against Pollution (CAP) of Anniston Alabama
PCB Contamination from Monsanto facility
monitoring chemicals in the environment and body burden
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.
force responsible parties to clean up the contamination
in local soils and waterways and provide compensation for
chemicals in the environment and body burden.
residents of Anniston formed Community Against Pollution
(CAP) and were the driving force behind the citizen lawsuit
aimed at Monsanto in Alabama state court.
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.
Long, Dirty History of the Anniston Monsanto Plant
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
of ages at testing
days to 94 years
of PCB levels
to 2,111.5 µg/L
percentile PCB level
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.
documents are available on line at: http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org
and Solutia Appear to Cut a Deal Behind Closed Doors
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
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.
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
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.
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.
details about this aspect of the story can be found on line
End of the Story Ų An Out-of-Court Settlement
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.
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
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 community at an early stage is critical for getting more
participants and for the participants to feel comfortable with
what is being done.
full results of the PCB testing as well as the story of the
fight against Monsanto can be obtained at: http://www.communityagainstpollution.org/
Environmental Working Group
Ų site with primary Monsanto documents
(Contact: Mike Casey or Sarah Feinberg 202-667-6982)
Community Against Pollution
protestor at Monsanto Plant. Photo
courtesy of The Anniston Star
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