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Cover up: story of dioxin seems intentionally murky.

Editor's note: This is the third of a three-part series.

The story of Monsanto and dioxin resembles nothing so much as an "X-Files" episode. A fog of cover-up permeates every aspect of dioxin in Missouri - new revelations of environmental poisons turn into new cover-ups.


* The EPA can't produce a simple list of sites it has checked for dioxin.

* Documents tying Monsanto to waste-oil hauler Russell Bliss, who is considered responsible for spreading dioxin across Missouri, have disappeared from state archives.

* The U.S. Army's records on discussions with Monsanto about using dioxin as a chemical weapon still are classified and closed to the public.

* Robert Field, the EPA's project manager for the eastern Missouri dioxin clean up, incorrectly told SJR that the NEPACCO plant in Verona, Mo., which was later bought by Syntex, was the only source for dioxin in Missouri. But, in 1979, a train derailment near Sturgeon, Mo., spilled a wood preservative manufactured at Monsanto's Krummrich plant in Sauget, Ill., and with it a small amount of dioxin. The Sturgeon spill began a chain of events that would later unravel another cover-up. But the immediate importance of the spill was that it revealed that Monsanto was a dioxin source.

Monsanto mixed Agent Orange, another source of dioxin, at the Krummrich plant during the Vietnam War, which included the period in which Bliss was spraying a chemical soup on roads and horse arenas in Missouri.

Agent Orange was a combination of two herbicides - 2, 4-D and 2, 4, 5-T - that the U.S. Army sprayed from the air in Vietnam to kill the jungle areas and expose suspected rebel hiding places. Much later, veterans who handled the mixture complained of a variety of physical ailments, some of which the U.S. government eventually accepted were caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

The company's Sauget plant was not the only one where dioxin was present. A U.S. EPA inspection of the Queeny plant near Soulard Market in South St. Louis on Aug. 9, 1984, also turned up widespread dioxin contamination.

Technically, Monsanto did not make anything in the metropolitan area other than wood preservative which produced dioxin as a by-product, says Larry O'Neill, the company's director of environmental affairs. That was because dioxin is a by-product of the 2, 4, 5-T manufacturing process. Monsanto made 2, 4, 5-T in Nitro, W.Va., says O'Neill. The company didn't make the herbicide here, so it didn't make dioxin here, he says. Here Monsanto only "mixed" the herbicide into Agent Orange.

But a 1980 EPA research report on dioxin by Esposito, Tiernan and Dryden contradicts that claim. They report that Monsanto produced 2, 4, 5-T in St. Louis before 1978. So did another company, the Thompson Chemical Co.

It is one thing to say that Monsanto had dioxin in its plants and a totally different thing to say Bliss hauled any of it away to ultimately spread it around the state. Monsanto spokespeople deny that Bliss ever hauled any hazardous waste from any Monsanto plant. All he ever took from Monsanto was "trash," says O'Neill.

O'Neill's colleague, Diane Herndon, says Monsanto burned its hazardous wastes in an incinerator. Why then was Dr. W. B. Papageorge, Monsanto's PCB chief, interested in the PCB concentrations in the oil storage tank at Bliss Waste Oil Co.? In September 1972, the EPA sent Papageorge its sample analysis, and a comparison analysis of Monsanto's PCB product in response to his request. That was one of the years in which Bliss was spraying dioxin laden oil on dirt roads in Missouri.

And Bliss contradicted Monsanto at least twice. In a deposition dated April 21, 1977, he stated Monsanto paid him $200 a barrel to pick up solvent wastes. He confirmed his statement in testimony before the Hazardous Waste Management Commission on Feb. 9, 1983.

Herndon's claim that Monsanto burned its dioxin wastes - reported here in the St. Louis Journalism Review for the first time - is itself hardly comforting. The specially designed dioxin incinerator in Fayetteville, Ark. failed to destroy all the dioxin fed into it. The smoke plume spread dioxin to the downwind population and, according to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, increased the incidence of diabetes. The possible damage caused by Monsanto's incineration of dioxin never has been investigated publicly.

