The Kochs and Cancer in a Small Town

The Kochs and Cancer in a Small Town

 A new documentary shows how a plant owned by Georgia Pacific has had some disastrous consquences for nearby residents.


One of the early storylines about Koch Industries involved its efforts to attack scientific evidence that formaldehyde causes cancer. It was first exposed by Kevin Grandia at DeSmogBlog last fall, and Jane Mayer’s seminal New Yorker story explored it as well. In short, while a member of George W. Bush’s National Cancer Advisory Board, David Koch was helping the Formaldehyde Council, a DC lobbying group, to question scientific research that the chemical could be lethal. At the same time, Koch co-owned Georgia Pacific, which uses formaldehyde extensively in its manufacturing operations.

In the reductive, oppositional world of DC politics, it can be easy to forget that real human beings are affected—sometimes disastrously so—by ideology and policy. Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films has just released a heartbreaking mini-documentary that puts a human face on the consequences of Georgia Pacific’s use of formaldehyde at a plant in Crossett, Arkansas. That plant has dumped millions of gallons of waste into the area’s water system, which violates the Clean Water Act—yet they’ve done so for years, while also paying a lot of money to discredit the idea that formaldehyde is bad for people.

But along one road in Crossett, near the Georgia Pacific plant, a disturbing number of residents are now dying of cancer. In fifteen families, eleven people have died of cancer and others are currently sick. A USA Today study says the town’s schools are in the first percentile for exposure to carcinogens.

Here’s the full, sad tale:

Republicans have recently stepped up their attacks on the supposedly burdensome, job-killing alphabet soup of government agencies. Rick Perry, for example, prayed for an end to EPA regulations and opened his campaign by saying the agency “won’t know what hit ’em” if he is elected president. Perry, it should be noted, has taken quite a bit of money from the Koch brothers and attended secret Koch events as recently as this summer.

So when Perry, or politicians like him, go on about getting government out of the way, or bash well-established scientific evidence—it’s useful to remember what that can mean for real people. If the next GOP debate moderator is looking for a real zinger that will put soundbites about government regulation to the test, he or she might ask about what’s been going on in Crossett.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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