International Business Times: Bayer And Monsanto Should Pay PCB Cleanup Costs, Says German Environmental Group

Press Release, 12 March 2014

Countermotion to BAYER Shareholder Meeting, April 29

PCBs: “Monsanto and BAYER must be held liable”

Monsanto and BAYER were the world's largest producers of PCBs which contaminated thousands of buildings. For decades the companies kept quiet about the hazards. The enormous cleanup costs are passed on to the public. The Coalition against BAYER Dangers, based in Germany, has introduced a countermotion to the upcoming Bayer shareholder meeting to hold the companies liable.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) belong to the most toxic substances produced ever. Worldwide approximately 1.3 million tons were manufactured. PCBs were used in electrical appliances, caulking compounds, paints and floor coatings. Thousands of buildings were contaminated. The substances can damage the hormone, nervous and immune system, attack the thyroid gland, liver and kidneys and can cause infertility. The World Health Organization has classified PCBs as a Category 1 carcinogen.

BAYER began producing PCBs in 1930 and sold the substances under the trade names Clophen and Elanol. After Monsanto, BAYER was the world's second-largest manufacturer, accounting for 160,000 metric tons, approximately 12 per cent of global production.

Sweden was the first country in the world to prohibit open applications, e.g. in caulking compounds, paints and plastics, as long ago as 1972. Germany followed suit in 1978. However, due to industry pressure the use of PCBs in ostensibly "closed" systems such as hydraulic fluids and transformers remained legal. Even worse: In 1977, when the US, up to then the largest producer, prohibited all production and use of PCBs, BAYER leapt into the breach and increased its output from 6,000 to 7,500 metric tons a year. BAYER, the last remaining producer in the West, did not halt production until 1983.

Philipp Mimkes from the Coalition against BAYER Dangers says: “Monsanto and BAYER have long known that PCBs are harmful to humans and the environment. The chemical industry is therefore complicit in thousands of cases of poisoning. It is high time that the former producers bear some of the immense costs of cleanup and medical treatment. It is unacceptable that Monsanto and BAYER profited for half a century from PCB sales and are now not contributing to the costs occasioned by their disposal.”

The Coalition against Bayer Dangers has introduced a countermotion to the BAYER shareholder meeting in Cologne on April 29th and will speak up in the gathering. Since the Board of Management is responsible for the company's failure to assume responsibility for its toxic PCB heritage, the Coalition demands that the actions of the board must not be ratified.

PCBs are extremely long-lived and have a high mobility. They have turned up virtually everywhere in nature - from the depths of the sea to the Arctic. PCB concentrations measured in the Inuit people of Canada were as high as in the victims of major chemical accidents.

PCBs are highly soluble in fats and accumulate in the food chain. Particularly high levels are detected in adipose tissue and human breast milk. The intake by nursing infants can be 50 to 100 times higher than in adults. Toxicologists have found evidence that exposure in the womb can lead to serious neurological damage. Although the concentration of PCBs in breast milk has decreased by approximately 75 per cent in the past 20 years, it will take more than 100 years until PCB absorption through breast milk is below the maximum tolerable daily intake established by the World Health Organization.

Worldwide, there are more than three million tons of hydraulic fluid and equipment contaminated by PCBs. The costs of packaging, transport and proper disposal are between USD 2,000 and 5,000 per ton, which means a total cost of up to USD 15 billion. The cleanup of contaminated buildings will cost even more.

In Germany approximately 20,000 metric tons of PCBs were used in caulking compounds. More than half of that quantity remains in buildings to this day. Thousands of schools and universities are contaminated. The gases released cause a permanent contamination of the air and have caused countless cases of serious damage to health. In some cases, teachers and students have been exposed to toxic concentrations that would have required factory workers to wear protective suits and respirators.

In October, the University of Bochum was forced to start the demolition and replacement of several buildings contaminated with PCBs at a cost of hundreds of millions in this case alone. The cleanup of the Cologne UniCenter will cost approximately 30 million. There are similar problems in the Universities of Erlangen, Bielefeld and Düsseldorf, as well as in many government buildings. So far, all the costs are being paid out of government budgets.

The costs of the contamination of the food supply are also being passed on to the general public. The food scandal in Belgium caused by the addition of 25 liters of PCBs to animal feed fats led to direct costs of one billion euros and indirect costs of three billion. The Irish pork crisis is also due to the use of oils contaminated with PCBs in the dehydration of animal feed and has cost government agencies some 100 million euros.

see also: campaign Mandatory Testing for PCBs in Schools