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Thursday, June 22, 2017

16. Hurricane Creek The People Rule: the fluoride deception by Christopher Bryson from archive.org



16. Hurricane Creek The People Rule: the fluoride deception by Christopher Bryson from archive.org
Hurricane Creek   The People Rule     Scientists have been villains in this story. Robert Kehoe and Harold Hodge  buried important research and misled the general public. But scientists  have been heroes, too. The pioneering work of Kaj Roholm and George  Waldbott in unmasking fluoride s potential for harm was a principled  effort to explore fluoride's role in our biology and biosphere. More  recently we can see a similar heroic journey in that of Phyllis Mullenix.  When her research revealed that fluoride in low doses has effects on the  central nervous system, she was fired from her job as the head of the  toxicology department at the Forsyth Dental Center in Boston, and her  industry funding
dried up.   Mullenix has since immersed herself in the medical literature about  fluoride and has appeared as an expert witness in several trials in which  fluoride was alleged to have injured workers. Although the number of men  and women exposed to fluoride in the workplace is enormous — and as we  have seen in the data from the Kettering dog study, those workers are likely  to have fluoride-induced injuries — nevertheless, fifty years of assurances  by the Public Health Service that fluoride in small amounts is good and  safe for children make winning damage lawsuits an uphill and often https://www.blogger.com/null thankless task.   PHYLLIS MULLENIX TOOK her seat on the stand beneath the giant seal of the  state of Arkansas mounted high on the court-room wall. The seal,  inscribed in Latin, read Regnat Populus — "The     HURRICANE CREEK     203     People Rule." The jury leaned forward. Presiding Circuit Court Judge  Grisham Phillips peered over his glasses. All eyes were on the female  toxicologist and the anticipated confrontation with the tall redheaded  attorney Harry M. "Pete" Johnson III, who was now approaching the  bench.   Mullenix had changed careers. Since being fired in 1994 she had become  perhaps the most prominent scientist in the United States testifying in  damage cases about the health risks she saw from low-level fluoride  exposure. Mullenix had spoken with sick uranium and aluminum workers  in Tennessee and Washington State, met with poisoned Mohawk Indians in  New York, and testified in several court cases, helping to win financial  settlements for a crippled chemical worker in Georgia and a  water-treatment-plant operator in Arkansas. Despite these occasional legal  successes, Mullenix believes that doctors and citizens share a blind spot in  not viewing fluoride as a chemical poison and an industrial pollutant. The  problem with fluoride is that it is not recognized for what it is. First people  think of toothpaste and second they think of drinking water. They have  totally ignored the fluoride industry and fluoride workers."   In October 2000, back in Arkansas again, Mullenix found herself in the  crosshairs of one of the nations most powerful corporations, the Reynolds  Metals Company of Richmond, Virginia; as we have seen, Reynolds has a  long history of fighting fluoride pollution claims and good reason to fear  having the chemical more widely recognized as a workplace poison.  Reynolds had been one of the principal supporters, and beneficiaries, of  Robert Kehoes fluoride research at the Kettering Laboratory. Now  Mullenix was an expert witness for a group of fifty workers suing Reynolds,  part of a much larger group of several hundred workers, who also alleged  that their health had been damaged while working at the company's Hurri-  cane Creek worksite. 1   One of the workers was Diane Peebles. The thirty-five-year-old mother  of two sat quietly at the back of the Saline County courtroom in Benton  throughout the October trial. Since working as a driver at Hurricane Creek  in 1995 and 1996, a bizarre spectrum of physical and mental problems had  dogged her. Her blood pressure had begun fluctuating wildly, and she had  experienced powerful mood swings as well as "lots of headaches and  stomach problems," with     204     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     near constant exhaustion and pain in her joints. The aching never stops. I  wish I had the energy that other people have, she added.   Diane s husband, Scotty Peebles, had taken the witness stand. The  stocky, tattooed laborer told the jury that his health had also collapsed in  just six months at the Hurricane Creek site. He had been operating heavy  machinery in order to bury chemical waste in giant pits. Scotty Peebles  shared many symptoms with Diane and the other workers. His lung  capacity had been cut almost in half, and his bones had lost mineral density,  medical tests showed. His skin had burned bright red and his nose filled  with painful blisters at the work site, he testified. Although he had not  worked at Hurricane Creek for almost three years, twenty-nine-year-old  Scotty Peebles's joints still ached and he, too, was plagued with mysterious  headaches and stomach problems, he told the court.   