If you don’t know who Monsanto is, just ask your stomach – chances are you’ve consumed quite a lot of their genetically modified produce in your life. The giant agricultural company has long been derided by activists for its lawsuits against small family farms and is now the center of a lawsuit for poisoning an entire town with chemicals used to make Agent Orange, an herbicide used during the Vietnam War, which has been blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths. The chemical was manufactured in Monsanto’s Nitro, West Virginia factory from the late 1940s through the early 1970s and ever since, the town has been riddled with a high rate of cancer. The class action lawsuit calls for Monsanto to pay for future health examinations for early disease detection for people who were exposed to Agent Orange chemicals while living in Nitro and also asks for the environment surrounding the now defunct factory to be cleaned of the residual toxins. Disturbingly, the second part of the case has been thrown out leaving only the health issues on the table.

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Agent Orange was developed as an herbicide and manufactured mainly by Monsanto and the Dow Corporation for the U.S. Military. The chemical was released from airplanes, helicopters and by soldiers on the ground as part of a campaign to devastate the farmland and forests of Laos, Vietnam and parts of Cambodia in order to deprive guerillas of cover in those areas. Agent Orange was later found to contain highly toxic dioxins and was blamed for death, deformity, still births and rampant birth defects in the areas affected. The chemical was produced in Monsanto’s Nitro factory and residents say their town was contaminated by the same dioxins blamed for massive numbers of health issues during the Vietnam War. This isn’t the first case brought against Monsanto in Nitro and in previous cases the agricultural giant has won the fight.

That isn’t deterring the current plaintiffs and their lawyers, although some involved in earlier cases are concerned about the course this current trail is taking. The lawsuit was filed for two reasons – one, to monitor health issues the plaintiffs might have related to dioxin exposure and two, so that Monsanto would clean up the residual chemicals left behind by their careless manufacturing processes. The second part of the case was thrown out by the court last year. Harvey Peyton, a Nitro lawyer involved in a previous Monsanto Agent Orange case says that the ruling by the court to ignore the claims of toxic property is concerning. “So you just brand this class area as ‘dangerous’ from a health standpoint, but there’s nobody to clean it up,” Peyton told NPR.

Looks like we’ve got another evil to add to the long list of dishonest acts by mega-corporation Monsanto. If you’d like to read the list of complaints head to Millions Against Monsanto where a coalition of citizens are bringing to the public’s attention their grievances against the corporation.


Lead image adapted from a photo by Pete Reed