Monsanto, Agent Orange and Dioxins

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Agent Orange

(Note: much of the following is excerpted from The Legacy of Agent Orange).

Agent Orange was manufactured by Monsanto, Dow Chemicals (manufacturers of napalm), Uniroyal, Hercules, Diamond Shamrock, Thompson Chemical and TH Agriculture. Monsanto [was] the main supplier. The Agent Orange produced by Monsanto had dioxin levels many times higher than that produced by Dow Chemicals, the other major supplier of Agent Orange to Vietnam.... Monsanto's involvement with the production of dioxin contaminated 2,4,5-T dates back to the late 1940s. 'Almost immediately workers started getting sick with skin rashes, inexplicable pains in the limbs, joints and other parts of the body, weakness, irritability, nervousness and loss of libido,' to quote Peter Sills, author of a forthcoming book on dioxins. Internal Monsanto memos show that Monsanto knew of the problems but once again a cover-up was the order of the day.... Operation Hades, later changed to Operation Ranch Hand, sprayed 6 million acres of forest in Vietnam, 19 million gallons of defoliant. The intention was to turn Vietnam into desert, to cause such destruction that Vietnam would never recover.... The most gruesome legacy caused by spraying Vietnam with dioxin contaminated Agent Orange was that born by the Vietnamese themselves. In a locked room of Tu Du Obstetrical and Gynaecological Hospital in Saigon are rows of formaldehyde-filled jars containing deformed foetuses, a grotesque illustration of Man's inhumanity to Man. The level of poverty in Vietnam prevents the preservation of further examples. Many of the living have fared little better, limb deformities, cancers. Says this CorpWatch article, "The Vietnamese government estimates that three million Vietnamese were exposed to these chemicals during the war, and that at least 800,000 suffer serious health problems today as a result". Here find photos of Vietnamese children from villages which were heavily sprayed (warning the images are disturbing).

Monsanto responds that while "sympathetic" with the victims "reliable scientific evidence indicates that Agent Orange is not the cause of serious long-term health effects" [1]. However the U.S. Institute of Medicine in their book Veterans and Agent Orange states that there is "Sufficient Evidence of Association" between herbicides used in Vietnam and Soft-tissue sarcoma (including heart), Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, and Cloracne. The book also cites numerous other illnesses with less certain associations [2].

And while 291,000 American GIs sued Monsanto and other chemical companies in 1984 and won an $180 million settlement (albeit what William Sanjour, EPA Policy Analyst describes as only a "token 'nuisance value' settlement'" due to false Monsanto studies which confused the issue[3]), Vietnamese victims have attempted to sue but without success. "In February 2004, the newly -formed Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) filed a class action law suit in a New York court, against Monsanto and 36 other manufacturers of the poisonous chemical" [4]. However "On March 10, 2005, the District Court judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the suit, ruling that there was no legal basis for the plaintiffs' claims" [5]. On February 22, 2008 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York again dismissed the Vietnamese lawsuit even though "studies have shown the compound of dioxin, a component of 'agent orange' herbicides sprayed during the war, is still present in so-called 'hot spots' at levels hundreds of times higher than would be accepted elsewhere" [6]. "'We anticipated this because it is not easy suing big and powerful U.S. companies on U.S. soil and under the U.S. court system,' said Nguyen Trong Nhan, vice chairman of the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin."

At a time when US tobacco corporations have been forced to pay billions of dollars in the US to compensate the victims of smoking, it would seem only reasonable that Monsanto be forced to pay billions to the Vietnamese for the catastrophe Monsanto has wrought on their country [7].

See also Friction Tv's The Horror of Agent Orange. Also see the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.


(Note: much of the following is extracted from The Monsanto Investigation by William Sanjour, Policy Analyst at the EPA)

"The story starts in Nitro, West Virginia at a Monsanto chemical plant which was manufacturing the herbicide 2,4,5-T (the principal ingredient of Agent Orange, which contains traces of dioxin). In 1949, a runaway reaction at the plant caused an explosion releasing reaction material, resulting in many workers being doused with dioxin. In 1978 when concern about dioxin was on the rise and EPA was considering banning 2,4,5-T, Monsanto sponsored several studies of the long range health effects of the workers exposed to dioxin ... These studies were published in medical and scientific journals between 1980 and 1984. Publication of the first study, in 1980, coincided with a time when Monsanto was defending itself in three different legal actions relating to dioxin exposure from their products. Monsanto issued a press release headlined 'Study Fails to Link "Agent Orange" to Deaths of Industrial Workers'. All of these studies showed no statistically significant increase in cancers among the exposed workers. Because of the high exposures, these studies contributed to the conclusion drawn in EPA and elsewhere that: '[T]he human evidence supporting an association between 2,3,7,8-TCDD [dioxin] and cancer is considered inadequate.' Monsanto's studies would promote the idea that human beings, unlike other animals, are relatively immune to this man-made chemical".