Sitting at the Peebles's kitchen table one October morning during the  trial, the soft-spoken Diane suddenly burst into tears. Scotty sat silent, his  hand gripping a coffee cup. "It's hard," she blurted out. The strain on the  family was sometimes overwhelming, Diane said. Several scientists,  including Dr. Mullenix, had testified about the serious and often long-term  health risks from fluoride. "The kids want to know, "Are you sick  mom — are you and Dad gonna die?' We tell them we are not going  anywhere. I hate having to lie to my children, because I don't know myself.  I want to make sure that they are taken care of. That is my biggest  fear — because if we are not able to take care of our kids, who is going to?"   Reynolds Metals had hired big-time lawyers to fight the Hurricane  Creek workers' claim. Attorney Pete Johnson was from the Virginia-based  firm of Hunton &Williams, who since 1910 had defended Standard Oil,  Phillip Morris, and a host of banking, electric utility, and railroad  companies. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell Jr. had once been a  partner, and the firm had a reputation in the legal world of having a  Southern "old boy" culture. Pete Johnson fitted the mold. The University of  Virginia law school graduate was one of Hunton & Williams's younger  members, but he had already defended clients in "toxic tort" cases of  asbestos and lead poisoning. As Johnson approached the bench and opened  his files, Phyllis Mullenix closed her eyes. She smiled, bracing herself,  while recalling the words of her husband, Rick, when she had left Boston.     HURRICANE CREEK     205     The Reynolds lawyers, he had warned, are going to chew on your ass  a while, but youve got more ass than they ve got teeth.   The duel between Mullenix and Johnson over one of the most  critical legal issues that had ever faced U.S. industry — fluoride dam-  age to human health — was being fought, fittingly enough, near one of  the most historic industrial sites in the United States. Only four miles  from the Benton courthouse, Hurricane Creeks red earth once  contained some of the nation's richest deposits of bauxite, the raw  mineral needed to make aluminum. The Aluminum Company of  America had built the nearby company town of Bauxite in the early  19005 to house migrant miners. A National Park Service plaque at the  Bauxite museum commemorates the regions vital role in making  aluminum for aircraft during World War U.   In October 2000 Benton was ready to make history again. The court case  filed by the Hurricane Creek workers was closely linked to what EPA  officials call the largest and most environmentally significant waste  disposal issue facing aluminum producers in the United States.'   The material Scotty Peebles had been burying at Hurricane Creek was a  toxic by-product of making aluminum, a waste known as treated spent  potliner. The EPA had taken an intense interest in the waste. Each year  about 120,000 tons of spent potliner are produced by the aluminum  industry in the United States.' The waste is impregnated with a witch's brew  of fluoride, arsenic, and cyanide. Disposing of it has long been a financial  headache for manufacturers — and a flashpoint for conflict with  environmental regulators. There is so much of it and it is somewhat  awkward to treat," noted Steve Silverman of the EPAs Office of General  Counsel.   Once, ugly black mountains of waste potliner — literally, the waste  lining of the steel pots in which the aluminum is smelted — had been stored  on site or buried in pits, leaching fluoride and other poisons into  groundwater, and winning toxic Superfund status for several aluminum  plants across the country, a federal designation that targets the hazardous  site for clean-up.' But by the early 1990s Reynolds told the EPA that the  company had solved the potliner problem. It had invented a process at the  Hurricane Creek site to treat the waste, heating it with sand and lime in  giant furnaces at temperatures of over 1,100 degrees, driving off the  cyanide, and then binding the     206     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     fluoride to the sand and limestone as calcium fluoride.   Hurricane Creek workers Jerry Jones and Alan Williams helped to  develop that Reynolds treatment process — becoming, they now believe,  two more unwitting victims of industrial fluoride poisoning. In 1988 the  two laborers had been part of a work crew of several hundred men that  greeted a mighty procession of loo-ton railroad "hopper" cars arriving in  Arkansas, hauling potliner waste from aluminum companies in New York,  Oregon, and Canada. The experimental treatment plant ran day and night,  coiling a plume of black smoke across Saline County. Jerry Jones would  climb into the railroad cars, smashing a sledgehammer to loosen the  foul-smelling material while wearing only a bandana across his face for  protection from the billowing dust. "We knew we were dealing with  something awful," he added. "Your sweat would burn, and the stuff  smelled just horrendous."   