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New York Times Article on Monsanto and PCBs

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Today, the New York Times published an article, “Monsanto Could Benefit From Chemical Safety Bill,” which suggests that Monsanto will receive a “gift” from Congress in a chemical safety bill introduced in the House and Senate last year. We’d like to take some time to respond to the article and provide some history on PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls.

To be clear: Monsanto did not ask for any language to be included in the House version of a new chemical safety bill being discussed on the Hill. 

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and its accompanying regulation has, for almost four decades, provided a framework with which to operate when it comes to PCBs.  The legislation was passed after Monsanto had already stopped manufacturing PCBs and allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate PCBs and other chemicals.  It has provided for the protection of consumers and a predictable law under which chemical manufacturers can operate.  The current legislation being proposed in Congress would replace the 40 year-old TSCA.  Monsanto, and many other chemistry manufacturers, are interested in legislation that may result in changes to, or modification of, TSCA.  We are hopeful that chemistry manufacturers and consumers alike will be able to continue to rely upon TSCA’s regulatory structure.  Safety is our number one priority, and we want to make sure that we know and abide by all requirements and restrictions in this area.

The New York Times article suggests that Monsanto would benefit if the House preemption section were included in a final bill passed by both the House and the Senate. Monsanto does not consider either version of the bill, with respect to the effect on preemption, to be a “gift.”  Both versions of the bill narrow the ability of a corporation to rely upon compliance with federal TSCA regulation as the sole law governing its regulated chemicals.  The House version simply preserves the framework that has been in effect since passage of TSCA for chemicals that were regulated before any changes to the legislation.

What the reporter didn’t include in his story was Monsanto’s response to him that this section does not benefit the former Monsanto, or any chemical manufacturer, by shielding them from any legal responsibilities regarding PCBs. And, it doesn’t take away anyone’s right to hold manufacturers and/or those who use and dispose of chemicals liable for their products.

As for PCBs, here’s some information that we hope you will find helpful:

Today, Monsanto is solely focused on agriculture. This focus helps farmers around the world grow enough food to feed a growing world. But “old” Monsanto was a company that focused on chemicals. PCBs were one of the chemicals we produced.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of chemical compounds discovered in the 1800’s. Because of their chemical structure, PCBS are both fire resistant and durable. These qualities made them useful for making a range of products, including motor oil, caulk and paint. Their most common use was as an insulator and flame retardant in electrical equipment.

Monsanto began making PCBs in the 1930s. We sold them to manufacturers of other products. Thanks to their ability to reduce the risk of fire, PCBs were integral to the swift and safe adoption of electricity across the U.S. In fact, many building codes required their use. And by preventing electrical fires, they probably saved a lot of lives.

The durability of PCBs made them useful to manufacturers. But in the late 1960s, some scientists suspected that this same durability meant that PCBs were not breaking down in the environment.

Monsanto scientists and others confirmed this, and the company announced it would voluntarily stop selling PCBs. But in 1972, several government agencies including the EPA, FDA and national Institute of Environmental Health said use of PCBS in electrical equipment was essential until suitable substitutes could be developed.

Still, in 1977, Monsanto voluntarily ceased all production of PCBs. Two years later, the United States passed the Toxic Substances Control Act, allowing the EPA to regulate chemicals.  That eventually led to the EPA finalizing regulations that prohibited the production of PCBs in the U.S. for all but a few uses until a substitute could be developed.

Other manufacturers around the world continued to make PCBs into the 1990s. Today, PCBs continue to be used and imported into the United States through various products, and PCBs continue to be manufactured outside the United States as a byproduct of other chemical processes.

If you have questions about PCBs or our history, please join the Conversation on discover.monsanto.com or connect with us in the Comments and on our social media channels.

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