Anniston's nightmare lingers on (12/6/2007)

GM Watch comment: The following article shows the continuing impact on the lives of residents in Anniston, Alabama of Monsanto's 40+ years of dumping of PCB-contaminated wastewater into areas where residents could be directly exposed to it.

The wastewater left the plant at the edge of town before entering streams, ditches and landfills in the mostly black west end of town. During heavy rains the ditches and landfills flooded, sending the wastewater into homes and contaminating soil in yards (gardens), unleashing a toxic nightmare onto the black homeowners.

The nightmare continues even during the cleanup as residents could still be inhaling PCB-contaminated dust as the waste is transferred from backyards to nearby landfills, potentially increasing the spread of the high levels of PCB pollution.

What's so revealing, though, about Anniston is not just the scale of the pollution created by Monsanto but the conspiracy of silence that was exposed during the 2002 court case that led to massive damages against the corporation.

As the Washington Post reported, "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." (Monsanto Hid Decades Of Pollution, PCBs Drenched Ala. Town, But No One Was Ever Told)

According to the article:

"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."

"Sylvester Harris, 63, an undertaker who lived across the street from the plant, said he always thought he was burying too many young children. 'I knew something was wrong around here,' he said."

The Alabama jury found Monsanto's conduct "outrageous" - a highly specific charge under Alabama law used only for conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society."

More recently it emerged that PCB dumping by Monsanto had also occurred in the UK.

Monsanto meanwhile has reinvented itself, offloading its chemicals production onto the ill-fated Solutia Inc., and branding itself a life science company.

The Environmental Working Group is among those who've asked what Monsanto's legacy tells us: "If Monsanto hid what it knew about its toxic pollution for decades, what is the company hiding from the public now? This question seems particularly important to us as this powerful company asks the world to trust it with a worldwide, high-stakes gamble with the environmental and human health consequences of its genetically modified foods."


Residents asked to check before digging near creeks
By David Atchison Daily Home Online (Alabama), 10 June 2007

TALLADEGA COUNTY - Pollution problems still exist in the Coosa Valley region, prompting an official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ask individuals and developers to check with the agency before moving dirt along Choccolocco Creek.

The creek, which runs through northern Talladega County and feeds into Logan Martin Lake, is contaminated with PCBs, also known as polychlorinated biphenyls.

PCBs, which were used as electrical insulation, are a possible carcinogen. Since the mid-1930s, Solutia Corporation, formerly Monsanto Company, dumped PCBs onto the ground and into the water until the chemical was banned in the United States in 1979. Through Snow and Choccolocco creeks, PCBs from the Anniston plant have found their way into Talladega County and as far west as Logan Martin Lake.

"People should be careful what they do in and near Choccolocco Creek, especially if they are in the flood plain," said Pam Scully, EPA's remedial project manager for the Anniston PCB site cleanup.

She said in Calhoun County, the presence of PCBs is a problem in the flood plain.

"Further down (Choccolocco Creek), PCBs may not be an issue in the flood plain," Scully said. "We know there are PCBs in the creek; we don't know if they're in the flood plain."

She said residents and developers should consult the EPA before moving any dirt in the flood plain along Choccolocco Creek.

"All we ask is that they at least call us, because we may have some data," Scully said. "We have some data, but not enough data."

She said soil tests could be done before any dirt is moved. If PCBs are found, the contaminated soil could be removed from the site properly.

Jerome Hand, public relations director for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said anyone clearing land must obtain an NPDES permit from ADEM in connection with any land disturbance, like land development, if more than one acre of property is disturbed.

He said that's for any property in the state, not just land along or near Choccolocco Creek. Even if the development is less than one acre, but part of a larger project, the developer or owner of the property must apply and secure a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from ADEM, Hand said.

The law is in place to prevent storm water discharges into streams, creeks, rivers and lakes. "We protect Alabamians by implementing environmental regulations," Hand said. "That's our mission statement."

Scully said it could take two to three years to complete the EPA remediation study for the PCB problem along Choccolocco Creek. "We've got a plan to do sampling this summer and next summer," she said. "It may take one more summer to determine what's out there and what to do with it."

Signs are posted along Choccolocco Creek warning people not to eat any fish caught there, since they may have absorbed some of the chemical into their bodies.

Fish samples collected by ADEM and tested by the Alabama Department of Public Health in Choccolocco Creek have high concentrations of PCBs.

Because of the presence of high concentrations of PCBs found in fish, there is a no-consumption advisory for all fish caught in Choccolocco Creek.

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