Safety questions drew blunt responses from the Reynolds s contractors,  the men recalled. Recession was biting Arkansas hard in the early 1990s,  and both Jerry Jones and Alan Williams had young children to feed. "I was  told to either god-dammed do it, or hit the fucking gate,' because they had  over a thousand applications at the office of people waiting to take our  jobs," said Jones. "They did not tell us one thing [about safety]."   Alan Williams is a thick-necked former U.S. Marine with a college  degree. He became a foreman at Hurricane Creek. He had always been  "super physical," he said, but the forty-five-year-old quickly ran into health  troubles while at the Reynolds site. "I wasn't sure what the problem was,"  he said. "My gums had begun to shrink. I quit smoking. I was having chest  pains and rashes all over my body. I looked like an alcoholic and I don't  hardly drink. It was covering my legs anti arms and I was having joint pain.  My sex is gone. I'm impotent. It just wasted me away," he said.'   By December 1991 the new treatment process was ready. Reynolds  assured the EPA the "treated" spent potliner waste would not leach fluoride  into ground water at levels the EPA deemed unsafe. That year the treated  potliner was removed from the agency's list of toxic materials and "lost its  hazardous waste stigma," according to Michelle Peace, an EPA  environmental engineer who handled the delisting" process.     HURRICANE CREEK     207     The EPA ruling that the treated potliner was not hazardous was a  financial windfall for Reynolds Metals. Instead of paying for the  disposal of tens of thousands of tons of highly toxic waste, the company  was now permitted to bury up to 300,000 cubic yards of the " treated"  material each year in giant unlined pits at Hurricane Creek where,  according to Peace, "there was no real associated costs with disposing  of that material."   The EPA may have ruled the material safe, but to workers like Scotty  Peebles, the acrid dust that filled his truck cab each day was loathsome.  Reynolds was experimenting with the treated pot-liner waste as  commercial road-grading material, which was called ALROC. It was  Peebles's job to haul the ALROC fluoride waste around the site for the  test roads. He began to notice changes in the environment after he had  begun this process. "It killed all the trees and the grass," Peebles said. "I  used to see a lot of deer, then you didn't see too many come around any  more."   Reynolds had assured the EPA that fluoride leaching from the treated"  waste would be less than 48 parts per million. But an environmental audit  by an EPA contractor found levels at 2,400 parts per million — fluoride  levels that "would have impacted human health and the environment,"  according to Michelle Peace. Nevertheless, the extraordinary difference  between what Reynolds had promised and what it actually delivered was an  honest difference of technique, not a deliberate effort to mislead the  government regulators, according to Peace. "[Reynolds] ran the [initial]  test as appropriately as they could."   The attorney for the Hurricane Creek workers, Bruce McMath, didn't  buy it. He claimed that Reynolds had "hoodwinked" the EPA from the  beginning. He showed the Benton jury a Reynolds memo proving, he said,  that the company had concealed the truth from the federal regulators.'  "They knew the treatment process was not going to achieve what they were  representing to the EPA it would achieve — or at least, how they knew the  EPA was interpreting the data they were giving them." He also noted that  Reynolds had hired a former top EPA official to work behind the scenes  and help to get the treated potliner delisted. "These corporations have such  sustained and long-term working relationships with these agencies,"  McMath said. "It becomes very difficult for you to overcome that."     208     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     Michelle Peace conceded that the EPA had difficulty in evaluating the  human-health significance of the revised test data. Her comments are  revealing. While the amount of poison leaching into groundwater from the  treated potliner was definitely the greatest for fluoride, nevertheless the  agency still saw the cyanide and the arsenic in the waste as the greater  health hazard, remarked Peace. Once again industry's historic investment  in efforts to spin fluoride's image as good for teeth, and to hide its impact as  a pollutant and worker poison, had paid a handsome dividend. "Nobody  ever jumped up and down" at the fluoride results, explained Peace. "You  need that for your teeth." 