Bliss and Monsanto

The Missouri state government once had evidence that Bliss did haul hazardous wastes out of Monsanto plants. From Bliss' records, the state obtained a copy of a contract for waste disposal between Bliss and Monsanto. Bliss drivers Scott Rollins and David Covert said in depositions they gave to the state attorney general's office that they picked up wastes from Monsanto. Investigators from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois EPA teamed up and followed a Bliss truck from a Monsanto plant to a swamp in Illinois. They moved in when the Bliss driver began pumping waste from the truck into the swamp.

The evidence was suggestive, but it lacked a direct tie to dioxin. The drivers did not know what chemicals were in the wastes they picked up, though Covert said the waste picked up at Monsanto's Carondelet plant "smelled like bug spray." Nor did dioxins show up in the analytical report on the contents of the truck investigators caught illegally dumping in Illinois.

Bliss was inconsistent about his customers. Gerson Smoger, an attorney for many Times Beach residents and others exposed to dioxin, says a former lawyer in the Missouri attorney general's office recalled the deposition from Bliss in which he said he trucked chemical wastes away from Monsanto plants. The Illinois EPA has notes of such an interview, in which Bliss said he picked up chemical waste from Monsanto's Queeny plant near Soulard.

When people sickened by dioxin sued for compensation, however, Bliss denied Monsanto was a customer, says Smoger. No one at the state could find the earlier deposition, he says. Nor could they find Bliss' business records. He had destroyed them all. The result was "there wasn't a good enough trace to Monsanto," says Smoger.

Many records disappeared from state archives. Shelley ALexander, records manager for the hazardous waste program, verifies that depositions from Bliss employees and the Bliss-Monsanto contract once had existed, but her computer index shows they have been "deleted" from the archives, along with the transcript of the Hazardous Waste Management Commission hearing. "They had different retention rules in those days," she says. Yet other files had been loaned to other state agencies or state courts and never returned, she says.

In 1977, investigators for the Hazardous Waste Commission found an illegal dump that Bliss maintained in Jefferson County near Dittmer, Mo. Barrels at the site had "Monsanto" stenciled on them. The barrels contained a mixture of solvents and toxic chemicals including bromophenyl chlorophenyl ether, with very high concentrations of PCBs, which scientists categorize as a "dioxin-like" chemical. The Hazardous Waste Commission noted that Monsanto was the sole known source of bromophenyl chlorophenyl ether. The company also is the original source for virtually all the PCBs in the western world, according to Dr. Paul Connett, hazardous waste specialist at Work on Waste.

O'Neill says Monsanto admits there were drums on the site stenciled with the company's name, but "we don't know where they came from." Monsanto sells products to many customers in drums, he says, and the company can't control what they do with the drums when they are done with them.

The Missouri attorney general apparently felt that even with a contract specifying that Bliss would pick up barrels of hazardous chemicals from Monsanto that he did not have a complete chain of evidence directly linking Monsanto to Bliss' dioxin and PCB spreading. But there were enough suspicious coincidences, and enough contradictions to Monsanto's claims, that Gov. Joseph T. Teasdale asked Monsanto to pay part of the cleanup. It was useless. "We did not pay any of the clean up cost," says O'Neill.

Some dangerous lawsuits

The DNR also found PCBs along with dioxins at the horse arenas where Bliss sprayed oil. The PCB concentrations found in the soil at one arena were 7000 times the federal safety limit. That was the arena where the most serious human illness developed. Tests of the storage vats at the NEPACCO/Syntex plant in Verona did not detect any PCBs.

Ultimately, Syntex settled a suit brought by the Missouri DNR and the U.S. EPA by agreeing to pay the entire cost of cleaning all of Missouri's dioxin sites, save for Sturgeon and Monsanto's Queeny plant.

Meanwhile, several other dioxin cases involving Monsanto wended their ways through the courts. In 1978, Paul Reutershan, a Vietnam veteran who was dying of intestinal cancer, sued the chemical companies who made Agent Orange, including Monsanto, Dow and Uniroyal. He claimed their herbicide caused his cancer. Thousands of other veterans soon joined his suit. Workers who cleaned up the Sturgeon spill sued Monsanto for not telling them dioxin was present. Former employees also sued the company.

