Monsanto found guilty of polluting
Monsanto Investing News web page.
Monsanto found guilty of polluting
David Teather in New York
Monday February 25, 2002
Monsanto, the company linked to the development of genetically modified food, has been found guilty
of decades of pollution in a small US town. The verdict, a victory for 3,500 residents in the
Alabama town of Anniston, opened the door for millions of dollars of claims against the company
and Solutia, its former chemicals business that was spun off in 1997. Damages have not yet been set.
Monsanto had been accused of pumping the local river with chemicals called PCBs, which were banned
by the US government in the 1970s as a possible carcinogen. It had also buried waste in a landfill.
Lawyers claimed Monsanto had deliberately covered up evidence that the PCBs were harmful,
including evidence of fish dying in nearby creeks. Internal memos were produced that insisted they
should protect the image of the corporation. One said: "We can't afford to lose one dollar of business."
Although a clear link between the chemicals and cancer has not been proven, the people of Anniston
have argued for years that their cancer rate is abnormally high. Some of the plaintiffs were found to have
PCBs in their blood 27 times higher than the national average. Monsanto's defence was that it closed the
plant in 1971, eight years before the government ban. The company said it was not aware the chemicals
were being released or that they could be dangerous. It has spent $40m (£27m) on a clean-up operation.
Other residents' claims are proceeding in separate state trials and 15,000 are planning to pursue a class action.
The company has paid $80m in out of court settlements. Pharmacia, the firm that bought Monsanto
in 2000, was also found liable. The chairman of Solutia, John Hunter, said he was disappointed by the verdict.
"We understand that Anniston residents have concerns about PCBs. As we've said from the beginning,
we're committed to doing what's fair to deal properly with the impacts of previous PCB production at our plant."
Jury finds Monsanto liable for releasing tons of PCB
Washington Post 23feb02
An Alabama jury has found that Monsanto Co. engaged in "outrageous" behavior by releasing tons of
polychlorinated biphenyl into the city of Anniston and covering up its actions for decades, handing 3,500 local
residents a huge victory in a landmark environmental lawsuit. The jury in Gadsden, Ala., a town 20 miles from Anniston,
yesterday held Monsanto and its corporate successors liable on all six counts it considered: negligence, wantonness,
suppression of the truth, nuisance, trespass and outrage. Under Alabama law, the rare claim of outrage typically
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." After a six-week liability trial, the case
now proceeds to a damages phase. Solutia Inc., the corporation formed when Monsanto spun off its chemical
division in 1997, has already spent $83 million to settle two other PCB cases in Anniston as well as $40 million on
cleanup costs. Shares in Solutia, the lead defendant in the case, plunged 34 percent to $5.80 after yesterday's verdict.
Overall, they have plummeted 59 percent from $14.02 since a Jan. 1 story in the Washington Post revealed Monsanto
documents showing that the company routinely dumped PCB in Anniston and covered up its behavior for more than
40 years. Meanwhile, 15,000 additional area residents have filed another lawsuit citing health problems, property
damages and emotional distress caused by PCB contamination. And a Senate committee is preparing to hold
hearings on the situation. Solutia CEO John Hunter said his company is "extremely disappointed" with yesterday's
verdict. "This case is not over," said Solutia spokeswoman Beth Rusert. "But regardless of how it turns out, we're
going to do our part to clean up the PCBs in this community." Polychlorinated biphenyl has been banned in the
United States since 1979, but it was once known as a life-saver, nonflammable coolant that prevented explosions in
electrical equipment. From 1935 on, Monsanto was the only American company that made PCB, at one plant in
Illinois and another in working-class west Anniston. Today, PCB is known as a global pollutant and possible carcinogen,
although debate still rages over the extent of its risks to human health. The Bush administration recently ordered General
Electric to spend $460 million to dredge its PCB out of the Hudson River, but scientists say the situation in Anniston is
much worse. Yards and creeks there have the highest levels of PCBs ever recorded in a community, and people have
unprecedented PCB levels in their blood. Anniston residents did not learn about the pollution until 1996, even though
documents show that Monsanto knew about it for decades. In 1966, for example, Monsanto managers discovered that
fish dunked in a local creek turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling
water. In 1969, they found a fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB level. But they never told their neighbors,
and concluded that "there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges." "Those people destroyed
this community," said David Baker, president of the local group Citizens Against Pollution. "They poisoned us, they profited
from us, and now it's time for them to pay." At the trial, attorneys representing Monsanto and its corporate kin argued that the
company acted "promptly and responsibly" to limit its PCB releases once it learned that the chemicals could linger in nature
for centuries. They also pointed out that the Anniston plant stopped making PCB eight years before a national ban took effect.
Those arguments were undermined by documents -- many featuring warnings such as "CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy" --
that suggested a companywide preoccupation with maintaining its $22-million-a-year PCB monopoly regardless of health or
environmental risks. "We can't afford to lose one dollar of business," one internal memo declared. A committee the company
formed to address controversies about PCB had only two formal objectives: "Permit continued sales and profits" and "protect
image of . . . the corporation." "Ultimately, Monsanto's own words did them in," said Brendan DeMelle, an analyst for the
Environmental Working Group, an anti-chemical advocacy group.
Further resources on the lawsuit the pollution caused by Monsanto can be found at:
Anniston, Alabama: In-Depth (Pollution, Contamination, Betrayal)