Palaces For The People
Monday, December 22, 2003
A PCB Christmas


A PCB Christmas

Settlement checks start showing up in Anniston homes


Santa Claus came early to Anniston - at least that's the way it's being portrayed in some quarters.

But there is little reason to be merry about the "gifts" that are showing up in Anniston-area homes. They are settlement checks for people whose community, homes and bodies were polluted by PCBs, courtesy of Monsanto Co.
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The checks are to compensate people who were victims not only of contamination but also of a company's cover-up - people who were unaware of the danger in their midst long after Monsanto discovered how toxic its product was.

Perhaps the most damning story to emerge from Monsanto's own records was a fish test conducted in 1966 in Snow Creek, where the company was dumping wastewater from its PCB plant. A scientist hired by Monsanto found that fish dunked into the creek spurted blood, shed their skins, went belly-up and died within 3½ minutes. The company was warned then that the stream passed through residential neighborhoods and could pose a risk to children. Monsanto continued to dump untreated waste into the stream, and it continued making PCBs at its west Anniston plant for more than a decade.

Under a settlement of various cases that grew out of Monsanto's deplorable conduct, payments range from $3,000 for people who had no property and no detectable PCBs in their blood, to $150,000 and up for those who suffered greater harm.

According to the terms of the settlement, some plaintiffs are getting full payment now, while others will get partial payment with the balance to be paid next year. Perhaps the talk about an early Santa came from the fact that some plaintiffs signed up for a $500 advance for the holidays - or because some chamber types talked of the domino effect these payments could have for Anniston merchants.

That's unfortunate.

Not because these victims aren't entitled to be compensated for the harm they suffered at Monsanto's hands. Not because most people couldn't use some extra cash for the holidays.

The problem is in portraying these payments as some sort of Christmas bonus. This isn't a bonanza. It's compensation for real harm that money can't undo.

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