Potential suits, however, seemed even more dangerous. A research worker in North Carolina accidentally discovered that Lysol contained dioxin. The contamination was traced to Monsanto's Santophen. Lysol was recommended for cleaning infants' toys and cribs, and for cleaning other household objects people routinely used. Lysol was so widely used that if dioxin were proved dangerous, the potential liability seemed limitless.

Monsanto needed some data fast to bolster its arguments that dioxin at the levels to which people were exposed was not harmful. The company followed two tracks to get the data.

On the one track the company got workers in the Medical Examiner's office in St. Louis to secretly take tissue samples from local accident victims and analyze them for dioxin. "We were trying to establish what the local background level was, so if someone said they were exposed we could see how bad was the exposure," says Dr. Michael Graham, chief medical examiner for St. Louis City. Every cadaver they tested contained dioxin. This gave the company ammunition to argue that many plaintiffs had dioxin levels that were no worse than the background levels.

On the other track, the company contracted with scientists to follow up workers exposed to dioxin at company plants. Two studies followed workers who Were doused with dioxin in 1949 in an explosion at the plant that made 2, 4, 5-T in Nitro, W.Va. Those studies found there was no increase in cancer as a result of the exposure to high levels of dioxin. From this, company attorneys could argue that even if plaintiffs' dioxin levels were high, it was no cause for alarm.

Those studies were among the very few to examine the effects of dioxin on humans. They lent great weight to industry's claims that any health effects were minor or transient. They weakened the effect of the company documents that revealed that in the mid-1960s Monsanto knew dioxins could severely damage the nervous system.

The judge in the Agent Orange case orchestrated a settlement. The six manufacturers agreed to establish a $180 million fund to pay for the relevant medical expenses of veterans who had been exposed to Agent Orange, an insignificant amount from the point of view either of the balance sheets of the six corporations or the medical expenses of the thousands of veterans involved.

Carr's case

Meanwhile, the Sturgeon case moved slowly in court. It was dismissed and refiled. Then there was a mistrial. A new trial finally got under way in 1984, the same year the veterans settled the Agent Orange suit. This trial lasted three years, the longest trial in Illinois history. St. Louis attorney Rex Carr, the plaintiffs' representative, demolished the company's evidence.

Through discovery and cross examination, Carr revealed that Monsanto dumped 30 to 40 pounds of dioxin a day into the Mississippi River between 1970 and 1977. That compares with the 60 pounds of dioxin that Fred Lafser, the director of the Missouri DNR had estimated was the total amount produced at the NEPACCO plant in Verona, Missouri.

That dioxin easily could have entered the St. Louis food chain, which would mean that the population of St. Louis was another class of damaged people, not a control group against which to measure those who claimed they were damaged by the chemical. Carr did not know that Monsanto also incinerated dioxin contaminated wastes. With the problems associated even with specially built dioxin incinerators (see SJR April 1998), that would have strengthened Carr's claim that the dioxin levels in the St. Louis population were not background levels, but the levels of poisoning.

Carr also confronted scientists over their studies of the Nitro workers. He asked the company to produce the original medical records of all the workers used in the studies, both those considered exposed to dioxin and those in the unexposed control group. He pored over the records. He found that four of the workers in the unexposed control group who died of cancer had been treated for chloracne, which was acknowledged even by Monsanto scientists as a "hallmark of dioxin intoxification."

The scientists had claimed there was the same number of cancer deaths, eight, in both exposed and unexposed groups. The chloracne diagnoses showed that "there were actually three times as many cancer deaths among exposed workers, 12, versus four among the unexposed," says Carr.

Under cross-examination, Dr. George Roush, Monsanto's Medical Director, admitted that not only did the study misclassify four workers, but it also dropped five deaths from the exposed group. One of the study authors, Dr. Suskind, admitted he omitted from his published reports references to psychoneuroses and long-term nervous system and liver damage among exposed workers. His cross-examination was so tough that the doctor left the state and refused to return to complete his testimony.