Then in Sturgeon, Missouri in 1979 "a freight train derailment caused the spill of a tank car, containing 19,000 gallons of a Monsanto chlorophenol intermediate called OCP-crude,used in making wood preservatives and contaminated with dioxin. Francis Kemner and others exposed to the spill filed a suit in Missouri state court in 1980 (Kemner et al v. Monsanto Company). The trial lasted three years and eight months", which Sanjour later explains was "the longest running trial in history at the time". And while in the end "the jury did not believe the plaintiffs had proven that they had suffered any harm to date ... they were outraged at the egregious behavior of the Monsanto Company". Among the allegations made by the plaintiff's attorneys was:

  • Monsanto failed to notify and lied to its workers about the presence and danger of dioxin in its chlorophenol plant, so that it would not have to bear the expense of changing its manufacturing process or lose customers,
  • Monsanto knew how to make chlorophenol with significantly less dioxin content but did not do so until after the Sturgeon spill.
  • Monsanto knowingly dumped 30 to 40 pounds of dioxin a day into the Mississippi River between 1970 and 1977 which could enter the St. Louis food chain.
  • Monsanto lied to EPA that it had no knowledge that its plant effluent contained dioxin.
  • Monsanto secretly tested the corpses of people killed by accident in St. Louis for the presence of dioxin and found it in every case.
  • Lysol, a product made from Monsanto's Santophen, was contaminated with dioxin with Monsanto's knowledge. Lysol is recommended for cleaning babies' toys and for other cleaning activities involving human contact.
  • The manufacturer of Lysol was not told about the dioxin by Monsanto for fear of losing his business.
  • Other companies using Santophen, who specifically asked about the presence of dioxin, were lied to by Monsanto.
  • Monsanto was aware that dioxin contaminated their lawn care products (which were eventually banned by EPA).
  • Monsanto sold these and many other consumer products knowingly contaminated with dioxin without warning the public for over thirty years.
  • Shortly after a spill in the Monsanto chlorophenol plant, OSHA measured dioxin on the plant walls. Monsanto conducted its own measurements, which were higher than OSHA's, but they issued a press release to the public and they lied to OSHA and their workers saying they had failed to confirm OSHA's findings.
  • Exposed Monsanto workers were not told of the presence of dioxin and were not given protective clothing even though the company was aware of the dangers of dioxin.
  • Even though the Toxic Substances Control Act requires chemical companies to report the presence of hazardous substances in their products to EPA, Monsanto never gave notice and lied to EPA in reports.
  • At one time Monsanto lied to EPA saying that it could not test its products for dioxin because dioxin was too toxic to handle in its labs.
  • At the trial a Monsanto executive argued that it did not report what it considered very low levels of dioxin to EPA because it would merely "add fuel to the media fires."

"Monsanto fought these charges with the best lawyers and expert witnesses that money could buy. They had to; the downside risk to Monsanto was enormous. If the plaintiffs in the Kemner case could collect damages, then every user of Lysol, Weed-B-Gone, and dozens of other consumer products using chemicals containing traces of dioxin might collect damages and put Monsanto and other chemical companies into bankruptcy".

"Despite Monsanto's parade of expert witnesses, the jury expressed its opinion of Monsanto's honesty and integrity by the unusual award of more than sixteen million dollars in punitive damages." However, the "Plaintiffs lost on appeal on the technical legal ground that a punitive award could not be made in the absence of actual damages regardless of the facts in the case".

Several years later, Cate Jenkins, a PhD chemist at EPA, became convinced that Monsanto had deliberately manipulated studies showing that dioxin was a human carcinogen [8][9]. Greenpeace also "issued a detailed 44 page critique of the Monsanto studies by Joe Thornton entitled 'Science for Sale'" [10] (1). Whether this was a case of fraud or not, it wouldn't be unusual for Monsanto [11]

