Monsanto's Pollution Legacy
In the 1930's Monsanto bought the company that invented PCBs and became the source of all PCBs in the United States.  (PCBs) is the acronym for Polychlorinated biphenyls which are complex chlorinated compounds .
In the Washington Post article (Jan 1, 2002) "Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told" a grim story of Monsanto's treacherous behavior in Anniston Alabama was revealed. It is summed up in this chilling paragraph: "They also know that for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents -- many emblazoned with warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" -- show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew."  
Monsanto's Pollution Legacy
"In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one."
"Sylvester Harris, 63, an undertaker who lived across the street from the plant, said he always thought he was burying too many young children. 'I knew something was wrong around here,' he said."
The article must have been a severe blow to Monsanto PR since it had previously stated in response to a 1994 Sierra magazine article  that "Monsanto has never concealed any hazard of PCBs" and "Claims of 'cover-ups' and 'sacrificing "life itself" to corporate profits' are untrue and out of touch with Monsanto's way of doing business" . This comment makes sense in light of a 1969 Monsanto directive to "a committee the company formed to address controversies about PCBs", it was to have "only two formal objectives: 'Permit continued sales and profits' and 'protect image of . . . the corporation'"  (1). The next year Monsanto secretly agreed that "any written effluent level reports [on PCBs] would be held confidential by the Technical Staff and would not be available to the public until or unless Monsanto released it" . And that was apparently the final word because nothing changed for decades. According to the WP article the public did not become fully aware of the problem until 1993 when, "after a local angler caught deformed largemouth bass [in a local creek] ... the first advisories against eating fish from the area" were issued. This was "27 years after Monsanto learned about those bluegills sliding out of their skins". Monsanto's PCB monopoly had been netting them $22 million dollars a year.
"Today, parts of Anniston are so contaminated that residents have been told not to grow vegetables in the soil, kick up dirt, eat food, chew gum or smoke cigarettes while working in their yards. 'Our children have to play in the streets, on the sidewalks, because they can't play in the grass because it's contaminated,' says resident David Baker. 'We have to wear masks if we cut our grass. Where else in the United States of America are people doing that?'"
"In my judgment, there's no question this is the most contaminated site in the U.S.," says Dr. David Carpenter, a professor of environmental health at the State University of New York in Albany. .
Over twenty thousand Anniston residents were part of the suit which resulted in a $700 million fine. On February 22, 2002, Monsanto was found guilty of "negligence, wantonness, suppression of truth, nuisance, trespass, and outrage." Under Alabama law, the rare claim of outrage requires conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society."
But PCBs are now found everywhere and in everyone  and are virtually indestructible. They travel freely on wind and water and right on up the food chain (note: although "From 1929-1977 [when PCB manufacture was banned], Monsanto Company, [was] the sole manufacturer of PCBs in the United States, [and] produced 700,000 tons of PCBs"  they are not solely responsible for their worldwide distribution. Monsanto PCB customers like General Electric and Westinghouse also released massive amounts into the environment - a timeline ). Indeed in Our Stolen Future, Dr. Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers note that PCBs "might be found virtually anywhere imaginable: in the sperm of a man tested at a fertility clinic in upstate New York, in the finest caviar, in the fat of a newborn baby in Michigan, in penguins in Antarctica, in the bluefin tuna served in a sushi bar in Tokyo, in the monsoon rains falling in Calcutta, in the milk of a nursing mother in France, in the blubber of a sperm whale cruising in the South Pacific, in a wheel of ripe brie cheese, in a handsome striped bass landed off Martha’s Vineyard on a summer weekend. Like most persistent synthetic chemicals, PCB’s are world travelers." (Page 91-92) See PCBs for more details. In fact along with other environmental threats like climate change (global warming) they may even lead to the extinction of polar bears  .
In humans they cause or are a precursor to a wide range of severe ailments including chloracne  (warning: a strong stomach is needed to click here). In fact "PCB exposure increases the risk of almost all major diseases, including heart disease and diabetes," says Carpenter. And although Monsanto publically downplays the toxicity of PCBs (though the record shows that privately Monsanto Knew about PCB Toxicity for Decades) "within the objective scientific community and within the government bodies, there is no debate at all'" . See Mortality among workers exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for a list of serious ailments related to capacitor manufacture using PCBs at an Indiana plant.