Finagling the study results "was really, really egregious," said Carr. So few people had been exposed prior to 1970 that there was little information on the effects of dioxin on humans. "So, the medical community and everyone else relied on this study Monsanto put out, and it screwed up the science," he says.

In 1987, the jury awarded the plaintiffs only nominal real damages - ranging from a dollar to workers involved in the cleanup to $25,000 to the landowner on whose land the spill occurred - but it awarded them $16.25 million in punitive damages.

"I have to agree now that we didn't prove that any of my people suffered harm," Carr said. "But we did prove Monsanto committed fraud, and that is what the jury convicted them of."

Monsanto appealed the ruling. An appeals court panel later found for the company. On a 2-1 vote, it ruled that a jury can't award punitive damages where it doesn't find significant actual damages.

The Jenkins story

In 1990, Cate Jenkins, a Ph.D. chemist at the EPA working on hazardous waste regulations for the wood preserving industry found out about Carr's discoveries in the Sturgeon trial from his appellant's brief.

Two years previously, relying on the Monsanto studies, the EPA had concluded that there was inadequate evidence of an association between dioxin and human cancer. The Veterans Administration used the conclusion as a basis for denying benefits to Vietnam veterans who claimed Agent Orange induced cancers. An increasingly vocal section of the scientific community argued that the Monsanto studies showed that dioxin was not as dangerous to humans as had been thought.

Jenkins sent a memo to the EPA's Science Advisory board summarizing the claims in Carr's appellant brief, and requesting the EPA re-examine Monsanto's studies. Someone leaked the memo to the press. Later that year, Greenpeace issued its own critique of the studies, titled "Science for Sale," with a petition asking the EPA to investigate the studies.

Instead of seriously investigating the studies, the EPA inspector general began investigating Jenkins. Her supervisors reassigned all of her job duties elsewhere, leaving her without any duties until April 1992, when she was assigned some clerical work.

Upon her reassignment to clerical work, Jenkins filed a complaint with the Department of Labor claiming she was being harassed for activities that were legal. The Department of Labor ruled in her favor and ordered the EPA to reinstate her to her previous position. The EPA appealed the ruling, lost, and appealed again. Again Jenkins won. Two years after filing her harassment complaint, four years after requesting an investigation of Monsanto's studies, the EPA finally agreed to reinstate Jenkins to her old duties.

Studying the studies

William Sanjour, an EPA policy analyst who wrote a 30-page account of the Jenkins affair in 1994, says that EPA officials kept Monsanto abreast of steps in the investigation.

Meanwhile, Monsanto successfully used its dioxin studies to bolster defense claims in suits for damages from exposure PCBs, considered dioxin's "weak cousin." St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Robert Steyer reported in late 1991 that Monsanto's lead litigator in the PCB cases, Thomas Carney, described the closed settlements as "99 percent" victories for the company.

Monsanto's O'Neill dismisses claims that Monsanto falsified studies as nonsense. "Look at the source," he says, repeating Monsanto's standard response since the trial. "He's a lawyer, not a scientist." Herndon adds that, "we value our reputation too much to willingly falsify anything." Besides, any company "as big as Monsanto, under scrutiny by as many agencies as Monsanto, is subject to too many checks and controls" to falsify anything, she says.

The EPA accepts the studies as valid, O'Neill says. "They've never asked us to redo them."

Sanjour says the EPA doesn't work that way. "They would never ask Monsanto to redo them, because Monsanto didn't do the studies for the EPA in the first place," he says.

Instead, when the EPA re-evaluated dioxin in 1994, "they simply ignored Monsanto's studies," he says.

Several researchers, including Dr. Marilyn Fingerhut, at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, independently re-evaluated the data from the Monsanto studies and came the same conclusions about cancer mortality as Carr, he says. "Those studies the EPA used in their reassessment," says Sanjour.

