence with Keith at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center here in Los Angeles, in and out of surgeries with him. But more than that, I got to visit with his patients. I’ll tell you something: It’s a privilege. When somebody is hit by something like a brain tumor, or brain cancer, they want to talk. They want to be known. It strips away all the vanities. And if you’re a journalist, if you’re an interviewer, it’s just so wonderful to spend time with these people, because they have so much to say—and you learn things from them about the value of life, family, relationships, and all that. Keith said quite a bit about that in the book. The other thing is, you know what? As much as the war against an environmental illness, in terms of what’s going on in the science, in the labs, and how frustrating it is—man, the science, in terms of brain cancer, is just as daunting. And he’s attacking that from every angle you can imagine: Brain tumor vaccines; surgery, yes; various blood-brain barrier things, opening that up to chemotherapy. They’re doing everything they can. Certain brain tumors . . . they’re a death sentence. Like the one that took Ted Kennedy, a glioblastoma multiforme. It’s as formidable as any type of environmental illness I can come across. These are the areas of medicine, the front lines, if you will, where they are just fighting death on a daily basis, and the human stories that come out of this are wonderful. I think Dr. Black, at the same time, is a spectacular human being, besides being one of the greatest surgeons, I think, in the world.
ARONOFF: Okay. Where can they find your books? Where can they find your websites?
MANN: For my website, you go to arnoldmann.net. You can get the book through the website, but it’s available on Amazon, any bookstore can order it through Ingram, it’s available at Barnes & Noble—
ARONOFF: Okay, and they can learn more about you at arnoldmann.net?
ARONOFF: Do you have any final thoughts?
MANN: It’s been great, Rog. Thank you very much.
ARONOFF: The name of the book is They’re Poisoning Us!: From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico—An Investigative Report, by Arnold Mann. Been great having you today on Take AIM!