8   The idea that fluoride could be harmful to humans came as no surprise  to Reynolds Metals. Nor was the company a stranger to the notion that  fluoride s role in dental health could influence the thinking of regulators  and jurors. The Reynolds legal team in Arkansas had spent impressive  funds in preparation for the October 2000 trial. That fall morning,  however, as defense attorney Pete Johnson strode to the bench to begin  his cross-examination of toxicologist Phyllis Mullenix, he pointed to the  weapon he would use to defend his client. It cost less than four dollars.  On the evidence table in full view of Judge Grisham Phillips and the  Benton jury, lay a single item — a thin red box of Colgate fluoride  toothpaste.   Johnson approached Mullenix and smiled. He held up the toothpaste  tube like a trophy. "You wouldn't brush your teeth ... with Col -gate  toothpaste, would you, or any toothpaste, for that matter, where they put  fluoride in it. Is that right?" Johnson asked Mullenix.   "That's right," the scientist said.   Johnsons legal strategy was familiar. Like the Reynolds lawyer  Frederic Yerke in the Martin trial, forty-five years earlier, Johnson now  used water fluoridation as a legal defense, pouring scorn on the notion  that a chemical added to public water supplies, on behalf of children,  could possibly have hurt the Hurricane Creek workers. He raised a  polystyrene cup at Mullenix in a theatrical gesture, like a trophy, and  slowly sipped the water in front of the jurors.   You wouldnt drink the water in this courtroom on a regular basis like  the folks who work here? Johnson asked the scientist. You wouldnt do  that, would you?     HURRICANE CREEK     209     If I could afford to go out and buy the bottled water, I would do so,  Mullenix answered.   Hundreds of workers had breathed fluoride dust at the Hurricane Creek  plant. The EPA had ordered Reynolds to clean up the site.' The federal  Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) had fined a Hurricane  Creek contractor for not providing safety equipment and training. Workers  alleged serious injury: their bones ached, their lungs gasped for air,  weeping sores erupted on flayed red skin, and some employees vomited in  the morning before work.]" But Reynolds's attorney Johnson continued to  drill away at the issue of water fluoridation. Mullenix was a loopy dissident,  he inferred, out of step with the U.S. Surgeon General, the Public Health  Service, and the Centers for Disease Control, all of whom, the jury was  reminded, had endorsed fluoridation. It was a legal strategy, trusted and  true, that Alcoa's Frank Seamans and his Fluorine Lawyers had understood,  a generation before young Pete Johnson had contemplated going to law  school.   "In fact," Johnson now said, with a whiff of condescension, "you think  that there ought to be a warning sign at the water fountain here outside the  courtroom about all the health effects it can cause. Is that right?"   "If someone asked me for my advice, would I drink it, I would say  no, Mullenix said. But I m not into parading posters or putting labels  or warnings up anywhere, she added.   But Johnson soldiered on. Did Mullenix believe, he asked, that  fluoridated water was responsible for "thyroid, memory, suicide,  depression, neurological [problems], ulcers, stomach problems, eye  problems . . . and ear problems?"   It wasnt that simple, Mullenix responded. The scientist explained  that most people now received fluoride from multiple sources, not just  drinking water. Many foods also frequently contained high levels of  fluoride, especially food that was processed and irrigated with  fluoridated water. Many agricultural fertilizers contained fluoride.  Some popular medications, such as Prozac, were made with fluoride.  And workers at numerous industrial sites, such as Hurricane Creek,  continued to breathe fluoride at potentially unsafe levels.   You have to look at the total body burden, Mullenix told the   jury.     210     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     "The drinking water is a contributor to the total body burden. And then you  have to look at the exposure totally and how it adds up.   The jury listened as Johnson continued. Youre against putting fluoride  in drinking water because of the medical problems it can cause. ... Is that  right? You are opposed to that? he asked.   I really didnt have an opinion about fluoride, Dr. Mullenix answered,  until I had done studies and investigations of it . . . but after doing the  studies and considering the health impacts, I would not recommend it as a  good practice."   