After Peter Montague, director of the Environmental Research Foundation, also characterized Monsanto's studies as fraudulent, one of the scientists involved sued him for libel. Gerson Smoger defended him. Smoger was an attorney for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, and for dioxin victims in Missouri.

Smoger tells SJR that in deposing the scientists, he got definitive proof that Monsanto's studies were fraudulent. "You can find anything you want when you do an epidemiological study, if you take the data first and then back into it," he says. "You can change your definitions, your subject population, the length of time of exposure, or the dosage to manipulate the data to get the results you want."

To get around that, scientists establish a protocol before looking at the data. The protocol defines the subject population, dosage, etc. "Then you collect the data and compare it to your protocol," he says. The Monsanto scientists admitted in depositions that "they had no study protocol," he says. "They rushed out the studies to manipulate the Agent Orange cases."

It wasn't the first time Monsanto manipulated studies to show its products were safe. The company's denials about the hazards of dioxin mirror in many ways earlier denials about the hazards of PCBs.

In 1971, in the midst of public controversy over the safety of PCBs, Monsanto contracted with Industrial Bio-Test Labs of Northbrook, Ill. (IBT) to test its PCB products for safety. A Monsanto toxicologist, Dr. Paul Wright, moved over to IBT to supervise the tests, and returned to Monsanto when they were through. Upon his return to Monsanto, the company awarded him $1,000 for "forestalling EPA ... regulations." Whereas dioxins were unwanted by-products of certain manufacturing processes, PCB was a patented product that was very profitable for Monsanto.

In 1978, the EPA and the FDA discovered that thousands of tests performed by IBT were fraudulent or useless. Wright later was convicted of several counts of fraud. Documents introduced during the later civil trials revealed that Monsanto executives pressured the lab to manipulate studies to get the results it wanted. When even such tests showed that PCBs caused cancer in animals, Monsanto asked that IBT change the results to conclude that PCBs were non-carcinogenic. The lab complied.

Monsanto denies it

O'Neill and Herndon still deny that anyone ever associated with Monsanto ever falsified a scientific study.

They also deny that either dioxins or PCBs are hazardous to humans. "We continue to believe that neither dioxin nor PCBs will cause significant adverse health effects at the kind of level they are found in the environment," said O'Neill.

In 1965, however, Monsanto's medical director, R. Emmet Kelly, had a different opinion. Documents entered into a Canadian dioxin lawsuit never before reported in St. Louis revealed that the chemical industry worried about dioxin contamination in 2, 4, 5-T in 1965. That was when an industrial hygienist at Dow Chemical Co. isolated a hazardous contaminant of 2, 4, 5-T that he called "Monsanto T Acid." In March, Dow contacted Monsanto about the problem. Kelly responded that the contaminant was dioxin and it was "extremely toxic."

Dow called a meeting of chemical companies to tell the industry of their findings. Hercules Chemical recommended telling the U.S. Public Health Service. Kelly endorsed that suggestion in a March 30 letter to Paul Hoffman.

"Regardless of what we think of the rabbit test," wrote Kelly, "this dioxin compound must be a potent contaminant. Very conceivably, it can be a potent carcinogen. We, therefore, will never know how close we are to having another epidemic at Nitro, and we certainly don't want to go through that again."

One scientist who backs Monsanto's public position that dioxin and PCBs are relatively safe is Dr. Renate Kimbrough. Formerly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), she now works for the industry-supported Institute for the Evaluation of Health Risks and is a frequent expert witness for industry in PCB trials. Kimbrough was one of the first CDC team members to investigate dioxin contamination at horse arenas in Missouri.

Kimbrough says she always has believed that there is a discrepancy between animal reactions to PCBs and dioxin and human reactions. "We could never demonstrate clinical ills in people," she says. Kimbrough dismisses most studies that disagree with her conclusions. Cancer studies "are contradictory," she says, with some animal studies actually showing that PCBs could decrease overall cancers. Even the follow-up data from the explosion that spewed dioxin over Seveso, Italy, "won't stand up," she says. Studies purport to show that early exposure to dioxins or PCBs decreases intelligence "are imprecise" and involve "a lot of statistical manipulations." Studies that show dioxins and PCBs acting like hormones in the body "are preliminary and probably won't stand up," she says.

