John Ferrugia: If you're a homeowner or thinking of buying a home, our next story is for you and your family. This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted to help protect the health of homeowners everywhere. The EPA came to an agreement with the Velsicol Chemical Company that Velsicol will no longer sell the chemical pesticide called chlordane. Chlordane has been for over 40 years the chemical of choice to kill termites. It's been applied to more than 30 million American homes and commercial buildings. While it does the job on termites, the EPA found that chlordane could cause cancer and other health problems in humans, even if it's applied properly.
While Velsicol will stop selling chlordane, it's still possible for your home to be exterminated with the chemical. That's because the EPA has agreed to let pest control operators use their existing supplies for up to three months. The nation's largest applicator, Orkin, and more than 10,000 smaller operators; who stand to lose thousands of dollars in inventory, may try to deplete their stocks even faster, as is allowed. Our story tonight is about the people who have encountered chlordane and about the company that has fought for years to keep it on the market.
Ferrugia: How does the chlordane, how, would it get in the house ?
Steve Tvedten: Well, there's two things. One it can come through, like under by the footer, by the expansion crack. It can come through if there's crack in here (pointing to the foundation). And a lot of older homes have cracks in the foundation, whether it's a poured wall or a block wall. It can also come in if we were going to drill this wall, put the holes in here, we drill the hole, put drill holes, and we put chemical right in there.
Ferrugia: Which is done?
Tvedten: All the time.
Ferrugia: Steve Tvedten runs his own exterminating business in Michigan. He uses a chemical which is considered safer than chlordane, but it's applied in exactly the same way, injected into the soil and into holes drilled on the inside and the outside of the house. Why don't you use chlordane?
Tvedten: I won't use chlordane because I found that no matter how I apply it, no matter how safe my men are, no matter the fact you're using certified applicators, we're going to contaminate homes. And 1'm. not talking about a few weeks, I'm talking about month after month after month - year after year after year we're going to have a permanent contamination.
Ferrugia: How does chlordane contaminate a whole house?
Tvedten: Most of it takes place not so much from this side, but on the inside, when you begin to drill inside, treat. Because that hose that he's working with can leak, it can develop an aneurism and just blow up and go all over everything. Or it can drip, the gaskets aren't permanent. So they can drip. Or the guy can accidentally touch the handle when he's carrying it, or he's picking it up when he puts it down those holes; but once he puts it in the holes it starts bubbling up the hole behind it, goes underneath and bubbles it up. Now once you bubble up you've got it all over the surface. Now what do you do?
Ferrugia: That's exactly what happened to Pat and Butch Sexton. There's is an extreme case of misapplication where the possible effects of chlordane are most evident. Just hours after it was pumped into their Virginia house the chemical backed up and flooded the kitchen. They began to feel sick and Pat was two months pregnant. What kinds of symptoms did you have?
Pat Sexton: Well, I was having sickness anyway, but it was more intense. I had nausea. I had headaches and my eyes was bothering me. I felt bad.
Butch Sexton: Just like I was taking the flu - muscle aches. I had a headache. I was nauseated, dizzy. After our physician told us to move out of the house, we knew it was serious.
Ferrugia: Air tests and fabric samples showed high levels of chlordane throughout the house. After they left, Pat and Butch both started to feel better until Pat started to hemorrhage and had to be rushed to the doctor.
Pat Sexton: You know, we were joking, looks like I'm going to get an early baby, and it was kind of exciting because I felt like an eight month and one week baby, it would survive; it would be o.k. And we went into the examining room and he got the little microphone and there was nothing. And he turned it up, you know, and he said, "Be still." And there was nothing, and I was going, "Oh my God." You know, I don't know if I can handle this or not; I've handled so much because I was real concerned about my family.
Butch Sexton: I was the one that cleaned it up. I was the one that had the what I felt like was the most severe sickness out of all the symptoms that we had. And we hoped and prayed that Pat didn't come in contact with it or wasn't exposed enough to where it could affect our family, or our baby, or her.
Pat Sexton: I was expecting problems but not that severe.
Ferrugia: It's a terrible thing, a tragic thing to have a child still born, but how do know in your own mind that chlordane was to blame?
Pat Sexton: The autopsy showed that my baby was perfect in every other way. And, you know, the fat biopsy showed that we both had chlordane. So, in my mind what other cause could it have been?
Ferrugia: Hospital tests confirmed chlordane in the baby's tissue. Their pathologist and several doctors told them that chlordane had poisoned their child. Pat and Butch have now abandoned their house and all their personal belongings and are suing the exterminating company for misapplication. The company refused to talk to us.
Announcer over old film footage: A good treatment with an insecticide containing chlordane kills all the ants present and gives long-time protection.
Ferrugia: Chlordane was developed in 1947, a time when most of us thought that pesticides were harmless. It was effectively used to kill just about any kind of household bug. It was even sprayed on fruits and vegetables. But in the early 70s, when tests showed that chlordane caused cancer in animals, the EPA took it off the market for all uses except one - killing termites. Even though the EPA knew chlordane was carcinogenic, it was the best product available. The Agency assumed that families could be safe if chlordane was used properly and only by trained applicators. But Agency tests now indicate that's not the case.
