On the west side of Anniston, the poor side of Anniston, the people ate dirt. They called it “Alabama clay” and cooked it for extra flavor. They also grew berries in their gardens, raised hogs in their back yards, caught bass in the murky streams where their children swam and played and were baptized. They didn’t know their dirt and yards and bass and kids — along with the acrid air they breathed — were all contaminated with chemicals. They didn’t know they lived in one of the most polluted patches of America.
Now they know. They also know that for nearly 40 years, while producing the now-banned industrial coolants known as PCBs at a local factory, Monsanto Co. routinely discharged toxic waste into a west Anniston creek and dumped millions of pounds of PCBs into oozing open-pit landfills. And thousands of pages of Monsanto documents — many emblazoned with warnings such as “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy” — show that for decades, the corporate giant concealed what it did and what it knew.
In 1966, Monsanto managers discovered that fish submerged in that creek 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 decided “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.”
Monsanto enjoyed a lucrative four-decade monopoly on PCB production in the United States, and battled to protect that monopoly long after PCBs were confirmed as a global pollutant. “We can’t afford to lose one dollar of business,” one internal memo concluded…
…Monsanto’s uncertain legacy is as embedded in west Anniston’s psyche as it is in the town’s dirt. The EPA and the World Health Organization classify PCBs as “probable carcinogens,” and while no one has determined whether the people in Anniston are sicker than average, Solutia has opposed proposals for comprehensive health studies as unnecessary. And it has not apologized for any of its contamination or deception.
This is a culture of life.