ToxicDocs Provides Access to Documents Concerning the Health Hazards of Toxic Chemicals

New York City, NY—A free, searchable database, called ToxicDocs, developed by professors from Columbia University and CUNY, provides insight into companies that made and sold toxic products, according to a press release.

ToxicDocs is a database of upwards of 20 million once-secret industry and trade association documents concerning the health hazards of toxic chemicals, such as asbestos, lead and polychlorinated biphenyls.

David Rosner, the Ronald H. Lauterstein professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, is quoted in the release as saying, “This material provides a peek into the government agencies responsible for regulating toxic chemicals and the inner workings of major firms that manufactured and sold toxic substances and the products containing them. It is the right of the public to know which industries knowingly profited from public health hazards.”

ToxicDocs consists, the release says, of discovery documents from myriad lawsuits that were made public once they were introduced in court, but were extremely hard for the general public to access. The companies represented in the database range from a small brake manufacturer to Monsanto.

ToxicDocs has a three-person team, consisting of Gerald Markowitz, distinguished profesosr of history at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York; Merlin Chowkwanyun, the Donald H. Gemson assistant professor of sociomedical sciences at Mailman; and Rosner.

“ToxicDocs gives consumers, journalists, scientists, researchers, lawyers, policymakers, and community activists a strong, evidence-based tool for raising questions about industrial firms’ behavior,” said Chowkwanyun, who, more than a decade ago, was the one who suggested posting the material online, according to the press release. Thanks to a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the press release says, he’s now building a software update that will enhance navigation and provide users with tools to extract patterns in the data.

Rosner was an expert witness in the recent Missouri trial in which Johnson&Johnson were ordered to pay $4.6 billion to 22 women who claimed that talc powder caused their ovarian cancer, according to the press release, which also notes that he and Markowitz were expert witnesses in the recent decision on childhood lead poisoning in California, where paint manufacturers were ordered to pay $400 million to a number of cities and counties to remove lead from older homes to stem an epidemic that has afflicted millions of children for decades.

“ToxicDocs is one step toward leveling the playing field for efforts to combat toxic exposure,” Rosner said in the release. “Our hope is that as researchers, journalists, and the public begin to plumb this digital data, we will be better able to understand and counteract the impact of a century of industrialism on our environment and the world.”