Junk science comes to Jefferson County

The SE Texas Record Sep. 15, 2007, 7:31am

Without synthetic rubber, we would have lost World War II.

Each Sherman Tank required half a ton of it, and U.S. warships each contain some 20,000 rubber parts. Cut off from natural rubber resources in the South Pacific by 1942, America needed to make its own en masse or else give up the fight. Literally.

If synthetic rubber means a lot to America, it means even more to Southeast Texas. It was this here Gulf Coast that was called upon to anchor our nation's unprecedented ramp-up in rubber production during WWII, spawning the industrial juggernaut it is today.

Such history colors our view of Beaumont plaintiff's lawyer Dale Hanks and his crusade against Southeast Texas' petrochemical industry.

Hanks is hot after this region's largest employers, charging they negligently exposed all of us to butadiene, or the key industrial chemical used to make synthetic rubber. He says it is polluting our local air and, as a result, has caused his clients' cancer.

To be clear, this charge has no basis in science. But science or truth rarely stop plaintiff's lawyers like Hanks from trying to build a case, especially when there's a sinister-sounding industrial chemical to play bogeyman.

The fact is that, like virtually every chemical compound on this earth, either naturally-occurring or man-made, butadiene in certain doses is considered a carcinogen. But so are active ingredients in water, wine, beer, coffee, and lettuce. Consume too much of any of them, and they become deadly.

What causes cancer? Well, according to famed British epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll, the most common culprits are smoking, diet, infections and natural reproductive hormones. Exposure to all manufactured chemicals, he holds, causes less than 1 percent of all cancers.

Alas, there are small amounts of butadiene in the Gulf Coast atmosphere. But it isn't harmful to any of us, and it doesn't cause cancer any more than your daily cup of joe.

So fear not Hanks' baseless hysterics for your health. But remain wary of the economic ramifications were his lawsuits to be successful.

Allowing junk science like Hanks' to reign would cost all of us dearly, eventually gutting our region's petrochemical tradition. Southeast Texas courts should quash this misguided crusade before it starts.

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