Then Bruce McMath, the workers' attorney for whom Mullenix was an  expert witness, walked to the front of the court and handed Judge Grisham  Phillips the medical study on the group of beagles, which Reynolds had  commissioned at the Kettering Laboratory in 1962. He also gave the judge  letters between company officials and the Kettering Laboratory's director,  Dr. Robert Kehoe, discussing the research." McMath explained that during  the pretrial phase known as discovery, he had asked Reynolds for any  company documents about fluoride and its health effects. The company  had not given him the Kettering fluoride study, the very study he was now  handing to the judge. As Judge Phillips took the long-ago documents from  the workers attorney, Reynolds s past appeared to have caught up with it.  The documents linked Reynolds to a medical cover-up, illustrating that  scientific information about fluorides harmful effects had been suppressed  for almost half a century.   It was as if fireworks had erupted in the middle of the courtroom.  Reynolds s lawyer, Pete Johnson, quickly intervened, walking briskly to  the front of the court, huddling with the Judge and hissing at McMath in  stage whispers. Reynolds objected to the Kettering study s being admitted  as evidence, he said. Johnson was especially outraged at any suggestion  that the big aluminum company had " buried the documents or somehow  failed to produce documents that it had in its possession, he told Judge  Phillips.   McMath fought back. Your Honor, he insisted. Reynolds had  obviously suppressed the health study. "We asked them to produce all their  documents, McMath told the Judge, including studies ... which pertained  to or consisted of human and animal health effects upon exposure to  fluoride. And of course, this document is  not in there.     HURRICANE CREEK 21 1     McMath wanted the jury to know that Reynolds had commissioned the  study in the wake of a fluoride -pollution lawsuit, hidden the results, and  then, forty years later, failed to turn the research over to the injured  Hurricane Creek workers. They had hidden it twice, McMath said. To the  great distress of McMath and his workers, Judge Phillips banned that  argument. Mullenix could discuss the contents of the Kettering study, the  Judge ruled, but McMath could not tell the jury about the long-ago Martin  lawsuit, or that Reynolds had attempted to keep the study secret.' It was a  bitter pill for the plaintiffs' attorney. "I thought that they deserved to face  that in the court, before the jury, McMath protested.   A moment of truth in the Arkansas trial did come, however, when  attorney Johnson questioned Phyllis Mullenix about Scotty Peebles s  breathing problems. The waste Peebles had handled at the Hurricane Creek  site had contained calcium fluoride, the same chemical that had injured the  long-ago Kettering beagle dogs. Peebles said that the foul-smelling dust  had filled the cab of his front-end loader, grabbing at his lungs, burning his  skin, and inflicting painful headaches. It was getting in your hair. You  would literally breathe this stuff in, he added.   A doctor diagnosed the twenty-eight-year-old with emphysema.  Peebles s lung capacity was almost halved, tests showed. Many other  Hurricane Creek workers also showed decreased lung capacity.   Mullenix explained how the fluoride dust used in the Kettering  experiment had caused lung damage in dogs. Would the same dust hurt  workers such as Scotty Peebles at the Hurricane Creek work site, the  workers lawyer McMath asked?   "Yes," replied Mullenix.   Later that day Reynolds's attorney Johnson attempted to shoot down  this diagnosis during his cross-examination of Mullenix.   "Are you saying that Mr. Peebles's emphysema was caused by  fluoride . . . from Hurricane Creek? Johnson asked.   Certainly, said Mullenix.   But Johnson oozed confidence. He had researched the published  medical literature thoroughly. In all those articles you showed us and all  these references you gave us, he continued, do you have any reference  that says that fluoride causes or contributes to  emphysema?     212     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     Johnson turned, grandly, to the jury. It is getting late he reminded them.  He swiveled back to Mullenix. Do you have an article in all of the stuff  you have brought and collected that says, We did a study and we found  that fluoride causes the disease emphysema? he asked.   Mullenix played her trump card. In the Kettering study that we  presented earlier, in the pathology reports, the microscopic examination,  they use [the term] emphysema lesions, she said. They use the word  "emphysema,' yes."   Johnson adjusted his glasses. He seemed startled. "You're saying in the  Kettering study in the dogs?" His voice trailed off. "In the dogs,"  Mullenix repeated.   "In the dogs." Johnson looked at his notes.  "That's correct," said Mullenix.   Judge and jury looked on. The Reynolds lawyer sounded almost  incredulous. Animal experiments had connected workers lung injuries  with fluoride? He looked at the bench where his legal support team sat.  They stared back.   "They found emphysema, this disease emphysema was caused by  fluoride?" Johnson repeated.   