Sunday, February 23, 2020


“Corporations are like protean bacteria; you hit them with accountability and they mutate and change their names.”  --Doug Anderson

Years ago I was employed by a plastic manufacturing company. Every time I punched my time card at the time clock, I would read the banner above the time clock, “Plastic is the solution to pollution.”  I was amused yet annoyed by the irony of such a motto.  It was obvious to me that plastic polluted.  I saw the pollution created by the manufacturing process.  I witnessed some of the workers leave the building covered in a white chemical dust.  They were the employees who worked directly with the chemicals in the compound room that created the company’s plastic. None wore any kind of protective clothing.  The plastic that was being manufactured was called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and it was implicated in a specific rare liver cancer (angiosarcoma).  It is now believed to have a 20-year latency period from time of exposure to cancer diagnosis. PVC is now considered a risk factor for a long list of cancers. Workers who handled the PVC were at the highest risk of a liver cancer called angiosarcoma (45 times more likely than other people to get this kind of cancer).  Inhaling PVC particles, skin contact, and ingesting it (for example, drinking water contaminated with PVC) are health risks for all people, not just for workers in the plastic industry.

Every day of the 6 months I worked at that company, I parked my car and walked across a little bridge to the company’s massive brick building.  It was winter in New York State and the creek that ran under the bridge was frozen.  Giant pipes ran next to the creek and rainbow-colored ice spilled from these pipes into the creek.   I figured out much later that the rainbow-colored ice must have been the chemicals used to create the plastics we molded.  That creek flowed into the Mohawk River which flowed into the Hudson River.  I can hear Pete Seeger singing, “sailing down my dirty stream, still I love it and I’ll keep the dream, that some day though, maybe not this year, My Hudson river, will once again run clear.”

It was the winter of 1973 and I was hired by this company to work on their Ford Torino assembly line.  They were hiring women for that particular assembly line.   I believe I was paid $2.10 per hour (minimum wage was $1.85/hour) for standing 8-10 hours per day assembling plastic strips to be pressed together, heated, and cooled.  I stood in one spot on a cement floor that had a large clock above me.  Time stood still as I watched the minute hand inch its way around the clock face.  Watching the clock made for long days.  I hated that clock and the job.  I convinced myself that the job was great, since good-paying jobs for women with little work experience had been hard to find.  But the work was repetitive, dangerous at times, and the treatment of women workers was childish.  If a woman had to go to the bathroom, she would have to raise her hand for permission.  I don’t remember any males having to raise their hands to go to the bathroom.

I got to know some of my co-workers at our two 10-minute breaks during the day and at our 30-minute lunches.  I learned rather quickly that the assembly line runs to the sweep of the company minute hand.   Most of the other women were older than me, married, and in their 30’s and 40’s.  What struck me about these women was their attitude towards life. They had a mental and physical strength that deserved respect.  Many spoke of their children and their desire for their children to have a better life than working in some factory job.  Some women were setting aside most of the money they earned for their children to go to college.  Would their children understand the sacrifices of these women?  Does a society respect the sacrifices women make to give their children a better life?

It was over 40 years ago that I worked for the “plastic is the solution to pollution” company.  I was there for a half a year but it felt like lifetime.  I promised myself that I would never work another assembly line.  And I never did work for another assembly line.  I have had other bad jobs, but never as bad as that job.  After working that very short time, I have an aversion to the smell of plastic. 

Writing about my long ago job experience triggered an interest in seeing, if the company still existed.   I found an abstract, “Health-hazard evaluation determination report No. 73-123-298, Campbell Plastics, Inc., Schenectady, New York.”

The evaluation was done by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) which was part of the CDC and the US Department of Health.  The investigation occurred on 4 dates; and 2 of those dates were, when I was employed by the company.  “The survey regarded exposure by inhalation of smoke, fumes, and vapor from work with polyvinyl chloride, toluene, and methyl ketone, and also skin contact with the same agents.”  According to the report 40% of the workers had “minor eye and respiratory irritation.”   I knew nothing about this investigation.  So this paper is a surprise to me.  It makes me glad I only worked there for 6 months.

Interestingly, I found another website that stated that the manufacturing plant I once worked for was the site of an EPA Superfund Site.  Superfund sites are areas that have been contaminated with hazardous waste that has not been managed properly. 

