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EMF Studies

19 October 2012

Interview With Investigative Reporter Arnold Mann, Author of "They're Poisoning Us"

"I can only imagine what it is like to have one’s life taken away by a toxic exposure and then to have doctors turn their backs on you while government and industry conspire to suppress the science that is your only hope," says Arnold Mann, author of "They're Poisoning Us".

This article first appeared at Ability Maine, a website created by people who are disabled and friends of the disability community in Maine. It is a look at multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) in the United States, from the Gulf War illness to the toxic effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Countries in Europe now recognize MCS as a physical disability. There are parallels to electro-hypersensitivity (EHS); the two disabilities are inter-related. Both are often perceived wrongly as psychosomatic by a medical profession that is dominated by industry interests. People with MCS and EHS tend to isolate themselves because they are regarded by slackers and hypochondriacs by fellow workers, family and friends. Scientists who choose to do research on MCS and EHS are often discredited and in danger of losing their funding. 

Investigative health and science reporter Arnold Mann has written a book about MCS, "They Are Poisoning Us". He is interviewed here by Sharon Wachsler from Ability Maine.

“How Do They Sleep at Night?”
Author and Investigative Reporter, Arnold Mann, on Corporate Malice and Government Coverups -
Interview by Sharon Wachsler, posted on 16 March 2012 (near complete text. See here for full text.) 

Arnold Mann has been an investigative health and science reporter for 30 years, writing cover stories for Time and USA Weekend. His most recent book is They’re Poisoning Us! From the Gulf War to the Gulf of Mexico — An Investigative Report.

Question: You were the reporter who brought public attention to Stachybotrys (“toxic mold”) ten years ago. How did you get from mold to chemicals?

Arnold Mann: Actually, when I started writing about “Toxic Mold,” I had no idea what I was getting into. That first Time Magazine story was supposed to be a short piece about sick building syndrome (SBS) for the magazine’s business readers. I went out looking for things like respiratory problems and fatigue, and what I found at Southwest Airlines’ mold-infested Reservations Center at San Antonio was memory loss, seizures, strokes and death. One woman died from a second stroke after being hauled away by ambulance. 

That led to a series of cover stories on toxic mold in homes, schools and apartment buildings. But it wasn’t until I interviewed Dr. Claudia Miller at the University of Texas that I saw the big picture—a nationwide epidemic of initiating toxic exposures, from the new carpeting off-gassing in the EPA’s own Washington Headquarters, to the formaldehyde-leaching FEMA trailers, to the many toxic exposures that rendered hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans permanently disabled, to the 9-11 workers, and now to the thousands of Gulf of Mexico residents with MCS one year after the BP spill. It’s all part of the same MCS [multiple chemical sensitivity] epidemic.

Q: What is They’re Poisoning Us about?

A: It’s the heart-wrenching story about the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside-down by toxic exposures. It’s about their struggle to find medical help in a world dominated by industry interests that prefer to see MCS swept under the carpet, and a medical mainstream that would prefer to write off what they do not understand as psychosomatic. And it’s about the physicians and researchers who have risked their careers to treat MCS as best they can and try to get to the bottom of this medical mystery. And progress is being made.

Q: You initially had difficulty finding someone with SBS to “put a human face” on the problem because either they were suing or were afraid of losing their jobs if they spoke publicly. What other factors keep chemically injured people hidden?

A: I’ve found that a lot of people with MCS tend to isolate themselves, often because they are regarded as slackers or hypochondriacs by former coworkers, family, and friends. This, I think, is one of the most tragic features of MCS, and I hope that this book will help the friends and loved ones of people with MCS understand what they are going through and that it is not all in their heads. And the fact that they do not get well is the fault of the medical establishment, political influence on the part of industry, and a failure on the part of government to do its job and get this thing into the research labs where it belongs. 

Q: Which members of the medical establishment? Who in government – individuals or agencies – is failing us? Is it by neglect or by active cover-ups?

A: The American Academy of Allergy and Immunology dismisses MCS as a “subjective” illness. According to a CDC statement, “there is considerable doubt as to whether or not it actually exists.” For years, the Veterans Administration insisted that Gulf War illness was due to battlefield stress, until a Congressional mandate forced the VA to fund a $75 million study that showed it came from battlefield exposures. Then there’s the American Academy of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s position statement on mold, which stood for years as an impermeable barrier to anyone claiming mold-related illness in court, until it was revealed that the authors of the statement were making their livings testifying in court on behalf of insurance companies. So it’s no wonder that MCS patients are left out in the cold by mainstream medicine. Physicians who legitimately attempt to treat MCS patients often come under attack by their state medical boards. And those who choose to do research on chemical sensitivity usually wind up losing their university funding.

Q: Was there anything you learned in writing They’re Poisoning Us that particularly surprised you?

A: Yes. How some people sleep at night. For instance: how Southwest Airlines management conceal a toxic mold problem in their San Antonio Reservations Center for years, even as employees were being hauled away unconscious in ambulances after suffering seizures and strokes. Pesticides were also routinely sprayed in the HVAC system and around workers. A number of employees went on to develop MCS.

Or how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could bring in an outside team of experts to bury its own team’s findings linking the toxic mold Stachybotrys to pulmonary hemorrhaging in infants. Half the outside experts, it was later learned, had served as witnesses on behalf of insurance companies in mold-related lawsuits. And the CDC director at the time was an immediate past president of Prudential insurance. Fifty-three babies from the same mold-infested inner city housing corridor in Cleveland have since fallen victim to pulmonary hemorrhaging. Five have died. Researchers wonder if this may account for a percentage of sudden infant death syndrome cases nationally, but the CDC has done nothing.

Or how the Veterans Administration can turn its back on 250,000 vets suffering from Gulf War Illness.

Or how BP could deny oil spill workers respirators, to avoid the appearance of a “toxic” situation, while government agencies looked on with indifference. Thousands of Gulf workers and residents are now sick and showing signs of chemical sensitivity. But nobody’s talking about it, insiders say, because it’s bad for business. 

Q: What’s it been like for you to uncover such suffering and corruption? Has this investigation over the last decade affected how you see the world and your place in it?

A: I’ve been writing about medicine for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. I can only imagine what it is like to have one’s life taken away by a toxic exposure and then to have doctors turn their backs on you while government and industry conspire to suppress the science that is your only hope. It speaks volumes about the power of money.

Q: Speaking of the power of money, I’ve really hoped that your Time byline would lend credibility to the MCS issue, and They’re Poisoning Us would finally blow the lid off industry’s role in hiding MCS. How has the book been received by mainstream media?

A: There has been some response, but it’s been tough. Most media is afraid of losing sponsors, I’m told, especially in these hard times, and this book does not shy away from pointing out bad behavior on the part of industry, or physicians, for that matter, who have gone to the dark side, shilling for industry, or taking advantage of desperate patients. Like the physician who billed a family $60,000 for one day of testing, or another who charged an MCS patient $250,000 for treatments that had no benefit. 

Q: What do you hope this book will accomplish?

A: From the time I started it, I hoped that this book would help change national perception about MCS, put pressure on government agencies to get the research going, and let the millions suffering from MCS know about new advances on the research and treatment front, and finally, to let people with MCS know that they are not alone. 

Q: How can activists help this book gain attention?

A: Pass it on to friends and family to let them know what you’re going through, and pass it on to people in the media. And blog the hell out of it. Social media is the most powerful thing in society today. If it can bring down tyrannic governments, it can get our government and mainstream medicine moving on this growing epidemic. Because nobody is immune.

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