The pathologists report, in looking at the tissues, said there were  emphysematous changes, and that's what was reported," said Mullenix.   "Okay. All right," the Reynolds lawyer finally conceded.   Although Judge Phillips prevented attorney Bruce McMath from telling  the Arkansas jury about the long-ago Martin trial — and why the Kettering  fluoride research had been commissioned by Reynolds — several former  Hurricane Creek workers sitting in the courtroom that Friday afternoon  understood what had just taken place.   "I didn't find out 'til yesterday that Reynolds had known anything about  [fluoride's inhalation effects]," said Jerry Jones, who had begun working at  Hurricane Creek in 1988. "Reynolds had conducted a research test about  fluoride in 1962. We should have been told," he said.   "I am angry," said Alan Williams, the former Hurricane Creek shift  supervisor. Reynolds knew in 1962 what fluoride can do to you. They cant  say they didnt, because they had their own study.     HURRICANE CREEK     213     Reynolds had a very good idea about fluoride in 1962 based on the  testimony I heard here today, said Tommy Ward, a rangy ex-worker who  had been in court for most of the trial, watching the jury and listening to the  medical experts. Ward had suffered a violent stroke in 1996. He blamed his  health problems on his years at Hurricane Creek breathing fluoride potliner.  Mullenix did a superb job, he said. The jury got enough of that, I could  tell. I think the plaintiffs hit a home run today."   Any optimism, however, vanished just four days later. In a decision that  left many of the former workers incredulous and angry, Bruce McMath  suddenly abandoned the lawsuit against Reynolds. On the Wednesday  afternoon of October 25, 2000, Jerry Jones and Alan Wil liams went to  court as usual. Nobody was around, Jones said.   The trial had been scheduled to end that Friday. Several former  workers were hopeful about the outcome. (McMath had seemed con-  fident too, and had even turned down a modest offer from Reynolds to  settle the case.) The jurors often passed through a landscaped area  outside the courthouse, where smokers and visitors congregated and  chatted. Diana Peebles had overheard a juror, she said. We just have to  do something, the juror said, according to Peebles. They were saying  it was just a question of how much they give us, Peebles explained she  had overheard.   However, that Wednesday morning, Bruce McMath had told Judge  Phillips that he wanted to abandon the trial, in a legal procedure in  Arkansas state courts known as non-suiting. McMath believed the jury  had turned against him. He feared that the court would rule that the  workers had not been injured at the site. It was better, he thought, to  withdraw the lawsuit and perhaps allow another legal team to remount  it at a later date. We were going to lose the whole case," he insisted.  McMath blamed Judge Phil-lips for not allowing him to tell the jury  that Reynolds Metals had suppressed the Kettering study. And he  pointed the finger at state and federal agencies that had let Reynolds  bury hundreds of tons of toxic fluoride waste at the Hurricane Creeks  site. Reynolds had deceived those agencies, McMath said, by  exaggerating how much fluoride its treatment process would remove.  But the agencies had backed down, denying that they had been misled,  effectively torpedoing his case.     214     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     The EPA basically said in as many words that they did not think they  had been deceived or they had acted inappropriately, McMath explained.  Of course they had. To a lawyer or to a sophisticated audience you could  see what they had done, but they whitewashed it, and that really took the  wind out of our sails in terms of the possibility of punitive damages or  indignation with the jury. It became pretty evident to us that we were not  going to be successful.   But the Hurricane Creek workers were angry and baffled at the trial's  outcome. It seemed bizarre. How could their lawyer first turn down a  settlement from Reynolds and then abandon the entire lawsuit? Bruce  McMath must have lost a fortune by aborting the Ben-ton lawsuit, said a  Little Rock trial attorney, James Swindoll. "You are giving up two hundred  grand the minute you do that," he said. " You can't get it back, unless you  pursue it a second time." 13   "We weren't very impressed," said the soft-spoken Diana Peebles.  It just seems very strange to us that this would occur. Several other former  workers felt that they had been deceived twice, first by Reynolds Metals  and now by their lawyers. After the trial McMath had told Jerry Jones that  he was going to reload for a second shot at Reynolds and bring a fresh  lawsuit against the aluminum company, Jones said. Instead, eleven days  later, on November 5, 2000, McMath and his partner, Steve Napper,  gathered the workers together for an announcement.   