By Dana Drugmand
The former Monsanto company – now owned by Bayer AG – illegally cut a secret deal with General Electric Co. decades ago to try to shield itself from liability related to PCB contamination in western Massachusetts, engaging in a conspiracy that continues to wreak harm on the region, according to new complaints from local officials.
In a January 2 letter sent to several local, state, and federal officials, including President Joe Biden and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan, officials from the town of Lee, Mass., said they believe a 1971 business deal between Monsanto and GE in which GE agreed to release Monsanto from liability for PCB contamination violated the Massachusetts Civil Conspiracy Law. The town plans to file charges against Monsanto this month, the letter states. Lee officials also accuse the EPA of failing to “adequately investigate” the arrangement between the two companies.
Attached to the letter are internal corporate documents, including a “cancer index” detailing a long list of Monsanto employees diagnosed with cancer dating back to 1949. The company spreadsheet notes where the employee worked, what type of cancer they suffered and – for many of the workers– dates of death. Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs in the United States from the 1930s through the 1970s.
The move in Massachusetts comes amid mounting community outrage over the construction of a new toxic waste dump in Lee in Berkshire County near a location where GE used polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBS) for decades in manufacturing electrical transformers. GE discharged the chemical waste into the nearby Housatonic River.
PCBs have long been linked to an array of human health concerns, including leukemia and other cancers. In one study of nearly 400 children, researchers found that detection of PCBs in the home was associated with a 2-fold increase in risk for acute lymphocytic leukemia. PCBs are also known to be harmful to fish and wildlife. They do not easily break down, making eradication difficult.