"On February 23, 1990, Jenkins sent a memorandum to the EPA Science Advisory Board entitled 'Newly Revealed Fraud by Monsanto in an Epidemiological Study Used by EPA to Assess Human Health Effects from Dioxins', attaching a copy of part of the Kemner Plaintiffs-Appellees' brief dealing with the Monsanto studies. She requested that the Board or the EPA Office of Research and Development, audit the records of these studies to see if they were flawed". Ironically, rather than investigate the Monsanto studies the EPA launched what Sanjour says was a harrassing investigation of Jenkins. "Within days of learning that the Office of Enforcement [which "began to look into the criminal aspect of the fraud charges"] had initiated a criminal investigation of Monsanto based on Jenkins' allegations, her job duties were withdrawn without warning. She was not given any assignments from August 30, 1990 until she was reassigned on April 8, 1992 to a job which was primarily administrative or clerical." "Dr. Jenkins filed a complaint with the Department of Labor claiming that she was being harassed for carrying out perfectly legal activities". The Labor Department investigated and found in Jenkins favor. The EPA appealed three times all the way up to the Secretary of Labor but each time the Department came down in favor of Jenkins finding that "None of the rationales [explaining her transfer] given by EPA ... appear valid".

"In August of 1992, EPA quietly closed the criminal investigation without ever determining or even attempting to determine if the Monsanto studies were valid or invalid, let alone fraudulent.... There was no public announcement that the investigation was closed. Dr. Jenkins didn't learn about it until fifteen months later. Yet Monsanto knew within a few days of EPA's closure".

According to John Thomas Burch, Jr., an attorney, a Viet Nam veteran and the chairman of the National Viet Nam Veterans Coalition, "Dr. Jenkins' memos about the Monsanto studies 'broke a roadblock' to additional legislation in Congress which 'meant thousands of [veterans] getting medical care who wouldn't have gotten it otherwise.' For this she was awarded a plaque for exemplary service to Viet Nam veterans".

"Although she had committed no crime, Jenkins had been vilified and harassed for the sin of wanting to protect the public from dioxin. Many wrongs, including violations of EPA's own regulations, were committed by those who illegally harassed her, but no one has suggested punishment for them. And while many EPA officials were willing, even anxious, to apologize to Monsanto, none has come forward to apologize to Dr. Jenkins".

Sanjour concluded by saying that "This kind of cold-blooded analysis is bad enough when the product is used by the general public, but it is insufferable when used on our own armed forces who were exposed in combat.... The issue wasn't false science, but allegedly using false science to cover-up a callous hard-hearted decision to continue poisoning our GIs and their children because it was cheaper to do so."

For more see Greenfacts paper on dioxins [12].

Plan Columbia and the Deforestation of the Amazon

Reminiscent of Vietnam, and as a result of the United States' War On Drugs, the aerial spraying of vast sections of the Columbian Amazon Jungle with Monsanto's Roundup Ultra (since 1999) in a supposed effort to eradicate coca (cocaine) plants being grown in the region has been occurring. The effectiveness of the program, however, is greatly in dispute. Additionally, peasants living in the area have been telling of widespread destruction to the forest and other devastating "collateral damage", damage which they say the United States and Monsanto have turned a deaf ear toward.

"I recently received a disturbing email from southern Colombia warning that the fragile Amazonian soil could "soon be turned to desert". They were the words of a Catholic priest, so I rang a church worker whose parish lies deep in the Amazonian state of Caquetá. Military planes targeting coca farms, funded by the US, had been spraying mists of herbicides over food crops, grazing animals and even areas where children were playing, she said: locals were complaining of breathing problems and rashes; "strips of skin" have been peeling off cows, and chickens have died; and maize, yucca, plantain and cacao crops have wilted and shrivelled. "We fear there will soon be a very serious food shortage in the region," she said. The local parish has issued an urgent appeal... Glyphosate is the most frequently used herbicide; its biggest selling commercial formulation is Roundup, made by Monsanto. The company acknowledges that contact with glyphosate may cause mild eye or skin irritation. But independent studies have suggested a far greater range of symptoms, including facial numbness and swelling, rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, chest pains, nausea and congestion... Farm workers in the US are advised to keep clear of weedkillers, yet in Colombia aerial spraying takes place with no warning, showering humans and animals with chemicals... All Colombia's neighbours - Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil - oppose the "fumigation" policy. The Andean and European parliaments have called for its suspension, as have numerous environmentalists, scientists and politicians in Colombia. But spraying has intensified since the launch in 2000 of Plan Colombia, the US-funded counter-narcotics strategy... Back in Caquetá, the church worker described how herbicides have run into rivers and streams, killing fish. Locals wait days before they dare drink the water. One of the most fragile ecosystems in the world "is being poisoned". " Colombia's desert war.

"I went to Colombia, a few years back, as a member of a human rights delegation sponsored by the Colombia Support Network of Madison, Wisconsin, to investigate the effect of fumigation on the farmers or campesinos where the spraying was taking place... We saw the devastation of the countryside caused by the fumigation and saw the effects of the spray on children and adults in the region" Plan Colombia: Mixing Monsanto's Roundup With Bush's Sulfur

"Environmental effects of glyphosate have also been researched, with results that indicated negative effects on both plant and animal life. It was found that this herbicide has toxic effects on most plant species. It affects trees, shrubs, and crops, increasing the susceptibility of crops to disease. Endangered species present in the area are also at risk. The chemical affects fish, birds, and small mammals as well, not only by direct contact but also as a result of the killing of plants. These dramatic changes in the plant community have a detrimental impact on the animals that depend on those plants for food and habitat (Nivia). Fish are especially susceptible to suffering toxic effects, as the temperature of tropical waters is greater than in areas where tests were conducted on the effects of glyphosate on fish (Farley).... The regions where the intense fumigation efforts are being employed are rich and unique in biodiversity. Regions include both the Andean mountains, described as a cloud-shrouded region of waterfalls, rushing rivers, dense forests, and deep mountain gorges, and the lush Amazon Basin (Rohter). The current measures being taken by the U.S. only intensify the negative effects of fumigation that have been occurring over the last ten years and impact the civilian population, the environment, and legal agriculture the most (Chomsky)."

"David Olson, the Director of Conservation Science at the World Wildlife Fund, says that from a global biodiversity perspective the current poisoning of vast areas of Colombian forests – an area equal to 3 national parks each year – is like dynamiting the Taj Mahal. He likens actions being taken by the U.S. to the spraying campaign of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War that disturbed wildlife and natural ecosystems to such a large extent that they have never recovered. The spraying campaign in Colombia will, and already is, having devastating environmental effects. Due to the use of glyphosate, affected forest areas are stripped of their leaves, which results in a loss of habitat for species leading to “increased fragmentation of intact forests, terrible erosion of shallow soils, and destruction of streams and rivers” (Olson)."

"The method that the U.S. is using to apply glyphosate also has very serious environmental implications. Airplanes are being used to spray fields growing illegal substances, fields that are often right next to legitimate crops such as corn, yucca, banana plantations, or large dense forest areas (described above). Given that this method results in the largest amount of drift, legitimate crops growing near coca or poppy crops are in danger. Once sprayed, all other vegetation is left to wither and die because a proper buffer zone is not being enforced. As a result, many peasants are suffering because their food supply is being destroyed by the U.S. government and their water supplies are being contaminated as well (Massey). These legal crops are often part of the crop substitution programs that have been implemented by the Colombian government in an effort to move peasants away from the production of illegal crops (Chomsky). In addition, farm animals such as chicken and guinea pigs have died as a result of the spraying while larger animals such as cows and horses have fallen ill (Rohter). Iván Alberto Chicangana, mayor of a remote Yanacona Indian village in the Andean highlands where spraying has affected the land and the people, said, “The damage done to the physical and economic well-being of this community has been serious and is going to be very difficult to overcome” (Rohter)... The future of Colombia is in the hands of the United States who is interested in little more than profit for themselves. It is an example of neocolonialism at its best, and the effects are devastating and will continue to be. The environment and the poor farmers are the ones who are most affected, yet neither are the source of the problem." [13].

When people showed up in 2001 at Monsanto headquarters to protest they were promptly arrested. "Several dozen protestors were demonstrating against the company's role in fumigating fields in Colombia in an attempt to kill the leaf used to make cocaine. Some demonstrators said the Roundup Ultra spray being used is being 'indiscriminately sprayed on families and farms, not just on growing coca plants,' the Associated Press reported. The demonstrators also said the spraying is negatively affecting water, soil and farmers in the region, and is causing respiratory and skin problems among residents, the AP reported" [14]. See also Plan Colombia needs to be reformedPlan Colombia’s Drug Eradication Program Misses the MarkSpray or Else: U.S. Cuts No Slack in Colombia

(1) Full title: "Science for Sale - Critique Of Monsanto Studies Of Worker Health Effects Due To Exposure To 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)"

Quote: "new information has come to light indicates a clear pattern of manipulation and misconduct in the studies.... Based on the published studies themselves, intra-Monsanto memoranda, and sworn testimony of Monsanto staff and consultants, this report outlines a pattern of manipulation of data and study methods in order to obtain the predetermined result that dioxin had no negative effects on worker health.... as a result of these manipulations the data and conclusions of the three Monsanto studies are essentially meaningless".

It should be noted however that according to Sanjour "A February, 1991, article by Leslie Roberts [in Science magazine](39) says; Everyone Science spoke to who is familiar with the Monsanto studies agrees that they are flawed, but probably not as a result of criminal intent".

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