So the “plastic is the solution to pollution” company left a polluted toxic mess that the US Government had to clean up. And we, the people, pay the government through our taxes so that the mess gets cleaned up.  Did the company pay anything to clean up their mess?  I don’t know.  The arrogance of a company that dumped chemicals (known to be toxic and carcinogenic) into waterways and lands in the area, while espousing that plastics was the solution to pollution is beyond belief. The lack of regard for workers is a sad reminder that a company that does not care about the environment probably does not care about the health and well-being of its workers.

Tell a big lie, repeat it often enough and people will believe it.  Corporations often tell big and little lies through their company mottos, slogans, and advertisements.  Do we question those mottos, slogans or advertisements?  Or accept it because we have heard it so many times?  Unthinkingly, we may accept what corporations tell us about their products, even when we suspect that it is just propaganda.  We want to believe what we are told because it is so much easier to go along with corporate fantasy. When the fantasy we are told to believe in collides with reality, we may reject the reality rather than face the discordant nature of our world. 

How many companies or corporations use false or distorted statements to sell their products?  The doublespeak or cognitive dissonance created by a plastic company to sell its products and its philanthropy is not uncommon.  Companies in the human milk business such as Prolacta, Evolve, Medela, etc use similar tactics.
Are their slogans, mottos, or advertisements supportive of breastfeeding?  Or does their financial interest in human milk take precedence over breastfeeding support.  Why does Medela consider itself “a long-time champion of breastfeeding?”—stated on their website.  Is that a true statement?  I consider La Leche League a long-time champion of breastfeeding.  Why does Medela use the same sales tactic as the infant formula industry?  They say on their website, “Medela’s breast pumps are the number one choice of healthcare professionals and healthcare facilities worldwide, including 80% of US hospitals.”  The infant formula industry sells its products based on being the number one choice of pediatricians and hospitals.  Who do we believe—the infant formula industry? Medela?
Medela says their products are based on research by world leading lactation experts.  Those world leading lactation experts appear to me to be funded by Medela (some are listed inventors to Medela patents) or the Family Larsson-Rosenquist Foundation (a corporate foundation that owns the Larsson Family’s companies, including Medela)

Meanwhile Prolacta Bioscience states that they are a for-profit milk bank.  Yet the FDA classifies their products as exempt infant formula—human milk-based infant formula.  Do you believe that this company is a milk bank or are they actually a human milk-based infant formula company?  Are we feeling some cognitive dissonance?
Evolve, a company that is selling its bifidobacterium to breastfeeding mothers, based on research on human milk states that they are “Pediatrician Recommended,” and “Clinically Proven.”  Clinically proven means through the company’s funded research.  While selling their product to breastfeeding mothers, they have partnered with RB (Reckitt Benckiser who bought out Mead Johnson) to sell the bacteria to the infant formula industry.

This world of ours is influenced by corporate propaganda.  The company paints a picture through words, music and art that often conflicts with what we know of as reality.  We read it, hear it and see it so much that we start to believe what the corporation wants us to believe.  Sometimes the message is so subtle that we believe what is against our best interests. 

Years ago I saw a colorful rainbow of ice sculpted into a frozen creek.  I didn’t see the toxins pouring into the earth and the water.  I was so entranced by the man-made spectacle of rainbow ice that I never dreamed that I was standing on a toxic time bomb.  Despite the company’s slogan, plastic is not the solution to pollution.  We now know that plastic is pollution. 
Copyright 2020 Valerie W. McClain

Tuesday, February 4, 2020


“I think the American people should see that the corporations abandoned them long ago.  That people will have to build their own economies and rebuild democracy as a living democracy. The corporations belong to no land, no country, no people.  They have no loyalty to anything apart from the base-line—their profits.  And the profits today are on unimaginable scale, it has become illegitimate, criminal profit—profits extracted at the cost of life.” Vandana Shiva

I heard the screech of the red-shouldered hawk.  Searching, searching for food in the barren wasteland we, humans call home.  Mother Earth:  poisoned, plundered, robbed; a land that has been bulldozed and beaten into submission.  “What to eat?”screeches the hawk. This is the man-made landscape of suffering in a world of avarice and greed.  The hawk surveys the land from her metal antennae perch. No trees in sight to sit upon.  A barren land, no food in sight; the hawk moves on, crying out her anger and frustration.