An emerging view

While unanimity on the effects of dioxin and PCBs is lacking, Kimbrough is part of a disappearing minority. Majority opinion has shifted to the view that current environmental levels of both toxins are either near the level that will cause severe health effects, or is already past it.

Larry Hansen, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Biosciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana, says most of the world thinks the U.S. too conservative, that we have passed the levels that will adversely affect public health. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, for example, is funding research into the possible link between PCBs and breast cancer.

Last year, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified 2, 3, 7, 8-TCDD, the same form of dioxin that was a problem in Agent Orange and Missouri, as a known human carcinogen. Three committees of the U.S. National Toxicology Program voted to do the same, but Congress blocked the administration from implementing the change.

Dr. Arnold Shecter said he can't understand anyone saying that the only thing dioxin causes is a skin rash. Shecter developed blood tests for dioxin and PCBs. He is a professor at the State University of New York who is on sabbatical at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Shecter said that since the introduction of blood tests for dioxin and PCB poisoning, there is a steady stream of studies tying increasing levels of the chemicals to increasing health problems. A NIOSH study of American chemical workers, two studies of German chemical workers, a series of studies of Seveso, Italy, and studies of Dutch chemical workers, all matched higher blood levels of dioxin with increases in cancer mortality and heart disease. "These are highly reputable groups publishing in respected journals," such as the New England Journal of Medicine, he says.

Last year, the Lancelet published a study by a team from John Hopkins University and the National Cancer Institute that found a strong correlation between blood PCB levels and the risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the general population of Washington County, Md.

Studies of Vietnam veterans matched dioxin blood levels with an increase in diabetes. NIOSH found the same thing among chemical workers.

A study of Michigan women who ate fish caught in the Great Lakes showed those with higher blood PCB levels gave birth to babies with smaller heads and lower birth weights, says Shecter. Dutch studies of women in the general population replicated those findings, and found that the children had thyroid abnormalities.

Other research demonstrated that the biochemical reactions involving dioxin and PCBs are the same in human tissue as they are in rats, which validates extrapolation from animal studies, he said.

Dioxins and PCBs "don't just kill animals, they also kill people," said Shecter. They also "disrupt the endocrine system, lower IQ and cause behavioral problems."

"Monsanto is in denial," says Sanjour. The company's disavowal of chemical dangers "is bullshit."

RELATED ARTICLE: RFT covered story

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch did some excellent work covering dioxin in the early 1980s, but it "dropped the ball in the last 10 years," says Safir Ahmed, editor of the alternative weekly the Riverfront Times. "We've tried to pick it up as much as our resources allowed."

The RFT's award-winning articles on dioxin and Times Beach are a clear example of why a community needs at least two newspapers. The Post tended to dismiss the word of activists and accept that of state officials. The RFT questioned authorities. "We constantly questioned what the DNR was doing, what Syntex was doing, what the EPA was doing," said Ahmed. "We listened to what the activists had to say."

Suzanne Langlois began the RFT's dioxin coverage, but the majority of work was by C.D. Stelzer.

Stelzer wrote about truck drivers exposed to dioxin at a St. Louis truck terminal. He wrote about PCB contamination in Missouri and links between Russell Bliss and Monsanto; and about irregularities in the tests of the Times Beach dioxin incinerator. He revealed that the company given the job of testing the incinerator emissions to determine that it met environmental regulations was partly owned by the very company it was supposed to oversee, the company operating the incinerator. Correcting an erroneous article in the Post, he broke the story that dioxin blood levels increased in people living near a dioxin incinerator in Arkansas. He reported on the EPA's harassment of the Times Beach Action Group after the group predicted more dioxin sites would be discovered after the incinerator shut down, a prediction that came true only four months later.

Readers with Internet access can find Stelzer's articles archived at his website:

- Peter Downs

RELATED ARTICLE: Is the Pentagon Involved?

Weekly revelations about secret studies by tobacco companies make it easier to accept that Monsanto could have a history of hiding the dangers of its products. One difference is that Monsanto appears to have had an accomplice in the U.S. government.

Before Congress blocked the release of the EPA's reassessment of dioxin, before the EPA tried to bury Cate Jenkins, there was the military. When Vietnam veterans sued the manufacturers of Agent Orange, they assumed the companies had kept the dioxin contamination secret from the Army and the Air Force. That assumption may have been wrong.

The Times Beach Action Group (TBAG) gave SJR a copy of a memo dated november 26, 1952, from Monsanto's director of research to Lt. Col. Lloyd Harris of the Army's Chemical Center about the possible use as a chemical weapon of the toxic byproduct of 2,4,5-T manufacturing.

At the time of the memo, that byproduct had not been identified as the dioxin 2,3,7,8-TCDD. It would not be so identified until the mid-1960s.

The Army had become aware of the material from reports of the explosion at Nitro, W.Va. in 1949, and the diseases that afterwards affected the workers.

Steve Taylor, co-founder of TBAG, says he got the memo when TBAG's lawyer advised him not to take the dismissal of TBAG's suit against the Times Beach incinerator to the federal appeals court. The lawyer told him 'the fix was in,' says Taylor, and gave him the memo as an indication that the federal government had interests at stake that were other than public safety.

In an effort to determine the authenticity of the memo, SJR filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act with the Pentagon's National Archives for documents relating to discussions between Monsanto and the Army about using the 2,4,5-T byproduct as a weapon. Archivist Cary Conn responded that six documents from 1950 and 1951, comprising 597 pages in the records of the Chemical Warfare Service fit that description, covering the topics "determination of physical data," "preliminary design data," "laboratory development," and "pilot plant demonstration." they are classified under an Army order issued on May 4, 1983.

That sketchy response indicates that the Army was interested in the toxicity of the chemical later identified as dioxin long before the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. It appears it was not the ignorant dupe of chemical companies. Monsanto spokesman Larry O'Neill claims it wasn't. "The military knew as much as we did about makeup of Agent Orange," he says. "We were striving to make it to their specifications."

Unknown to most St. Louisans, the Army established its own factory to make Agent Orange at Weldon Springs, about 20 miles west of St. Louis. Designed to produce 8 million gallons of Agent Orange a year, the $19 million facility began production in December, 1969.

Details of he Weldon Spring operation came public in the veteran's Agent Orange lawsuit against the U.S. Army. George Claxton, one of the 10 original plaintiffs in the suit, made to the documents available to SJR.

The deputy secretary of defense gave the go-ahead to build the plant on July 31, 1997, after the demands of tactical commanders in Vietnam for Agent Orange had caused chemical companies to divert all of their production of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T to the military, leaving none for civilian markets. General Larsen called Agent Orange "the best weapon I have, but I can't get enough of it."

For a time, the Pentagon encourage commanders to switch to Agent White. As the opening of the Weldon Springs plant approached, Col. H.F. Greenhow, USAF, sent out a memo stating "it is imperative from an economy point of view that ORANGE be used to the maximum extent possible and that WHITE be used only when there is a compelling operational requirement."

At the time, the Army was fully aware of the problems with dioxin. Early in 1968, an Army chemical engineer circulated a memo about dioxin to the staff of the Weldon Springs Chemical Plant. It diagrammed 2,3,7,8-TCDD, explained how and where dioxin was formed in the 2,4,5-T production process, and discussed its potential toxicity.

The Army's Weldon springs plant is not listed in the EPA's research report on 2,4,5-T producers. Yet, like Monsanto and Thompson Chemical in South St. Louis, and Monsanto in Sauget, it too is likely to have generated dioxin contaminated waste. What happened to it?

- Peter Downs

Peter Downs is a St. Louis free-lance writer
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Title Annotation:includes related article on US Pentagon's probable involvement in the Monsanto case; chemical firm Monsanto Co accused of producing dioxin
Author:Downs, Peter
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Date:Jun 1, 1998
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