Greenpeace has stepped up its anti-PVC campaign, charging that a leaked Vinyl Institute memo indicates the scientist who did a major industry study on PVC and dioxin was hired after it was determined that he was ``sympathetic'' to plastics.
Industry officials dispute the allegation, and noted that the study was peer-reviewed by an independent engineering society. They said that while the industry paid for most of the work, it did not try to influence the results.
The sides have tangled before about evidence marshaled in the PVC debate. The arguments now include videotape of Greenpeace members in black fatigues surreptitiously taking samples from PVC plants; legal threats from the industry; and Environmental Protection Agency staffers accusing each other of improper conduct.
Vinyl Institute lawyers, for example, sent a letter to Greenpeace April 18 saying that the environmental group's use of the phrase ``PVC — The Poison Plastic'' raises trade libel issues. Greenpeace, in turn, released a letter from one EPA official accusing another of improperly presenting the study at a conference, ``thereby giving the industry study the appearance of EPA approval and sponsorship.''
At the heart of the onslaught is Greenpeace's kick-off April 22 of its anti-PVC campaign in the United States, with calls for a consumer boycott of the material. The group also released three studies designed to bolster its claim that ``the largest single source of dioxin today is from the life cycle of PVC,'' said Rick Hind, Greenpeace's legislative director. Dioxin has been linked to cancer and other health problems.
Part of that campaign is an attack on what has become a major industry study rebutting links between PVC and dioxin, a study that the environmental group charges was ``commissioned to reach a predetermined result.''
That charge is based on an Aug. 22, 1994, industry memo that said a Vinyl Institute working group interviewed the study's author before hiring him and decided he was ``user friendly (i.e., willing to set his priorities to our needs) and appears to be sympathetic to plastics, vinyl, PVC'' and chlorine.
The memo, written by Don Goodman, a manager at Occidental Chemical Corp. and chairman of the Vinyl Institute's Incineration Task Force, went on to propose that the scientist, H. Gregor Rigo, the president of Rigo & Rigo Associates Inc. of Berea, Ohio, may need to be paid an extra $20,000 from a contingency fund to serve as an ``expert witness or advocate to talk about the report.''
Greenpeace charged that giving out money to promote a study that had yet to be done indicates ``there was some expectation that Rigo's study, on behalf of the [American Society of Mechanical Engineers], would produce conclusions that would be useful to VI.''
The Vinyl Institute in Morristown, N.J., is part of the Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.
A Vinyl Institute spokesman said hiring a sympathetic scientist was ``absolutely not'' important, and said the industry did not hire Rigo to steer the study toward a favorable conclusion. The study concluded that how incinerators are operated is important in determining dioxin emissions, and it did not find a ``significant relationship'' between chlorine going in and dioxin coming out.
William Carroll, vice president of chlorine-vinyl issues at OxyChem and VI spokesman, said he could not explain why Goodman mentioned in the memo that Rigo was sympathetic.
``It was an observation of his,'' said Carroll. ``I don't know that he speaks for the Vinyl Institute.''
Carroll said he was involved in early discussions about the study: ``I remember thinking, `I sure hope this comes out.' It was a risk to do that study.''
Carroll also said Goodman's proposal for an extra $20,000 was probably to pay for travel to present the report. ASME said the ``larger portion'' of the study was funded by the industry with some money from Environment Canada, that country's federal environmental agency. Greenpeace estimated the total cost at $150,000, with less than $15,000 from Environment Canada. An ASME spokeswoman said she did not dispute the Greenpeace estimate. ASME approached VI about hiring Rigo, she said.
Carroll said Rigo was hired because he had the best database on the topic.
An EPA official who heard both the VI report and one by Greenpeace at a conference late last year said EPA has not decided which report is more accurate.
Dwain Winters, director of the EPA's Dioxin Policy Project, said evidence is mixed on what connection exists between the chlorine that goes into an incinerator and the dioxin that comes out. He added that the connection in commercial incinerators is ``more ambiguous'' than evidence produced in laboratories. EPA's report is expected by early 1998.
Greenpeace reviewed the Rigo data and found that in 25 of 37 medical and municipal incinerators, dioxin concentrations increased when hydrogen chloride, an indicator of chlorine feed, rose in the stack gas. The same increase was observed as chlorine levels rose in cement kilns, Greenpeace said.
VI's ``statistical findings do not support the conclusions they present in the text,'' said Pat Costner, the Greenpeace senior scientist who authored Greenpeace's report on the study.
But industry officials argue that Greenpeace is full of hot air.
Carroll said the Rigo study found that 89 percent of the incinerators did not see an increase in dioxin when chlorine was increased, while he said Greenpeace's analysis found that number dropped to only 81 percent.
Rigo could not be reached, but in a statement he denied that he used ``bad study design'' and said that even using Greenpeace's methods, his study's conclusions remained the same.
Both sides may be drawing different results from the same data because they are using different assessments of when a result is statistically significant. VI considers a result important if it is significant with at least 95 percent confidence, while Greenpeace's results include any increase in dioxin, no matter what the degree of confidence. About half the Greenpeace increases in municipal and medical incinerators were significant with at least 80 percent confidence.
Greenpeace also released the results of what it said was a 21/2-year effort to sneak into nine plants in Louisiana and Texas that produce the building blocks of PVC, remove waste and test it for dioxin. The group released a shadowy videotape of its members entering the plants at night, and said all 27 samples tested positive for dioxin.