In every direction, land developers are laying claim to wetlands, beaches, and pine forests.  They say they will replace the land they destroyed with a natural landscape but all that we see are lawns, and the humming of water sprinklers to keep the lawns alive.  This is Florida, a subtropical paradise. We will be a land of velvet green useless lawns, high priced homes, big box stores, and toll roads that take you to nowhere.  A Disney World where few bugs exist because pesticides have eradicated most of them.  The promise of pest-free living creates a world of magical thinking.  Yet, people wonder where have the honey bees gone?  Where are the fireflies?  Where are the butterflies?

There is a saying, “Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”  Green lawns need water, lots of water.  And the cattle ranches residing on those ancient wetlands will need lots of water.  Our hamburger addiction means that the cattle industry has priority.  The destructive nature of cattle-raising is a result of a cattle industry utilizing large amounts of land, water, and grain crops.  Grain crops could feed more people.  Instead the grain goes to cattle.

A once free natural resource, water, has become a commodity.  This commodity bottled in plastic has created a huge environmental problem.  The disposal in landfills of all these plastic bottles is part of the problem.  Plastic bottles take some 400 years to disintegrate.  Meanwhile landfills are overflowing and needing to find more land.  In Florida we have our Mt. Trash-mores, our modern day middens of unwanted objects, aka garbage.  Treasures once worshipped on the altar of capitalism.

In my hometown land developers are building hundreds and hundreds of homes on wetlands and pine forests.  I am curious about the thousands of people who are supposedly moving into our small city.  Where are they coming from?  How do we know that all these people will be buying homes and moving into an area that has few job opportunities.   Maybe they are wealthy retired folks?  Where will the poorer folks go to live since housing will be so expensive?  Will they be living in tents on the street like in Los Angeles? Not in my backyard, say the wealthy homeowners.

Is this all purely land speculation by land developers?  Across Florida it appears that a lot of land will be bulldozed, thousands of wildlife (animals and vegetation) killed in order to make room for a massive human population boom.  One of several reasons why people move to Florida is because of the natural environment.  Will people want to move here, as the environment becomes more and more degraded, filled with dead and dying wildlife,  blue-green algae (cyanobacteria)covering our rivers and canals?

Meanwhile, men and women of lactology (scientists who study human milk feeding) are disemboweling human milk to make a more perfect substance for babies and children.  Because they believe that nature cannot be trusted and its presence means that it is free to exploit.  Do they consider the ramification of such exploitation?  Not only are they exploiting a substance, but they are exploiting women and babies while pretending to support breastfeeding.  They will create a huge network of milk banks.  They just know that human milk in a bottle is equivalent to breastfeeding.  Of course one must pasteurize the substance and since it has to be cleaned up one has to add back the substances that were destroyed by pasteurization.  Those additives will be almost like the real substances in human milk because now modern science has genetic engineering.

Like water, human milk has become a commodity.  The corporation buys up the water for a token price or sometimes gets it for free.  The human milk industry does the same thing.  This commodification requires plastic packaging-bottles-and therefore creates an environmental problem.  Plastic, endocrine disruptors, leach various chemicals into the contents of the bottles. Consequently these products also create health issues depending on the kind of plastics used and the environmental conditions in which they are stored.

Water in bottles is promoted as better for your health than the soda pops or energy drinks and it is a better choice.  Human milk in a bottle is considered better than infant formula and it also is a better choice.  What once was a free substance has now become something that must be purchased.  Now the ownership and control of water and human milk resides with the corporations.  Economic independence and even survival, itself, becomes very difficult; when what nature provides is no longer free.

After 70 years of creating supposedly better and better infant formulas, scientists still recognize that infant formula cannot duplicate breastfeeding.  Tragically, many infants die because the general public has no real understanding of the protective nature of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers.  Just as the corporate world of greed clear-cuts Amazon forests in “ignorance” to the health of the planet; the human milk industry strips human milk into various components looking for a magic bullet to sell to consumers.
Is the corporate world ignorant of the ramifications?  The reality is that the corporate world is not so ignorant.  Rather they have made a choice, to present their bought and paid-for science as scientific truths.  The corporate ideology is profits before people.  Destroy a pine forest in speculation and watch the vultures feast upon the lifeless victims of forest life.  Destroy breastfeeding and replace it with a plastic bottle of denatured human milk and additives.  Watch the vultures circling overhead as women and children suffer the consequences of breastfeeding destroyed.  Can one ever replace what has been destroyed?
Copyright 2020 Valerie W. McClain