Monsanto is under investigation amid allegations it sanctioned the dumping of toxic waste on sites across the country despite evidence that it would poison the landscape for generations.
The activities of the US chemical giant, best-known for its support and development of Genetically Modified plants (GM / GE), are being examined by the UK government’s Environment Agency and public health bodies. Monsanto manufacture GM seeds and were also the the corporation who produced Agent Orange.
The focus of the investigation is a site in south Wales that has been called ‘one of the most contaminated’ in the country. It appears that toxic chemicals were dumped in the Brofiscin quarry in the 1960s and 1970s despite the fact there was no licence for these materials and the site was not lined or sealed. This meant a cocktail of highly poisonous chemicals has been able to escape into the environment and threatens to poison local streams and rivers. The quarry, which is on the edge of the village of Groesfaen, near Cardiff, first erupted in 2003, spilling fumes over the surrounding area.
Since then surveys have found that 67 chemicals, including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs which could have been made only by Monsanto, are leaking from the site.
The Environment Agency says that if the dumping were to take place today there would be a criminal prosecution and civil action to raise the money needed to clean up the site. However, it appears that much of the dumping was carried out during years when Britain’s regime for environmental protection was more lax. Consequently, there are doubts as to how far any legal action can go or which companies should be liable for clean-up costs that are expected to run into tens of millions of pounds.
A spokesman for the Environment Agency said: “Our overall aim is to understand the current risks to ground water and surface waters and to determine the most cost-effective way forward to protect the local environment and to recover costs from those liable.” The Food Standards Agency, which has responsibility for food safety, together with the local council and health bodies are involved in the investigation.
The Environment Agency spokesman said: “The main focus has been to identify if chemicals deposited at the quarry during the ’60s and ’70s are getting into surface water, groundwater, air or affecting site users. These investigations … have confirmed that these chemicals are making their way into groundwater and surface water.”
The inquiry is looking at identifying which companies were responsible for the illegal dumping in order to make them pay for the clean-up.
The Agency said: “Various individuals and organisations are in the process of being identified as having a possible involvement. They will need to provide evidence that they were, or not, involved in the disposal of chemicals at the site.”
One of those companies under the microscope is Pharmacia Corp, which manufactured PCB chemicals on sites in South Wales in the 1960s and 1970s. Pharmacia is part of Monsanto. Monsanto insists that contractors used by the company were always advised of the type of waste that was to be removed and disposed.
A spokesman said: “We continue to work with the Wales Department of Environment and other regulatory bodies to resolve these issues. While the people involved in the manufacture of PCBs … are no longer with the company and probably deceased, a thorough, non-selective review of all of the documents will show that Pharmacia did inform its contractors of the nature of wastes prior to disposal, and that Pharmacia did not dump wastes from its own vehicles.”
Story by Sean Poulter for the Daily Mail UK, February 13, 2007
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