Alarm is being raised about the effects of PCBs and other Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) on native peoples in Russia, Greenland and Canada. Though normally boys slightly outnumber girls, evidence has been emerging that families that survive on the traditional indigineous diet of sea food are changing. It turns out that the hormone mimiking effects of these industrial pollutants are causing a radical suppression of male births. "In the north of Greenland, near the Thule American airbase, only girl babies are being born to Inuit families" .
Furthermore their ban was not the end of PCBs, "Due to the long service life of this equipment [electrical transformers], considerable amounts of PCBs are likely to remain in use for many years". For other continuing sources of exposure see section "History of PCBs" here.
Pollution Déjà Vu
Anniston wasn't the only place where toxics were dumped for years by Monsanto; Sauget, Illinois near the banks of the Mississippi river is another notable case (2)  . In fact Greenpeace alleges that "Monsanto has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as being the 'potentially responsible party' for no fewer than 93 contaminated sites (Superfund Sites) in the U.S" . See also Chemical giant ignored in pollution scandal about the case of a Missouri town, Times Beach, evacuated in 1983 due to dioxin and pcb contamination. Also see The Little Town That Whipped Monsanto.
It's also recently been revealed that Monsanto followed a similar pollution path in the UK's south Wales. "Evidence has emerged that the Monsanto chemical company paid contractors to dump thousands of tonnes of highly toxic waste [PCBs]in British landfill sites, knowing that their chemicals were liable to contaminate wildlife and people." A secret Monsanto report on the subject which has emerged in court said that, in response to the prospect of revelation, "'The alternatives are [to] say and do nothing; create a smokescreen; immediately discontinue the manufacture of Aroclors; respond responsibly, admitting growing evidence of environmental contamination ...' A scrawled note at the end of the document says: 'The Big Question! What do we tell our customers ... try to stay in business or help customer's clean up their use?'". Additionally, "Monsanto stopped producing PCBs in the US in 1971, but the UK government, which knew of the dangers of PCBs in the environment in the 1960s, allowed their production in Wales until 1977" (Note: although Monsanto ceased production of liquid aroclor (PCBs) at its Anniston plant in 1971 and solid aroclor in 1972 it continued production at its Sauget, Ill. plant until 1977 for use in electrical systems such as capacitors and transformers ). "'This is one of the most contaminated sites in Wales and it is a priority to remediate because it is so close to habitations,' said John Harrison [Environment Agency Wales'] manager of the Taff/Ely region." .
The amount of PCBs dumped into two "unlined and unsealed" quarries, the Brofiscin Quarry and the Maendy Quarry, is more than 120,000 tonnes according to this article in The Ecologist. An additional five quarries were also used. Additionally the "Brofiscin stands above an underground reservoir that might well in the future be used as a public water supply."
"A previously unseen government report read by the Guardian shows that 67 chemicals, including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs which could have been made only by Monsanto, are leaking from one unlined porous quarry that was not authorised to take chemical wastes" .
A major witness to the events, Douglas Gowan, who is questioning why the government Environment Agency is about to let Monsanto off the hook states that "I have been personally threatened, and my home invaded, necessitating police protection. All I have tried to do is to provide the evidence I have in the best public interest. Instead of that happening a seeming cover up is occuring, involving obstruction of justice, and the question begged is, why?" .
The Solutia Solution
Monsanto's response is to claim that since it spun off a smaller affliate, Solutia (in 1997), then merged with Pharmacia (in 2000) and then two years later sort of de-merged, it is not the same company that is responsible for Anniston .
Says the Farm Industry News, "Monsanto, which has long resided in the crosshairs of public scorn and scrutiny, appears to have dodged at least one bullet by spinning off its industrial chemical business into a separate entity called Solutia a couple of years ago. Solutia has since been hammered by lawsuits regarding PCB contamination from what were once called Monsanto chemical plants in Alabama and other states" .
