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The Inside Story



Anniston's PCBs in the press

Monsanto told the jury and the court in their opening statement during the Owens v. Monsanto trial that the company learned of the persistent nature of PCBs in 1966, when Swedish scientists announced that they had found PCBs in human hair, fish, birds, eggs, and pine needles and had concluded that PCBs had highly persistent and bioaccumulative abilities in the environment. However, Monsanto omitted to tell the court that the company had launched an organized effort to discredit the work of the Swedish scientists as soon as it learned about the study.

Despite the fact that the company had actually known of the persistent nature of PCBs since the late 1930s (after all, PCBs were marketed as stable, highly resilient, compounds), Monsanto set out to attack the Swedish study in an effort to prolong even further the public's finding out about the PCBs already accumulating in the environment.

Monsanto began its counter attack by first attempting to confirm that the Swedish scientists had in fact found PCBs and had not mistakenly identified another compound.

At first there was some confusion on Monsanto's part as to which chemical the Swedish scientist might have found, and the company doctor was convinced that another chemical, and likely another Monsanto product, had been detected instead of PCBs. But, the Monsanto doctor was reluctant to point toward one of the company's herbicides, which he suspected was a more likely culprit, as explained in this document:

"I do not believe that we can glibly accept Aroclors as a synonym for polychlorinated phenols that were discussed at a meeting of scientists at the Wenner-Gren Centre in Stockholm on November 27 [1966].

There are polychlorinated phenols which presumably could include derivatives from, or impurities in pentachlorophenol, and, especially, 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. These compounds would be much more liable to appear in salmon, pike, and sea eagles than any derived from Aroclors.

There are many chlorinated polyphenyls that can be formed during the manufacture of 2,4,5-T [another Monsanto product and the prime ingredient in Agent Orange] and probably pentachlorophenol, as well. Our only problem is whether or not we want to bring these facts up and have our herbicide program receive another black eye. This, I will have to leave to your judgement.

I think the question here is primarily an analytical problem. How can we find out what product Mr. Jensen is talking about? [Kelly to Wood; December 12, 1966]

It was actually a Shell scientist who made the confirmation that the Swedes' chemical was PCBs and alerted Monsanto. [Hardy to several Monsanto employees marked COMPANY CONFIDENTIAL; January 6, 1967 ]

After learning definitively that their PCBs were the culprit, Monsanto began its response, hoping to discredit the scientists. Monsanto hoped to:

"establish by appropriate research efforts 'tolerance' or safe levels for particular Aroclors in the environment." [Confidential: Report of Aroclor "Ad Hoc" Committee]

The company contracted with a laboratory called Industrial Bio-Test to do animal-feeding studies hoping to show that PCBs were not as bad as had been suggested by independent scientists.

Industrial Bio-Test, a lab that many chemical companies hired to perform tests which were used in seeking Federal approval of chemical products, was later convicted for falsifying chemical testing results and "fixing" studies. Three of its employees received prison sentences, and many of their chemical industry clients sued IBT and were shocked to learn of the misconduct. Monsanto was not among those who condemned IBT, and it appears that Monsanto never brought suit against IBT or its convicted employees.

Besides the "appropriate research efforts" underway at Industrial Bio-Test, Monsanto went to great lengths to influence the Swedish scientist's writing about his findings:

"The point that I [Monsanto's D. Wood] have made to Jensen is the need for care in any further publication of his work which is made... I am hopeful that we might persuade Jensen himself to write a letter defining the true extent of his own research work and placing his results in their proper perspective." [D. Wood to G.R. Buchanan Re: Sweden, Aroclor; January 26, 1967]

"Either his position is attacked and discounted or..."

In 1968, Monsanto found itself once again defending itself against a scientist who had found PCBs in wildlife and the environment, only this time the source of frustration was domestic. A scientist at UCLA Berkeley had discovered PCBs in fish and birds along the coast of California and beyond, as described in this internal Monsanto document:

"In a few words, Risebrough has found PCBs along with chlorinated pesticides in a number of species of fish and birds along the California coast as well as in waters off Baja California and Central America. He further reports PCB in fish from the Channel Islands and Puget Sound. No PCB was detected in the liver of tuna taken in the Galapegos Archipelago. Scott Tucker is going to scrutinize the analytical aspects and particularly the validity of some of the assumptions made by the author." [Wheeler to Richard; October 21, 1968]

Much to Monsanto's dismay, the UCLA scientist had published his work in the journal Nature, as noted in another Monsanto document:

"Riseborough in a recent paper "Nature", Vol. 220, Dec 14, 1968, has attacked chlorinated biphenyls in three ways:

(1) a pollutant- widely spread by air-water; therefore an uncontrollable pollutant.