Dr. Samuel Epstein: The likelihood of getting high levels of contamination are probably greater if you have untrained applicators, but the fact is this, when you use chlordane and heptachlor, however skillful the applicators are, you will have contamination - industry knows this and EPA knows this.
Ferrugia: Dr. Samuel Epstein is a Professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the University of Illinois.
Epstein: We're really dealing with highly toxic and highly dangerous materials that are very carcinogenic, can produce a wide range of adverse affects - fatal blood disorders, can produce neurological, neurobehavioral disorders, reproductive disorders. We're dealing with an extremely dangerous material which has pervaded millions of homes in this country.
Charles Frommer: If it was my house, with my family, and my children, I wouldn't hesitate a second to treat that house with chlordane if I had a termite problem.
Ferrugia: The company that makes chlordane, the Velsicol Chemical Corporation, strongly denies that chlordane causes any health problems. Charles Frommer, is the company's Vice President. Does the company agree that chlordane can cause cancer?
Frommer: The medical records that have been put together on our plant employees and on the pest control operators who use the concentrate, gives absolutely no indication that there is a problem with cancer in association with the use of the product.
Ferrugia: What about liver damage, liver, tumors ?
Frommer: No, none. No records, no medical records that would say that.
Ferrugia: Neurological damage?
Ferrugia: Optical nerve damage?
Frommer: No, again there are no medical records that would indicate that that's a problem.
Ferrugia: The human immune system?
Ferrugia: According to Frommer, studies done on Velsicol employees indicate no adverse health affects from exposure to chlordane. But scientists who oppose the use of the chemical say these studies are biased. There are no definitive studies on pregnant women, infants, and children. And they say that Velsicol should look at the hundreds of case reports collected from across the country which link serious and sometimes fatal illnesses with chlordane exposure. Velsicol's own internal documents, kept secret until a recent court case, show that company executives were made aware of chlordane's potential risks to humans in 1973, from tests it had conducted on laboratory animals. And, Velsicol's own lawyers warned: "0n a cancer risk we are in a very poor, almost no win posture."
Frommer: There is a big difference between cancer in mice and cancer in humans. Cancer in mice back in the 70s, were an indicator that said look further. Which is exactly what we've done with all of our epidemiology studies, with all of our health records of our plant employees, and with the big epidemiology study that was done on pest control operators. And as our own consultants tell us: "Which would you rather believe, the data on 20 mice or the data on thousands of humans?"
Diane Baxter: That attitude is not one that's held by the majority of responsible researchers and academic scientists around the country and around the world. We can't do experiments with human beings. That's not allowed.
Ferrugia: Diane Baxter is a scientist that runs a Washington consumer group called the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides.
Baxter: We must presume that when a substance is carcinogenic in animal species, that it may be carcinogenic in people.
Ferrugia: Baxter's group receives about 150 complaints a year about chlordane; that's more than a ny other pesticide currently available.
Baxter: Fortunately, there are alternatives that are much safer, much safer. I'm not going to say safe, exactly, because whenever you're trying to kill a pest, after all, you're using a poison. However, there are poisons that are more specific to the insect and less to the human being who's using them. For that reason, I believe that the benefits of chlordane are antique, are outdated, and overstated.
Ferrugia: One of the properties of chlordane is that it actually stays in the soil. How long does it take before chlordane goes away?
Tvedten: It's not going to go away. It's going to be there forever.
Butch Sexton: We were ignorant to chlordane. We were ignorant to the fact of extermination. It's an every day thing; an every day occurrence. People don't realize how important and how dangerous, and how they're taking their own lives into their hands.
Ferrugia: Is chlordane dangerous if it's misapplied?
Frommer: We don't have any records that would indicate that it's dangerous when misapplied. Now, we don't say misapply it. We say use it in accordance with label directions.
Ferrugia: The EPA said the tests that you submitted, and the data that you submitted to the EPA, their interpretation of that data shows very clearly that even properly applied, chlordane could cause cancer in humans.
Frommer: Could or does? There's a big difference between those two words. We say it does not; I mean we're very emphatic about that. And there's a big difference between it could, or it might, or maybe, and it does or it does not. And we very emphatically say it does not.
Ferrugia: The EPA says that chlordane is a carcinogen. Even so, Velsicol has set aside a million dollars to try to find a way to get chlordane back on the market. Under the agreement with EPA, if the company can demonstrate new techniques to apply the chemical safely, it could be back on the shelves in nine months.
I would like
to make one final note -- subsequent tests proved chlordane could not be
applied safely, and now chlordane is no longer sold anywhere on earth -- which is what
I said all along and why we ceased even doing spot treatments with this carcinogen
since June, 1983! I would also like to note, that since July 4, 1993 we have not used
any volatile, synthetic pesticide poisons, such as DursbanTC to control termites for
basically the same reasons as we stopped using chlordane.