"Solutia inherited Monsanto's liabilities as a result of 'one-sided negotiations' with Monsanto, according to a court document filed by Jeffrey Quinn, Solutia's general counsel and chief restructuring officer. Monsanto spun off its chemical business, naming it Solutia in 1997, when it decided to focus on its agricultural products. As part of the spinoff, Monsanto put all the liabilities both known and unknown that it had obtained for its nearly 100 years doing business into Solutia, which then became a publicly traded company" .
"Some cynically say the company got its name because it was the solution to many of old Monsanto's problems" , argues Solutia's Glenn Ruskin, "its spinoff from Monsanto Co. unjustly saddled it with hundreds of millions of dollars in environmental cleanup costs and other liabilities.... '(Monsanto) sort of cherry picked what they wanted and threw in all kinds of cats and dogs as part of a going-away present,' including $1 billion in debt and environmental and litigation costs accrued by Monsanto and Pharmacia over a century of manufacturing" . In addition to PCBs the article mentions two Texas asbestos lawsuits inherited from Monsanto involving "about 570 asbestos actions involving 3,500 to 4,500 plaintiffs."
"'Solutia has spent approximately $100 million each year to service legacy liabilities that it was required to accept at the time of the spin-off from Monsanto,' says Solutia chairman, president and CEO John Hunter" . In 2003 Solutia filed for bankruptcy.
Monsanto's three shell game hasn't fooled everyone though, "despite this self-induced identity crisis surrounding the company name Monsanto, a quick look at the people involved reveals that essentially the same cast of characters has been with the (chemical) company since it was (old) Monsanto" .
Additionally "the new Monsanto states in its 2001 proxy statement that the new Monsanto (not Pharmacia) is responsible for the liabilities of Solutia, Inc.(old Monsanto's subsidiary) in the event Solutia, Inc. cannot meet its obligations." Of course the settlement of the case included "no admissions of wrongdoing" .
Update: In August on 2007 an agreement was tentatively reached wherein Monsanto's financial stake in Solutia would be reduced from 20% to 17% in exchange for Solutia's dropping of its claims against Monsanto. However "Equity holders said in court documents filed Aug. 7 that the settlement 'repeats the same theme that propelled Solutia into bankruptcy in the first place: a sweetheart deal that benefits Monsanto while permanently burdening Solutia with hundreds of millions of dollars in legacy liabilities, which it played no role in creating ... 'Monsanto created Solutia as a vehicle to dump massive environmental liabilities generated decades before the spinoff" .
Asks the Environmental Working Group "If Monsanto hid what it knew about its toxic pollution for decades, what is the company hiding from the public now? This question seems particularly important to us as this powerful company asks the world to trust it with a worldwide, high-stakes gamble with the environmental and human health consequences of its genetically modified foods" .
(1) Here one can see another example of Monsanto's concern with damage control and managing its image with regard to increasingly negative PR resulting from its PCB operations in general. With the Toxic Substances Act due to become law the following year and with political and public pressure mounting, Monsanto wrote in 1975: "Principally, Monsanto must not be viewed as being forced into a decision to withdraw from PCB manufacture by either government action or public pressure. Rather, key audiences must perceive Monsanto as having initiated responsible action in a manner consistent with its past reputation and practices." Well yes, it was consistant.
(2) Scott McMurray, "Denying Paternity: Monsanto Case Shows How Hard It Is to Tie Pollution to a Source; PCBs Taint Site Where Firm Used to Produce Them, But it Doesn't See a Link," Wall Street Journal June 17, 1992, pg. A1.
"Stark denials in the face of documented evidence to the contrary have been corporate policy at Monsanto and GE for decades." Eric Francis author of Conspiracy of Silence 
"For years, these guys said PCBs were safe, too. But there's obviously a corporate culture of deceiving the public." Mike Casey of the Environmental Working Group
Other SourceWatch resources
- Chemical Industry Archives The PCB Documents
- A Risk Management Strategy for PCB-Contaminated Sediments downloadable book from the National Academy of Sciences
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