(2) A toxic substance- with no permissible allowable levels causing extinction of peregrine falcon by induced hepatatic enzymes which degrade steroids unsetting Ca metabolism leading to reproductive weakness, presumably through thinner egg shells.

(3) A toxic substance endangering man himself; implying that the peregrine falcon is a leading indicator of things to come."[Richard to Wheeler: Aroclor Wildlife Accusations; March 6, 1969]

Further down, the memo details Monsanto's planned response to the scientist's publication:

"Monsanto is preparing to challenge certain aspects of this problem but we are not prepared to defend against all of the accusations.

(a) Monsanto is preparing itself to identify trace ppb quantities of chlorinated biphenyls in water samples, in concentrated collected air samples, and in animal tissues. We will know whether we have been falsely identified and accused or not. We will eventually know where any pollution is taking place and the extent of the pollution.

(b) We are not prepared to defend ourselves against the accusations made of enzyme and hormone activity, the isolation of the enzymes or metabolic products, the indirect accusation of cancer, or the splitting of genes, when its accusation is made. Whether we can defend this route or not needs further discussion.

(c) Through the Industrial Bio-Test program we are to establish the long term allowable limits of chlorinated biphenyls for certain birds-fish-animals by feeding experiments, pathological examination, and tissue analysis for chlorinated biphenyls. We may be able to answer reproductive ability in some animals.


Where does this leave us?

Under identification and control of exposure- we will be able to identify and analyze residues as well or better than anyone in the world. We will probably find residues other than DDT and PCB's. We will probably wind up sharing the blame in the ppm to ppb concentration level.

We can take steps to minimize pollution from our own chlorinated biphenyl plants, we can work with our larger customers to minimize pollution, we can continue to set up disposal and reclaim operations. We can work for minimum exposure in manufacture and disposal of capacitors, transformers and heat transfer systems, and minimize losses for large hydraulic users.

But, we can't easily control hydraulic fluid losses in small plants. It will be still more difficult to control other end uses such as cutting oils, adhesives, plastics and NCR paper. In these applications exposure to consumers is greater and the disposal problem becomes complex. If chlorinated biphenyl is shown to have some long term enzyme or hormone activity in the ppm range, the applications with consumer exposure would cause difficulty.

Risebrough has taken known Aroclor samples and claims to have evidence of enzyme and hormone change. Here there is no question of identification. Either his position is attacked and discounted or we will eventually have to withdraw product from end uses which have exposure problems. Since Risebrough's paper in "Nature", Dec. 1968 has just been published, it is timely, perhaps imperative, that this paper and its implications be discussed with certain customers. This is a rough one because it could mean loss of business on empty and false claims by Risebrough.

Well prepared discussions with Ind. Bio-Test, Monsanto biochemists, the medical and legal departments must take place now. The position of DDT manufacturers should be determined as a guide. We are being accused of the same things attributed to DDT." [Richard to Wheeler: Aroclor Wildlife Accusations; March 6, 1969]

"The latter phrase is preferable"

In 1975, after being commissioned by Monsanto to conduct cancer studies on lab rats fed PCBs, Industrial Bio-Test issued its findings to the company in a series of reports, concluding that PCBs were "slightly tumorigenic." Monsanto wrote a letter to the lab in response, explaining that it had revised the conclusion of two of the reports and requesting that the scientists falsify their findings in the third report by changing the wording of the conclusion to one more preferable to the company.

"Dear Joe:

The attached table summarizes a comparison of the 3 revised AROCLOR reports (1242, 1254, 1260).

In two instances, the previous conclusion of "slightly tumorigenic" was changed to "does not appear to be carcinogenic". The latter phrase is preferable. May we request that the AROCLOR 1254 report be amended to say "does not appear to be carcinogenic". [Levinskas Monsanto to J.C. Calandra IBT: re: AROCLOR 2-year Rat Feeding Studies; July 18, 1975]

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last updated: march.27.2009

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