In a section on “damage to the ecological system by contamination from PCBs,” it said: “The evidence proving the persistence of these compounds and their universal presence in the environment is beyond questioning.”
“Direct lawsuits are possible” it continued, because “customers using the products have not been officially notified about known effects nor [do] our labels carry this information.”
The plan offered three courses of action, each accompanied by “profit and liability” flow charts. The options were: “Do nothing”, “discontinue manufacture of all PCBs” or “respond responsibly,” admitting environmental contaminations, and taking remedial action.
Sherman said: “At the same time that Monsanto was telling the public that that PCBs were safe, they were literally graphing their potential legal liability against the lost profits and public image boost that might accompany being responsible and honest. At the end of the day, Monsanto went for the profits instead of for public health and environmental safety.”
Another internal memo
from September 1969 lists PCB leakages in the Gulf Coast, Great Lakes and San Francisco Bay areas and outlines potential cleanup actions. But the memo also says Monsanto’s strategy should be to “let govt prove its case on a case by case basis”.
It says: “We can prove some things are ok at low concentration. Give Monsanto some defence. We can’t defend vs everything. Some animals or fish or insects will be harmed.”
The presentation described the firm’s Aroclor 1254 and 1260 products as “the most serious offenders” in what it admitted was “a worldwide ecological problem”.
Monsanto began manufacturing PCBs in 1935, after acquiring the Swann chemical company. It went on to dominate global production.
Adverse health effects linked to PCBs had first forced their way on to the company’s agenda in 1937
, when autopsies revealed that three Monsanto workers had died from severe liver damage after handling the substance.
These concerns ratcheted up several levels in 1966, when a landmark study by Soren Jensen discovered the bioaccumulation of PCBs in Baltic fish and sea birds.
By the 1970s, nearly 80% of the Baltic Sea’s three female seal species were found to be infertile, and correlations with PCB exposure were soon established.
By 1972, Monsanto had voluntarily stopped selling PCBs for all uses except in enclosed electrical applications. In the same year, Sweden and Japan imposed moratoriums on “open” PCB use and manufacture.
In the US, an interdepartmental government task force
called for the use of PCBs to be restricted to “essential or non-replaceable uses which involve minimal direct human exposure since they can have adverse effects on human health.”
But their report found “no toxicological or ecological data” to indicate a threat to human health from levels thought present in the environment, although the data available to the task force to was “inadequate”, its authors said.
EU agencies today cite PCBs as a textbook justification
for the bloc’s precautionary principle, obliging caution in the face of potential health and environmental hazards.