Enterprise & Society 4.3 (2003) 571-573
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Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. xx + 408 pp. ISBN 0-520-21748-7, $34.95.
Annie Lou Emmers, a mother of eleven children, wrote President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s because of his "sympathy for cripples." In her letter, she described her child, Mary Jane, who had been born with extensive physical disabilities in Gary, Indiana, as "industry's child." Emmers had heard of similar children born in industrial communities throughout the nation, and she wrote to ask simply: "How many babies are crippled each year—by lead?" (p. 1).
Deceit and Denial reads like the response no bureaucrat ever wrote to Mrs. Emmers. "No longer is lead poisoning the problem of one family with no recourse," write Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner: "Today lead poisoning is the subject of intense concern in state legislatures considering regulation, in a variety of lawsuits brought by individual plaintiffs, in municipalities concerned with recovering costs for housing rehabilitation, in Medicaid reimbursement for damaged children, and in special educational costs for lead-poisoned children" (p. 2).
Deceit and Denial sets out to recount how this change took place, specifically analyzing the interplay between industries using and polluting lead and the public during the twentieth century. The case study brings readers to a twenty-first century, write Markowitz and Rosner, when consumer protection is demanded by a coalition of groups, including unions, environmental activists, and consumer organizations, although the authors are deeply suspicious of changes that George Bush's administration may have in store.
In Deceit and Denial, the disturbing story of lead functions as an example of industrial dominance and the American public's century-long [End Page 571] battle to enforce corporate responsibility. In meticulously researched chapters, the authors persuasively reconstruct a story that has become familiar American history: large corporations deceive the public about the ill effects of a portion of their industrial process and deny wrongdoing as long as possible. This effort by an industry to protect its profitability seems almost a cliché—we have heard such stories many times before and they continue today. Such a reaction, however, simply underscores the importance of Markowitz and Rosner's account. In short, Deceit and Denial reads much like a muckraking account of the early twentieth century but with no shortage of expertise and verifiable data and sources.
The use of lead in various consumer products proves to be a particularly powerful example of corporate wrongdoing: manufacturers of products ranging from paint to petroleum to plastics reached out directly to the public in an attempt to deny any ill effects of their products. Deceit and Denial dramatically reconstructs the efforts of early environmentalists, particularly Alice Hamilton, to connect problems of public health with the use of lead. In the 1910s and 1920s, however, these efforts ran directly into some of the most influential American industrial firms, including General Motors and many petroleum companies.
In a particularly valuable contribution to readers, Deceit and Denial reproduces advertisements of the era, in which petroleum companies tried to allay public fears about adding lead to gasoline in order to enhance engine performance (it calmed roughness in the firing of early internal combustion engines). Lead, reads one advertisement, "is to gasoline what vitamins are to food" (p. 31). Such deceitful advertising overcame the efforts of Hamilton and others, and lead continued to be included in nearly all petroleum until the 1960s.
Markowitz and Rosner trace the efforts of scientists, investigative committees, and health agencies throughout the twentieth century to educate the public and regulate polluting industries. The story is a wonderful depiction of the difficulty of combating a well-funded corporate culture. Throughout the 1970s, the chemical industry used faulty science to defend its methods for creating products such as Saran Wrap, shower curtains, hair sprays, and liquor bottles. The authors are particularly critical of the chemical industry's efforts to deny responsibility for workers' illnesses. Although there is heroic persistence on the part of...