Quantcast
Popular

Poison Papers: Monsanto Knew PCBs Were Toxic for Years But Sold Them Anyway

Washington could have an ace up its sleeve in its major lawsuit against Monsanto over PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) contamination throughout the state.

Before switching operations to agriculture, Monsanto was the primary manufacturer of PCBs, which was used for paints, electrical equipment and other products, from 1935 until 1977. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned PCBs in 1979 due to its link to birth defects and cancer in laboratory animals. PCBs can have adverse skin and liver effects in humans and can also linger in the environment for many decades.


But according to documents published by The Poison Papers project, a new online archive of more than 20,000 documents obtained from federal agencies and chemical manufacturers, Monsanto possibly knew as early as the 1960s—at least a decade before the federal ban—that PCBs were harmful to public health and the environment but continued to manufacture and sell the widely used product anyway.

Washington assistant attorney general Bill Sherman told the Guardian that the archive contained information the state was previously unaware of.

"If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact," he said. "They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit."

Sherman cited a particular Monsanto pollution abatement plan from October 1969 that was published in the Poison Papers archive. A section of the plan titled, the "damage to the ecological system by contamination from PCBs," states: "The evidence proving the persistence of these compounds and their universal presence in the environment is beyond questioning."

Further, the document says that "direct lawsuits are possible" because "customers using the products have not been officially notified about known effects nor [do] our labels carry this information."

The plan then presents three courses of action, with each action corresponding to "profit and liability" flow charts. The actions are, "Do nothing", "discontinue manufacture of all PCBs" or "respond responsibly."

"At the same time that Monsanto was telling the public that that PCBs were safe, they were literally graphing their potential legal liability against the lost profits and public image boost that might accompany being responsible and honest," Sherman commented to the Guardian. "At the end of the day, Monsanto went for the profits instead of for public health and environmental safety."

Monsanto's vice president of global strategy, Scott Partridge, did not contest the authenticity of the documents.

"More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so," Partridge told the Guardian. "At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the environment."

Washington is seeking damages on several grounds, including product liability for Monsanto's alleged failure to warn about the dangers of PCBs; negligence; and trespass for injuring the state's natural resources. The state is seeking hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars from Monsanto.

The cities of Seattle, Spokane, Long Beach, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley are similarly suing Monsanto over PCB contamination.

In May 2016, a St. Louis jury awarded three plaintiffs a total of $46.5 million in damages in a lawsuit alleging that Monsanto and three other companies were negligent in its handling of PCBs. The case involved three of nearly 100 plaintiffs claiming that exposure PCBs caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

As EcoWatch reported then, the verdict was the first such victory in the city of St. Louis—Monsanto's home town—and a seemingly rare win overall. Monsanto has historically prevailed in similar lawsuits filed against the company over deaths and illnesses related to PCBs.

"This is the future," plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Kherkher told EcoWatch.

The lawsuit claimed that Monsanto continued to sell the compounds even after it learned about its dangers and falsely told the public they were safe. Indeed, internal documents have surfaced showing that Monsanto knew about the health risks of PCBs long before they were banned. A document, dated Sept. 20, 1955, stated: "We know Aroclors [PCBs] are toxic but the actual limit has not been precisely defined."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Shutterstock

Stinkhorns, Truffles, Smuts: The Amazing Diversity—and Possible Decline—of Mushrooms and Other Fungi

By Alexander Weir

"Whatever dressing one gives to mushrooms ... they are not really good but to be sent back to the dungheap where they are born."

French philosopher Denis Diderot thus dismissed mushrooms in 1751 in his " Encyclopedie." Today his words would be dismissed in France, where cooks tuck mushrooms into crepes, puff pastry and boeuf Bourguignon (beef Burgundy), to name just a few dishes.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Shutterstock

Soy Meat Is Soy Yesterday: 5 New and Better Options

By Katie O'Reilly

Vegetarians, vegans and flexitarians are no longer satisfied with the soy-reliant faux meat of yesterday. Soybeans are almost always genetically modified, and they also contain phytoestrogens, which may increase the risk of some cancers.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pexels

Cell Phone Radiation Risks: California Issues Groundbreaking Guidelines

By Olga Naidenko

This week, California officially issued groundbreaking guidelines advising cell phone users to keep phones away from their bodies and limit use when reception is weak. State officials caution that studies link radiation from long-term cell phone use to an increased risk of brain cancer, lower sperm counts and other health problems, and note that children's developing brains could be at greater risk.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Christy Williams / WWF

Celebrating the Biggest Conservation Wins of 2017

It's been a big year for conservation.

Together we assured the world that the U.S. is still an ally in the fight against climate change through the We Are Still In movement, a coalition of more than 2,500 American leaders outside of the federal government who are still committed to meeting climate goals. WWF's activists met with legislators to voice their support for international conservation funding. And we ensured that Bhutan's vast and wildlife-rich areas remain protected forever through long-term funding.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate

3 Extreme Weather Events in 2016 'Could Not Have Happened' Without Climate Change, Scientists Say

Three of 2016's extreme weather events would have been impossible without human-caused climate change, according to new research.

The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a collection of papers Wednesday focused on examining the effect of climate change on 27 extreme weather events last year. The research found that climate change was a "significant driver" in 21 of these weather disasters, and that three events—the temperatures making 2016 the hottest year on record, the heat wave over Asia in the spring, and a "blob" of extremely warm water in the Pacific—"could not have happened" without climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Alan Schmierer

These Butterflies Have Lawyers

By John R. Platt

Don't mess with Texas butterflies. They have lawyers.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
The price of offshore wind energy has dropped significantly in recent years. Wikimedia Commons

Netherlands Launches Landmark Zero-Subsidy Wind Power Auction

The Netherlands has launched the world's first “zero subsidy" tender on Friday to build 700 megawatts of offshore wind. Shortly after the announcement, the country already found its first bidder.

Zero subsidy tenders have been labeled as a “game-changer" for the sector because it means that potential bidders would rely solely on wholesale electricity prices without financial aid from the government.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
India is betting on a "green future" through clean energy and low carbon innovation. UK Department for International Development / Flickr

World's Largest Solar-Wind-Storage Plant Planned for India

A wind, solar and battery storage plant is being planned for the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which has faced power woes in recent months due to grid failure.

The renewable energy facility will consist of 120 megawatts of solar, 40 megawatts of wind, 20-40 megawatt-hours of battery backup and will be spread over 1,000 acres in the district of Anantapur.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!