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Frank Popoff, Who Sought to Lead a Friendlier Dow Chemical, Dies at 88


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Frank Popoff, who as chief government and chairman tried to make Dow Chemical extra conciliatory towards regulators and environmentalists within the late Nineteen Eighties and ’90s, and who prodded the chemical business to undertake safer practices, died on Feb. 25 at his house in Midland, Mich., the place Dow is predicated. He was 88.

A spokesman for the corporate stated the trigger was most cancers.

When the Bulgarian-born Mr. Popoff was named Dow’s president and chief government in 1987, the corporate had begun attempting to shed its picture as a pugnacious chemical large that had manufactured napalm and the defoliant Agent Orange for the U.S. army through the Vietnam Conflict; launched poisonous waste, like dioxins, into the Tittabawassee River from its plant in Midland; and fought the Environmental Safety Company to forestall flyover inspections of its emissions.

An estimated $50 million promoting marketing campaign, begun two years earlier than Mr. Popoff rose to the highest, used the slogan “Dow allows you to do nice issues.” It was supposed to alter public perceptions of Dow, selling a picture of it as a nicer company, underlining its charitable giving and humanitarian makes use of of its merchandise.

“I believe we’ve got a good quantity of labor to do when it comes to the way in which we’re seen,” Mr. Popoff instructed The New York Occasions in 1987, shortly earlier than succeeding Paul F. Oreffice as chief government. “We all know we’ll by no means change Ralph Nader’s thoughts. However Dow is at peace with itself, and we wish our folks to be ok with the corporate, too.”

The corporate was greatest identified then for manufacturing chemical substances, together with chlorine, in addition to for utilizing chemical substances in making plastics, prescribed drugs and grocery store items like Saran Wrap, Fantastik cleansing liquid and Ziploc luggage.

Regulators and environmentalists had been closely targeted on chemical substances on the time. In 1991, Mr. Popoff and one other Dow government, David Buzzelli, arrange a panel of out of doors environmental coverage advisers — amongst them Lee Thomas, a former E.P.A. administrator — who scrutinized Dow’s operations and had been capable of acquire confidential info. A present model of that panel stays in place at Dow.

Between 1988 and mid-1991, Dow lowered by virtually one-third its emissions of 121 dangerous chemical substances that the E.P.A. had tracked, and the corporate was on the way in which to its aim of chopping emissions by one-half.

“I’m within the chemical enterprise,” Mr. Popoff instructed The Detroit Free Press in 1992. “That’s synonymous with quite a lot of dangerous issues. However I’m for environmental duty.”

In a speech to the Financial Membership of Detroit a 12 months later, he elaborated on the necessity for Dow to be open to concepts from regulators and environmental activists. “There isn’t any different to environmental reform in our business,” he stated, arguing that chemical firms ought to lead such efforts or be pressured to cope with poorly designed laws.

Carol Browner, who was the E.P.A. administrator on the time, recalled in an e mail that Dow was “simpler to work with” underneath Mr. Popoff. However when she urged in 1994 that the company wished to “substitute, scale back or prohibit” the broad use of chlorine and chlorinated merchandise inside three years, Mr. Popoff despatched a testy letter to President Invoice Clinton.

“It could be irresponsible to pursue a coverage that presumes all chlorine merchandise are dangerous with out contemplating both the load of scientific proof on chlorine chemistry or the financial ramifications of a chlorine ban,” he wrote. He added: “The choice to pursue such a sweeping method to this very sophisticated situation was reached with out business’s participation. The Dow Chemical Firm is dedicated to constructive participation.”

Jack Doyle, who wrote “Trespass In opposition to Us: Dow Chemical & The Poisonous Century” in 2004 for the Environmental Well being Fund, an advocacy group, stated in an e mail that chlorine was too vital to Dow’s backside line for the corporate to present it up with no battle.

Dow’s dedication to the chlorinated business was “so dominant and so woven into the world’s economic system,” he added, “that making any actual dramatic modifications had been out of the query.”

Frank Popoff, whose given identify was Pencho, was born on Oct. 27, 1935, in Sofia, Bulgaria, to Eftim Popoff, who was often known as Frank, and Stoyanka (Kossoroff) Popoff, who was known as Stany.

He emigrated to the US together with his dad and mom and sister in 1939, and so they settled in Terre Haute, Ind., the place his dad and mom ran a dry-cleaning enterprise.

Impressed by a highschool instructor who had been gassed whereas preventing in World Conflict I, Mr. Popoff studied chemistry at Indiana College, the place he earned bachelor’s and grasp of enterprise administration levels in the identical 12 months, 1959.

He didn’t need to be a chemist, nonetheless.

“Maybe I lacked the creativity and the imaginative and prescient that profitable chemists have,” he stated in an interview in 2012 with the Chemical Heritage Basis in Philadelphia (now the Science Historical past Institute). “I used to be actually within the commercialization and software of chemistry.”

He joined Dow in 1959 and stayed with the corporate for 41 years. He labored in its urethane laboratory, then in technical companies and chemical gross sales within the early Nineteen Sixties. He would later transfer into more and more influential positions: president of Dow Europe in 1981, government vice chairman of Dow Chemical in 1985 and, two years later, president and chief government. He was named chairman in 1992.

Underneath Mr. Popoff, Dow Chemical expanded its Asian operations and purchased a majority stake within the drugmaker Marion Laboratories in 1989 (it was renamed Marion Merrell Dow) earlier than promoting it six years later amid patent expirations and heavy competitors.

Within the early Nineties, Dow Chemical grew to become enmeshed in controversy over the protection of silicone breast implants made by Dow Corning, its three way partnership with Corning Inc.

“Rightfully or wrongfully, there are lots of people outraged concerning the implants,” Mr. Popoff instructed The Free Press in 1992. However, he added, “Our legal responsibility is restricted to that of a shareholder, as a result of that’s what we’re.”

In 1995, nonetheless, the corporate was discovered liable by a Nevada jury for greater than $14 million in damages after a girl suffered well being issues brought on by leaky implants. The subsequent 12 months, the New York State Appellate Division dominated that Dow Chemical was not liable in 1,400 lawsuits over the implants.

Mr. Popoff stepped down as chief government in 1995 and as chairman in 2000. He later taught at Indiana College for a time and served on company boards.

He’s survived by his spouse, Jean (Urse) Popoff, whom he met in faculty and married in 1958; three sons, John, Thomas and Steven; and 4 grandchildren.

Jim Fitterling, the present chairman and chief government of Dow, stated that Mr. Popoff’s most vital achievements revolved round making security a essential aim — “not that it wasn’t vital, however he put it entrance and heart” — and being an early proponent of sustainability. That included producing much less waste, consuming fewer sources and higher guaranteeing worker security. He helped advance a voluntary industrywide code of conduct, known as Accountable Care, which formalized these rules.

However Mr. Popoff stated it wasn’t at all times simple to get different firms to conform. Early on there was pushback.

“Some issues had extra affect for giant firms versus small firms,” he instructed the Science Historical past Institute. “Then the exhausting work started, that of creating certain everybody was compliant. And what are you able to do? You should utilize no matter bully pulpit you need to guarantee different those who it’s not solely of their greatest curiosity, but it surely’s necessary for the business to outlive with out flattening the animosity and the unwell will of society, which the chemical business from time to time is able to doing.”

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