Jerry Jones remembers that day. He had not seen many of his former  workmates in years. He was shocked at how their health had deteriorated.  Some had developed crooked joints and "big knobs on their knees and  fingers," said Jones. Skin sores were visible on many. Others could not lift  their arms above their heads. "It was just ugly," said Jones. "It just blew my  mind how it is slowly affecting them. You know there is something wrong  when they all have the same thing," he added.   The men listened as their lawyers addressed them for the final time.  "Boys, we got some bad news," Jerry Jones remembers Steve Napper  saying. After three years of representing them, McMath and Napper  explained to the gathered men that they were dropping their case. It was too  difficult to prove the Hurricane Creek workers had been permanently hurt  by their chemical exposures, the lawyers explained. "Find someone else,"  McMath and Napper     HURRICANE CREEK 215     told the stunned workers, then shook a few hands and sidled out according  to the shell-shocked Jerry Jones. The whole meeting didn't last five  minutes," he recalled.   But Bruce McMath is unapologetic for dropping the Hurricane Creek  suit. There was little hard data on how much fluoride the men and women  had been exposed to, he said. And proving that the chemical had caused so  many different injuries, especially in the small sample of workers  represented in the Benton case was difficult, he added. Many of the  workers also smoked cigarettes. One abused cocaine. "It creates credibility  problems," said McMath. "We were looking at a case with thin causation  and amorphous damages, so it becomes an impossible proposition."   The fate of the Benton trial was a consequence, perhaps, of fluoride's  basic nature. Although fluoride's effects on human health potentially rival  or even exceed the injuries caused by any other workplace poison,  paradoxically, because fluoride has the potential to cause so many kinds of  health problems, it is actually harder to fix blame on the chemical. Unlike  other chemicals with easy-to-see and unique "signature" effects — such as  the mesothelioma cancer caused by asbestos — fluoride is a systemic  poison, inflicting differ ent injuries in different people and at different  times.   Duking it out with Reynolds Metals also gave Bruce McMath a  first-hand look at how water fluoridation has aided industry in the  courtroom. Hurricane Creek had been his first fluoride case. Proving  fluoride injury to a jury was hard enough; but the federal government's  long-ago endorsement of the safety of adding fluoride to public water  supplies had placed the entire public-health establishment in fluoride's  corner, he said. By waving a toothpaste tube at the Benton jury, Reynolds s  Hurricane Creek attorney was taking advantage of that," McMath pointed  out. " Industry has manipulated this public debate to put a smiling face on  what is otherwise a toxin, and thereby reduce their cost of doing business in  those businesses where fluoride is a waste product," he added. Dumping  waste fluoride in reservoirs may help industry, but from a pure public  health perspective, McMath said, This whole thing about putting it in the  water is just silly.   After the aborted lawsuit, Jerry Jones and Alan Williams hunted for a  new attorney. They met with James Swindoll, who called     216     CHAPTER SIXTEEN     McMath s office and received an explanation that McMath had no intention  of refiling the workers case. He remembers the Hurricane Creek workers  who visited his office as some of the most well-informed clients that I ever  interviewed. Swindoll declined to represent them, however, and they  never found a lawyer willing to refile their claim. "It just looked like a  nightmare of a case," he said. "It was going to bankrupt a plaintiffs  lawyer."   But because fluoride poisoning isn't easy to prove in a court of law,  does it mean that doctors or regulators should abandon the issue? Phyllis  Mullenix, for example, continues to take new cases of alleged fluoride  poisoning in workers, representing plaintiffs around the country. She is  convinced that an epidemic of disease and injury has slipped beneath the  radar screen of modern health professionals. It is a sometimes -lonely battle,  but the Plains daughter of Olive and Shockey Mullenix cannot walk away  from the issue. She remains especially haunted by the anguished phone  calls in the middle of the night from crippled former aluminum and  chemical workers. They are often suffering obvious  central-nervous-system problems, she notes, but they have been cast adrift  by today s medical profession. I get some of the most pathetic individuals  calling up, Mul-lenix says. "They can't get a doctor to listen. The doctors  don't know anything about fluoride and think the workers are nuts."     The Damage Is Done  

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