Community against Pollution (CAP) of Anniston Alabama
PCB Contamination from Monsanto facility
monitoring chemicals in the environment and body burden

Problem Between 1935 and 1971, a Monsanto plant discharged at least 5 million pounds of PCBs in local landfills and around 1 million pounds of PCBs to local waterways near Anniston, Alabama, contaminating air, water, sediment, fish, and ultimately residents.
Objective To force responsible parties to clean up the contamination in local soils and waterways and provide compensation for affected residents.
Monitoring Type Monitoring chemicals in the environment and body burden.
Community Involvement The residents of Anniston formed Community Against Pollution (CAP) and were the driving force behind the citizen lawsuit aimed at Monsanto in Alabama state court.
Notable Feature An ongoing legal drama related to the case involves USEPA and Solutia (a spin-off of Monsanto). There is evidence that the consent decree governing cleanup was altered due to lobbying by Solutia. The final settlement reached in August 2003 was for $600 million.Internal company documents from Monsanto have been released to the public proving they knew about the health risks from PCBs and the extent of PCB contamination in Anniston and hid this information from the public for decades.The case is an example using biomonitoring as part of a successful strategy to obtain some measure of justice for the impacted community.

The Long, Dirty History of the Anniston Monsanto Plant

BACKGROUND: Monsanto‚s Anniston plant produced and released PCBs from 1935 to 1971. The company knew that PCBs could cause health problems, as they admitted in an internal 1935 memo with the double-negative statement that PCBs „could not be considered non-toxicš (Washington Post, Jan-1-2002). A 1937 Harvard study showed that prolonged exposure could cause liver damage and a rash called chloracne (later studies suggest PCBs can cause cancer and nervous system problems as well Ų see health effects section in this handbook). Still, Monsanto did nothing to stop the discharge of huge quantities of PCBs into the environment of Anniston, Alabama.
In the fall of 1966, Monsanto hired Mississippi State University biologist Denzel Ferguson to conduct some aquatic toxicity studies around its Anniston plant. Ferguson submerged tanks with bluegill fish at various points along nearby creeks.

He reported to Monsanto about the results in Snow Creek: "All 25 fish lost equilibrium and turned on their sides in 10 seconds and all were dead in 3 1/2 minutes." "It was like dunking the fish in battery acid," recalled George Murphy, who was one of Ferguson's graduate students and is now chairman of Middle Tennessee State University's biology department. "I've never seen anything like it in my life," said Mack Finley, another former Ferguson grad student, now an aquatic biologist at Austin Peay State University. "Their skin would literally slough off, like a blood blister on the bottom of your foot."
The problem, Ferguson concluded, was the "extremely toxic" wastewater flowing directly from the Monsanto plant into Snow Creek, and then into the larger Choccolocco Creek, where he noted similar "die-offs." The outflow, he calculated, "would probably kill fish when diluted 1,000 times or so." Monsanto kept this information to themselves along with many more studiesŲ while continuing to contaminate the air, water, sediment, and wildlife.

THE PROJECT: Citizen Monitoring is Crucial Step in the Anniston Fight

In March, 2000, a local citizens group in Anniston, Citizens Against Pollution (CAP), began working with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) to study the human dimensions of PCB problem by conducting biomonitoring studies to test blood samples for the presence of PCBs.

ATSDR met with families living within a 1/2-mile radius of the site and invited them to participate in the PCB study. To be eligible for participation in the study, at least one family member had to be a child between the ages of one and seven. ATSDR staff and CAP representatives went door-to-door in the designated neighborhoods to invite eligible families to participate. This participation by the community group was key in getting cooperation and making the participants trust the process of monitoring.. Prior to testing, each adult and a parent or legal guardian of each minor participant was required to sign an informed consent/assent form. A separate informed consent form for environmental testing (levels in the air, sediment, soil and dust in and around the households) was also obtained for each house prior to testing. This step was also very important to generate trust Ų to ask permission to use the information gleaned from testing the blood and household environment.

A total of 18 families participated in the initial study. Environmental samples were collected from these 18 homes, and biological samples were collected from 78 residents of these homes.

A 7-ml blood sample was taken from each participant. After collection, the blood samples were allowed to clot for two hours at room temperature. The tubes were then placed on ice until they were delivered to the laboratory for analysis. Blood collection supplies and laboratory analyses were provided by the National Center for Environmental Health laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Blood serum samples were analyzed for PCB congeners using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy (GC/MS). Results were reported as concentrations of individual PCB congeners per unit volume of blood serum, and also as lipid-based concentrations. Individual congeners were added together to yield total PCB concentrations.

The concentration of PCBs was determined in (non lipid adjusted) blood serum samples from 37 children (16 years old or less) and 43 adults. In adults, the blood PCB concentrations ranged from non-detected to 210 µg/l (26,250 µg/g (ppb) lipid adjusted using 8 g/l lipid). The mean concentration in adults was 14.2 µg/l (1775 µg/g (ppb) lipid adjusted), and the median concentration was 2.2 µg/l. In children, blood PCB levels as high as 4.6 µg/l were measured. Among the adults, five people had a blood PCB concentration in excess of 20 µg/l; the PCB levels in these five people were: 22, 54, 93, 97, and 210 µg/l.

Around the same time this initial study was being performed, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was conducting more extensive body burden testing of the citizens of Anniston, not just those in the vicinity of the plant. The combined results of these monitoring studies have proven quite damaging to Solutia, the Monsanto spin-off corporation being sued by Anniston residents. The results of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services study (shown in table below)also published in 2000 showed PCB levels in Anniston at levels about 10 times those found in residents living near the PCB-contaminated Hudson River.

