Archives Reveal Monsanto Continued to Sell Banned Chemicals

Monsanto is again discovered to have put profits over public health.

Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters and other documents have been published in the new archive, many for the first time.

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests digitised by the Poison Papers Project, which was launched by the Bioscience Resource Project and the Center for Media and Democracy. Chiron Return contributed some documents to the library.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington – which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars – said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told the Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

As well as the Washington case, Monsanto is facing PCB contamination suits from city authorities in Seattle, Spokane, Long Beach, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley.

Any legal liabilities may be shared with the German chemicals company, Bayer, which has mounted a $66bn (£51bn) takeover bid for Monsanto. The European commission aims to complete a competition probe into the merger by 22 August, amid signs of public unease in Europe and the US.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are long-lived pollutants that were mass produced by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977 for use as coolants and lubricators in electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors.

By 1979, they had been completely banned in the US and elsewhere, after a weight of evidence linking them to health ailments that ranged from chloracne and Yusho (rice oil disease) to cancer, and to environmental harm.

Yet a decade earlier, one Monsanto pollution abatement plan in the archive from October 1969, singled out by Sherman, suggests that Monsanto was even then aware of the risks posed by PCB use.

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.”