Mention Monsanto these days and you are sure to get a reaction from almost anyone. The American multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation is making headlines worldwide—and usually not the good kind.
This time, the behemoth biotech, widely known for its controversial genetically modified crop seeds (GMOs) and highly poisonous pesticides, is accused of contaminating an entire small town in Alabama.
Anniston, Alabama, home to 22,666 people, is considered a crime scene by health officials, who contend Monsanto is solely responsible for what is being called the worst PCB contamination the world has ever seen.
Over A Century Of Destruction
Monsanto was founded in 1901 by John F. Queeny and his wife, Olga Monsanto Queeny, who launched the company with their first product, the artificial sweetener saccharine, now known as a one of the Top 4 most dangerous artificial sweeteners ever made (1).
From there, Monsanto has left a trail of destruction that includes poisoning countless towns, lands, waterways and entire ecosystems. The company also supplied the materials for some of the deadliest chemical weapons ever made, including white phosphorous (2) and Agent Orange (3), which have killed thousands of people worldwide.
The unbelievable and devastating repercussions of what many call Monsanto’s unscrupulous practices in the manufacturing and sale of their products includes everything from purposely withholding negative safety studies from the FDA and the public, to knowingly manufacturing and selling poisonous herbicides and pesticides that have resulted in serious health issues for both humans and wildlife, and even death.
In 1986, Monsanto was found guilty of “negligently exposing a worker to benzene at its Chocolate Bayou Plant in Texas.” It paid $100 million to the family of Wilbur Jack Skeen, who died of leukemia after repeated exposures (4).
The list of Monsanto’s crimes is endless and ongoing, including the contamination of the entire town of Anniston, Alabama that actually began in the 1940s.
Anniston Alabama: Monsanto’s Toxic Town
At first glance, Anniston Alabama is an idyllic small town with pristine waters and genuine southern hospitality. But what lies beneath the ground and the raging waters of its white-water river, is something out of a sci-fi horror flick.
In 1993, a local fisherman who caught a severely deformed largemouth bass from the Choccolocco Creek set off a firestorm of media that eventually led to an inconvenient truth for the billion dollar biotech corporation. As it turns out, Monsanto had been knowingly poisoning the people and wildlife of Anniston, Alabama for more than 30 years.
By dumping millions of pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the town’s landfill and creek, Monsanto exposed the community to the deadly chemicals that have since been banned because of their known link to cancer in both animals and humans, including non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a deadly form of the disease(5,6).
The toxic contamination in the small town was so incredible that Monsanto actually bought and then demolished 100 homes that were overwhelmingly polluted by PCBs. After 16-year-old Anniston resident Terry Baker died from a brain tumor and lung cancer caused by exposure to the PCBs, it spurred 20,000 residents to file a class-action lawsuit against Monsanto.
The company was ultimately ordered to pay residents damages of $700 million. But now, more than 13 years later, residents of the small town are finding out that Monsanto’s toxic dumping is still wreaking havoc on their lives (7).
Devastating Liver Damage
The devastatingly toxic PCBs dumped in Anniston, Alabama, continue to affect the health of its residents, according to a new two-year study published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
After finding out about the PCB poisoning, Anniston researchers reviewed the health of 766 of its residents between 2005 and 2007. In 2013, they followed up with 738 of the residents, and later in 2014, with 352 of the same residents. Researchers were astounded to find that the Anniston residents have a 60 percent rate of fatty liver disease compared to the average 24.3 percent rate found in the rest of the general US population.
They further found that while PCB levels dropped slightly from 2007 to 2014, they are still much higher than the general population. More troubling, however, is that despite this slight drop in levels, researchers also found a connection between higher PCB levels and diabetes. They also linked PCBs to high blood pressure and concluded that liver failure or cancer may result from the type of chronic liver inflammation residents of Anniston continue to experience (8).
Deny, Deny, Deny
Even after illegally dumping millions of pounds of PCBs into the once pristine Choccolocco Creek and numerous open-pit landfills that literally oozed with the toxic sludge, Monsanto continued to outright deny the damning evidence of the deadly health repercussions caused by their actions. Investigators found thousands of Monsanto documents, some clearly marked “CONFIDENTIAL: Read and Destroy,” showing intent on the part of the corporate giant, that concealed the dumping for decades.
While of little consequence to the some 20,000 affected residents in Anniston, Monsanto’s lawyers did admit in 2001 that PCB exposure can sometimes cause chloracne, a serious skin condition, which they clearly added was the only significant problem the chemicals are even capable of causing, something that is clearly contrary to every study done on PCBs.
In the interim, Anniston is now a virtual ghost town. With a good chunk of the homes and businesses in the small town destroyed after Monsanto purchased them to mitigate their damages, the remaining residents, most of which are low-income families, are left to deal with the contaminated land and a slew of growing health problems.
One such resident is Brenda Crook, who lived just a block away from the former Monsanto plant responsible for the decades of illegal dumping.
Crook lived in Anniston most of her life, and until the dumping, was a healthy individual by any standards.
“I never drank and I never smoked,” she said in a story published in The Anniston Star in December 2016. “But I got cancer.” (9)
Doctors confirmed high levels of PCBs in her blood. As a result of her cancer, Crook had to undergo expensive treatments, including radiation and three surgeries to date.
“Now I also have gout, high blood pressure and diabetes,” she adds, which doctors also attribute to the PCBs. And because Crook, like most of the Anniston residents, is in a low-income area and is too sick to work, she also struggles to pay the mounting monthly costs of her health insurance’s co-pay, despite the settlement by Monsanto.
Poor, Sick, And Helpless
And with little money to move, most of the remaining residents in Anniston will continue to live in the small town that is so saturated with toxic chemicals that they have literally soaked into the ground they walk on, and then ooze into the very air they breathe every day. The problem is still so bad today that residents have to wear masks just to cut their grass.
While 60 Minutes reports that residents will receive $600 million of the $700-million settlement, and the remaining $100 million will help pay for the clean-up, according to officials at the State University of New York in Albany, Anniston, Alabama is still the most contaminated site in the entire US (10). And they have Monsanto to thank for it.
The only bright light in this otherwise dark story is that Monsanto agreed to fund a medical clinic and PCB research center to help the ailing residents of Anniston deal with their chronic health problems—ironically, the same ones the company insists don’t exist.