For more than 30 years Tennessee Eastman was my neighbor when I lived in Kingsport. I can find many ways to praise this company. While certainly not perfect in many ways, Eastman is still the life blood to Northeast Tennessee.
I hope this relationship will continue as the company soon begins a second century there.
Some of the most conscientious people I know are employed at Eastman in Kingsport.
You can usually trust the integrity and consistency of the decisions and policies that flow from their work at the plant and in its corporate headquarters.
But sometimes I become very cynical when I see what happens to some corporations when they become a part of a lobbying group.
Less than 10 years ago, I was honored to be invited to sit on the Community Advisory Panel that Eastman sponsors. During my four years on this council I learned so much about the company’s dedication to quality control, responsible care and strategic plans to curtail emissions.
You can imagine my surprise when I heard that former CEO and current Chairman of Eastman’s Board of Directors, J. Brian Ferguson, who, as chair also of the American Chemistry Council (ACC), was putting big lobbying bucks and time to defeat the Sen. Diane Feinstein (D, CA) Amendment to ban synthetic sex hormone bisphenol A (BPA). Simply put, this “line in the sand” for chemical reform, an amendment to the Food Safety Act, would have stopped BPA exposure to infants and toddlers in baby bottles and sippy cups.
Could this be the same Brian Ferguson who led this company into a new era of stability after some rather uncertain times before he took the reins of the company?
During Ferguson’s tenure as CEO of the company, Eastman appeared to be trying to move into the 21st century by developing safer chemicals. While it manufactured an endocrine disrupting chemical phthalate called DEHP, banned in the European Union, it also developed a non-DEHP substitution. And in response to rising consumer awareness about another endocrine disrupting chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), used in polycarbonate bottles, it developed Tritan, a substitution for BPA. BPA, even at low does exposure, is linked to breast cancer, prostate caner, obesity, diabetes, erectile dysfunction, sperm damage and DNA damage in fetuses.
But Brian Ferguson, as chair of the ACC, led the choir from a different song book. Why would he act to continue the use of BPA in our most vulnerable persons’ containers…..their baby bottles and sippy cups…. when there are other materials out there, even one that Eastman itself makes, that could be used instead? I just don’t get it!
On November of 2010, Chairman of the Board for ACC Ferguson reportedly led an action aimed at Congress that might have shocked his Eastman investors, shareholders, customers, and employees who really are trying to believe that the company wants to do the right thing.
While Chairman of the Board for Eastman Ferguson has promoted the company as being sustainable, even gaining awards for this, and promoting their Tritan as “BPA-Free,” Chairman of the Board for ACC Ferguson led the full scale attack on the amendment to the Food Security Act that would have removed BPA from baby bottles and children’s sippy cups.
With considerable money spent lobbying, Chairman of the Board ACC Ferguson torpedoed an amendment that, had it gone through, would have sent his new Tritan product sales soaring, plus he would have removed a dangerous chemical from exposing children – something Eastman’s competitor, BPA-maker Sunoco, has already done in its own sales policies by refusing to sell BPA to customers whose products would expose children. Even the United Arab Emirates have announced plans to ban BPA and the European Commission has announced they are banning BPA, it’s been labeled a toxic chemical in Canada, and efforts to restrict it are happening in 20 U.S. states.
As a child I was always told that “a stitch in time saves nine.” Ferguson, as chair of the American Chemistry Council’s recent heavily funded lobbying of Congress, worked to defeat what would have been a small change in the way baby containers are made. This defeat could haunt us years down the road as these children contend with expensive health problems. Is that something Eastman folks can point to with pride from the chair of their board? As a stock holder myself in Tennessee Eastman, I would like an explanation.