The Poison Papers: How an Activist Joined Forces with Investigative Journalists to Document the Hidden History of Herbicide Hazards

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CHE-Alaska Teleconference: Recorded April 25, 2018

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About the Call:

Community activist Carol Van Strum and investigative journalists Peter von Stackelberg and Eric Francis Coppolino discuss how they met decades ago and recently worked together on “The Poison Papers,” a project to create a searchable online archive inspired by Van Strum’s extraordinary collection of three tons (literally) of documents about the chemical industry.

Her collection is the result of more than 40 years of involvement in various lawsuits against the federal government and chemical manufacturers, including lawsuits to end aerial herbicide spraying in her small community in Oregon’s Coast Range where several decades ago her community was sprayed by a helicopter with 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D – the components of Agent Orange – that was meant to treat timber on nearby public land.

The documents contained in “The Poison Papers” detail fraud in laboratory testing, efforts to conceal chemical research, and the influence of chemical manufacturers on regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On this call, you will hear how Van Strum assisted other communities and environmental groups on similar cases, amassing over 6,000 documents (more than 150,000 pages)  about the chemical industry through lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests. You will also hear Eric Francis Coppolino and Peter von Stackelberg share their reflections on the importance of investigative journalism in uncovering the truth about herbicides, dioxins, PCBs and other chemicals.

Speakers:

Carol van Strum is a writer, editor, farmer, parent, and chronic thorn in the side of those who endanger the health and safety of people and the environment. She lives and works in the Oregon Coast Range and is part of an ongoing effort to achieve a ban on aerial spraying in Lincoln County. Van Strum’s book, A Bitter Fog: Herbicides and Human Rights (1983; 2014) pits the experiences of people exposed to forest spraying against the fraudulent studies underlying EPA pesticide regulation, which ultimately convinced federal courts to ban pesticide use on national forests. In 2018, Carol received the international David Brower Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition for her outstanding environmental and social justice work.

Eric Francis Coppolino is the executive director of Chiron Return, Inc., the small nonprofit organization coordinating The Gemstone File, a collection of documents formerly referred to as the “Poison Papers.” He is an internationally-published, award-winning investigative journalist, broadcaster and publisher. As an investigative reporter, Eric has specialized in corporate fraud and toxic torts litigation involving some of the world’s most powerful corporations. Among journalists, he is considered one of the world’s leading experts on the menace of PCBs, dioxins and other forms of chlorine pollution, and the corporate scandals which led to their existence. Eric Francis Coppolino is also producer and host of Planet Waves FM.

Peter von Stackelberg is an Award-winning Canadian investigative journalist, writer, and publisher. Over a career of more than 40 years, Peter has written thousands of news stories, briefs, and reports on environmental issues, technological change, issues shaping the future of global society, and a multitude of other topics. In early 2016 Peter began scanning and digitizing more than 6,000 documents for the Gemstone File, a project which took 18 months.

Links:

Oregon Rights of Nature Advocate Receives International Environmental Lifetime Achievement Award (News release 02/28/2018)

The Poison Papers website

100,000 Pages of Chemical Industry Secrets Gathered Dust in an Oregon Barn for Decades – Until Now (The Intercept, July 2017)

How an Oregon Activist’s Barn Produced The “Poison Papers” (Oregon Public Broadcasting August 2017)

Fighting for Life in the Siuslaw National Forest (The Corvallis Advocate, September 20, 2017)

Carol van Strum and Susan Parker: Just Stories

Additional websites and articles referenced during call: