ToxicDocs: secret documents on chemical toxicity available for public health research

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ToxicDocs is a new resource for journalists, researchers, community groups, unions, and others who investigate the harmful consequences of industries that use toxic substances. The free and open-to-the public site is a searchable repository of twenty million pages of documents, with more to be posted in the future.  The documents have been retrieved from public archives and private communications that have become open to the public in lawsuit “discovery”. Created by two public health historians, Gerald Markowitz of City University of New York and David Rosner of Columbia University and their colleague Merlin Chowkwanyun, the site promises “blazingly fast searches of once-secret industry documents.”

Now in a special issue, the Journal of Public Health Policy, available free and online, presents several commentaries , including one by the site’s founders Rosner, Markowitz and Chowkwanyun , on the history and use of ToxicDocs.  In addition:

Stéphane Horel of LeMonde, who has already used many documents that will be in ToxicDocs.org describes the difference such data make for investigative journalists.

Christer Hogstedt (from Sweden) and David Wegman (US) explore the role that ToxicDocs may play in environmental protection.

Jock McCullogh from South Africa explains the role that previously secret documents can play in protecting gold and asbestos miners.

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who used these documents when he was Attorney General for Rhode Island writes about ToxicDocs in the public sphere.

Robert Proctor tells the early history, starting with tobacco litigation, and how it has changed our ideas of progress in public health.

Elena Naumova suggests the immense power of large data sets (Big Data), particularly when they are searchable.

and Corporation and Health Watch’s Nicholas Freudenberg argues that ToxicDocs provides a new tool for researchers and advocates, a new approach to teaching public health, and adds to the growing number of resources available to investigate the role of corporations in shaping patterns of health and disease and public health policy.