As a point of reference, the 95th percentile PCB concentration for the general U.S. population is below 10 (µg/L). So the average concentration from both Anniston studies is considered extremely high. There is no doubt that the members of the Anniston community have been severely contaminated by living near the Monsanto facility. (Technical Note: Care must be taken in comparing the numerical value of both sets of these results to PCB results reported elsewhere in this handbook.)

Number of people 2,970
Average age 45 years
Range of ages at testing 3 days to 94 years
Range of PCB levels Non-detect to 2,111.5 µg/L
Average PCB level 14.2 µg/L
Median PCB level 2.5 µg/L
75th percentile PCB level 14.8 µg/L

Pollution and Cover-Up

One of the more shocking aspects of this story comes from Monsanto's own internal documents, made available to the public recently because of the lawsuits brought by Anniston residents, including Owens v. Monsanto, which settled in April 2001 for $43 million dollars. The documents show that Monsanto hid for decades its advanced knowledge of the health effects and vast PCB pollution problems from the public and - most importantly - from its closest neighbors, the people of Anniston. In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in water from a creek into which wastes were discharged turned belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dunked into boiling water. They told no one. In 1969, they found fish in another creek with 7,500 times the legal PCB levels. They came to the puzzling conclusion that "there is little object in going to expensive extremes in limiting discharges." In 1975, a company study found that PCBs caused tumors in rats. They ordered its conclusion changed from "slightly tumorigenic" to "does not appear to be carcinogenic."

The internal documents reveal a disturbing and consistent pattern of corporate deception about what it knew concerning the risks associated with and severity of PCB contamination in Anniston. Before these documents were released, Monsanto frequently maintained that it was proud of how it had handled the situation at Anniston, and that they acted as soon as they realized something was wrong. Further, they claimed that they were frequently the victim of results being taken out of context. The context is now available for the public to see and make a determination. What the courts found in the documentation is a gross disregard for the environment or for human safety and well-being.

These documents are available on line at:

EPA and Solutia Appear to Cut a Deal Behind Closed Doors

Things were not going well for Solutia in the citizen lawsuit filed against it in Alabama state court regarding the Anniston PCB contamination. The state judge in the case seemed all but certain to order a far-reaching cleanup likely to cost the company several hundred million dollars. However, a „partialš consent decree cleanup agreement was quietly negotiated between US EPA and Monsanto without the involvement or knowledge of the contaminated community. The consent decree became public only when a company witness under cross-examination in the ongoing Anniston trial admitted efforts to negotiate a cleanup deal had been long underway. Without this private lawsuit brought by Anniston residents, the public would not have known about EPA's secret dealings with Monsanto.

Consent agreements for pollution cleanups are not uncommon, but what created the ensuing furor was that this agreement effectively replaced a state-ordered cleanup with a federally ordered study of the problem, with no assurances of a long-range comprehensive cleanup or health assessment for community members.

Former US EPA Administrator Whitman requested and received a 45-minute „briefingš on the Anniston situation days after a state jury found Monsanto liable on all counts. Court documents show that within a week of Whitman‚s meeting, a key change was made to the Anniston consent decree, essentially blocking a nearly certain state-ordered cleanup of the pollution source and substituting a federal study. Historically, the Agency has pre-empted state toxic waste cleanup authority in order to catalyze action in cases where state regulators were proving sluggish or taking no action. In contrast, the change made to the Anniston consent decree essentially traded pending state cleanup action for federal study of one of the most contaminated locations in the United States.

It may never be known what happened during the meeting, because the topics of discussion were redacted from the memo about the briefing. The document does indicate that an unnamed Department of Justice official was present at the meeting. Given the presence of a Justice Department official, it appears that the March 6 „briefingš was more of a decision-making meeting, not just an update for Whitman on the situation as it had unfolded to that point. The change made to the consent decree subsequent to Whitman‚s meeting was a major one, and it was highly unusual.

Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) held a hearing in the VA/HUD Appropriations Subcommittee (which funds EPA) seeking information about how the Anniston Partial Consent Decree was constructed and negotiated. Whitman responded in a letter to Mikulski that the Consent Decree was developed following „typicalš and „routineš Superfund procedure. Whitman asserted that „EPA regional attorneys, technical staff and Department of Justice attorneys applied standard Superfund policies in negotiating the recently lodged Anniston Consent Decree.

More details about this aspect of the story can be found on line at:

The End of the Story Ų An Out-of-Court Settlement

In September 2003 Solutia Inc. received final court approval for its $600 million settlement agreement announced the previous month. The agreement settled both PCB-related cases, one in federal court with about 17,000 plaintiffs and a second in Alabama state court with 3,500 plaintiffs. Under the settlement, Monsanto will provide approximately $390 million in cash, commercial insurance will cover about $160 million, and Solutia will kick in $50 million over a decade.

In addition to the settlement dollars from Monsanto and Solutia, Pfizer, which purchased Pharmacia , funded more than $75 million in environmental health care programs, including a clinic and research facility, in Anniston.

REFLECTIONS: Measuring Contaminants in Blood Poses Particular Challenges

The level of effort in collecting and analyzing blood samples for PCB contamination is quite high. There are daunting technical requirements like having the resources to collect the blood in a prescribed manner and being able to get the samples analyzed by a certified analytical lab. It is also important to involve a good statistician to design the sampling program to be mindful of the required sample size to make defensible claims about the results.

Involving the community at an early stage is critical for getting more participants and for the participants to feel comfortable with what is being done.

The full results of the PCB testing as well as the story of the fight against Monsanto can be obtained at:


Kenneth A. Cook
Environmental Working Group
Washington, DC Ų site with primary Monsanto documents
(Contact: Mike Casey or Sarah Feinberg 202-667-6982)

David A. Baker
Community Against Pollution
Anniston, Alabama

PCB protestor at Monsanto Plant. Photo
courtesy of The Anniston Star

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