Monsanto, PCBs, and the creation of a "world-wide ecological problem"

J Public Health Policy. 2018 Nov;39(4):463-540. doi: 10.1057/s41271-018-0146-8.


For the past three decades, we have written on the history of occupational and environmental health, authoring books and articles on lead poisoning, silicosis, asbestosis, and angiosarcoma of the liver, among other diseases. One book, Deceit and Denial, focused specifically on the chemical and lead industries. Because of the rarity of historians who study this history, we have been asked to testify on behalf of workers who allege harm from these industrial materials and by state, county, and local governments who seek redress for environmental damages and funds to prevent future harm to children. In about 2010, we began testifying in law suits brought by individuals who claimed that they had suffered from cancers, specifically non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, because of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their bodies. At that time, we wrote a Report to the Court about industry knowledge of the dangers of PCBs to workers and the environment. More recently, we have been approached by attorneys representing government agencies on the West Coast of the United States which are seeking funds to abate PCB pollution in their ports, bays, and waterways. The focus of these lawsuits is the Monsanto Corporation, the sole producer of PCBs in the United States from the 1930s through 1977. Through these law suits, an enormous trove of previously private Monsanto reports, papers, memos, letters, and studies have been made available to us and this paper is the result of our examination of these hundreds of thousands of pages. The documents from this collection (with the exception of privileged materials that Monsanto has not made public, and upon which we have not relied) are available on , the website we have developed with Professor Merlin Chowkwanyun of Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health. (Almost all of the references that are from this collection can be accessed by readers by clicking on the reference hyperlink.) This monograph is adapted from a report to the court that was originally produced for litigation on behalf of plaintiffs in PCB lawsuits. We are grateful to the Journal of Public Health Policy for publishing this detailed examination of these documents and we hope it will stimulate further research into this important, and now public, archive of industry records.

Keywords: Cancer; Chemicals; Industry; Monsanto; PCBs; Pollution; Public health.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Health / history*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Industry / history*
  • Organizational Case Studies
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / adverse effects
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / history*
  • United States


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls