The Inside Story
"APPROPRIATE RESEARCH EFFORTS"
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 .
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:
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.
"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.
last updated: march.27.2009