Dow Chemical Company – Pesticide Health Effects of 2,4-D (2009)
Outcome: Omitted by SEC
Dow AgroSciences is the sole U.S. producer and largest global producer of the herbicide 2,4-D, with a production capacity of 20,000 tons in 2004. Dow AgroSciences sells this chemical to other companies to formulate into finished products; over 70 products contain 2,4-D as an active ingredient.
2,4-D has been linked in various studies to be an endocrine disruptor with predicted human health risks ranging from changes in estrogen and testosterone levels, thyroid problems, prostate cancer and reproductive abnormalities. Other studies indicate that it is a neurotoxin, linked to effects like brain cell death, Parkinson’s-like tremors, delays in brain development and abnormal behavior patterns.
Exposure to 2,4-D has been shown to suppress thyroid hormone levels in experimental animals. Correct maternal levels of thyroid hormone are critical to successful infant development, as the suppression of thyroid hormone results in the disruption of neurological development and causes lasting effects on child learning and behavior. 2,4-D can pass from mother to offspring through the umbilical cord and breast milk.
In November 2008, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) petitioned the U.S. EPA to ban 2,4-D and revoke all permissions for its application, based on this chemical’s well-documented ability to harm human health and the environment.
The Province of Quebec, Canada has banned the cosmetic use of 2,4-D on the lawns of public, private and commercial properties with the exception of golf courses. A Canadian unit of Dow filed a $2 million notice of action against the Federal government in August 2008, alleging that Canada breached its obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement, because Quebec banned 2,4-D without scientific basis.
Authority to ban pesticides has recently been enacted in the province of Ontario, Canada; a proposed target list for bans includes 2,4-D.
Proponents believe that Dow Chemical faces significant financial losses if 2,4-D is banned and the company is not ready with a safer alternative. Dow Chemical spokesperson Gary Hamelin says with regard to 2,4-D that Dow and its customers are “making investments of tens of millions of dollars for products that-based on a scientific assessment-[are] acceptable.” Yet the mounting evidence of concerns is driving toward a conclusion that 2,4-D is not “acceptable” to various governments, despite this assertion by Dow. Dow’s investments may have been better spent in developing alternatives to this chemical in anticipation of regulatory action that seems likely to limit its use.
Shareholders request that the Board publish a report to shareholders within six months, at reasonable expense and omitting proprietary information, on expenditures for each year from 2003 to 2007 on attorney’s fees, expert fees, lobbying, and public relations/media expenses, relating in any way to the health and environmental consequences of 2,4-D and discuss any new initiatives or actions, aside from regulatory compliance, that management is taking to address this issue.
Proponents believe the report should also describe any efforts the company is making to develop safer alternatives to 2,4-D.