The former Monsanto made PCBs in Anniston, Ala. and Sauget, Ill., from the 1930’s to 1970’s. It was a chemical used widely for decades to insulate and cool electrical equipment. Due to their ability to greatly reduce electrical fires, PCBs were integral to establishing electrical wiring across the United States, and likely saved thousands of lives from electrical fires. In fact, PCBs were required to be used by government building codes for years because of their effective fire resistance properties.
It turned out that some of the same features that made PCBs so attractive to the electrical industry also resulted in their persistence in the environment, because they do not readily biodegrade. For this reason, Monsanto voluntarily stopped making PCBs in 1977. Their further manufacture was banned by the U.S. government in 1979.
Today, Monsanto is 100% focused on agriculture and, while PCBs having nothing to do with the company’s current business, we are committed to resolving our liabilities regarding PCBs responsibly. Read below to learn more.
General background on PCBs
PCBs were man-made chemicals used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications. Because PCBs were non-flammable and provided electrical insulating properties, they were used to increase the safety of products, such as electrical equipment, fluorescent light ballasts, cable insulation, caulk and thermal insulation. In fact, many electrical and building codes and insurance companies required PCBs for use in electrical equipment in buildings where the possibility of fire presented a risk to human life.
The usage of PCBs in this way, enabled other companies to bring useful new products to consumers, that would not have been possible otherwise because of fire risk, and contributed to the widespread adoption of electricity. The use of PCBs in hydraulic systems, lighting, cable insulation, and other electrical equipment resulted in reduction in fires, and likely saved thousands of lives that would have otherwise been lost in electrical fires.
In 1966 Swedish scientists reported the detection of PCBs in the environment. This finding resulted in Monsanto and others investing in additional studies.These studies helped to lead to the decision by the former Monsanto to stop manufacturing PCBs and, later, to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to ban their production and use.
Since that time, the health effects of PCBs have been extensively studied. Published studies have shown no consistent excesses in cancer among highly exposed PCB workers.
The Former Monsanto Company (1901-2000) and PCBs (1935-1977)
The former Monsanto Company produced and sold PCBs to manufacturers – such as General Electric and Westinghouse – that incorporated the fluid into their products. The former Monsanto’s PCB products bore the trade name “Aroclor” (although not all Aroclor products were PCB products).
Although the former Monsanto Company was the principal manufacturer of PCBs in the United States, its share of the global production was about 45%. There were many manufacturers in other countries, including West Germany, East Germany, Japan, France, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Italy, Poland, Russia and China. Production and use of PCBs continued in many of these countries into the 1990s.
- 1935: The former Monsanto Company began selling PCBs in response to the electrical industry to provide increased fire resistance in transformers and capacitors.
- 1966: Monsanto and others began to study PCB persistence in the environment.
- 1970: Upon the study’s confirmation of PCB persistence in the environment, Monsanto notified its customers and voluntarily ceased sales of PCBs for virtually all non-electrical applications. The EPA was also established later this year, on December 2nd.
- 1972: A joint report by agencies of the U.S. government, including the EPA, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, recognized Monsanto’s efforts to reduce discharges of PCBs to the environment; noted there was no evidence at that time concerning any potential human health effects; and stated the continued use of PCBs in electrical equipment was essential until suitable substitutes could be developed. Monsanto did continue to produce PCBs for usage in necessary equipment, pursuant to the governments request based on electrical safety.
- 1977: Monsanto voluntarily ceased all PCB production in 1977.
- 1979: The EPA issued regulations prohibiting manufacture and distribution of PCBs, but the agency specifically authorized the continued use of PCBs in certain electrical applications for safety reasons until an alternative material could be found.
Current Monsanto Company’s Involvement and Liability Today
In 2002, following a multi-year period of mergers and reorganizations, Monsanto became an independent, publicly held agricultural company. Under various contractual agreements with those former businesses, the current Monsanto Company manages several legacy liabilities, which in most cases have nothing to do with the company’s current business. Regardless, we take our commitments seriously and strive to resolve these liabilities responsibly.