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and thy medicine be thy food.
Hippocrates, Father of Medicine, 400 B.C.
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Supertoxins are Everywhere
PCBs - PolyChlorinated Biphenyls - were manufactured by a one company - Monsanto Chemical - starting in the 1930s. They were promoted as a nearly indestructible replacement for hydraulic oil, pump oil, and the oil bath for electrical transformers and capacitors. It was known even in the 1930s, when production began, that they were extremely toxic. Exposed workers began showing signs of toxic exposure almost immediately.
The two largest users of PCBs were General Electric (Pittsfield, MA and Corning, NY) and Westinghouse Electric (Bloomington, Indiana) in their transformer manufacturing operations. Air cooling of transformers was difficult, expensive, and unreliable, so PCB oil was used to transfer heat Transformers used for transmission of electricity are ubiquitous, and millions of gallons of PCB oil were used to transfer heat from the transformer coils to the heat sink - the metal can surrounding the coils and holding the oil. Inevitably, both during manufacture of the transformers, in auto and weather accidents, and in the disposal of defective or damaged transformers, millions of gallons of PCB oil has leaked out. Westinghouse apparently dumped huge amounts of PCB-contaminated trash into unlined landfills in Bloomington, Indiana. General Electric's Pittsfield site has been declared a Superfund site, and GE has agreed to clean up its now-abandoned plant and several miles of the Housatonic River in western Massachusetts. The GE plant in Corning, NY contaminated 100 miles of the Hudson River; it is not yet determined how this will be remediated.
Similar operations involving the manufacture of electrical capacitors, such as at the Sprague Electronics factory in New Bedford, leaked PCBs into inland waterways or the ocean. The Outboard Marine Corporation, one of the largest manufacturers of outboard motors for pleasure boats, used PCB oils for all of their hydraulic equipment. Apparently over a million gallons of PCB oil were dumped into Waukegan Harbor, on Lake Michigan. One million gallons were retrieved by dredging during the cleanup of this site. (See http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/aoc/waukegan.html) An unknown quantity still contaminates the bottom soil layer of Lake Michigan.
Between the 1930s and the 1970s, when PCB manufacture was halted, over 3 billion pounds were manufactured. It is estimated that approximately 1% of this has leaked into the environment. PCB molecules are nearly indestructible, and evaporate and migrate towards the poles. When PCBs are burned, even more toxic dioxins and furans are formed. It is believed that PCBs and dioxins are the major cause of reduction of sperm count in human males worldwide, and may be the cause of reproductive problems among protected whale species.
Historically, the company the manufactured these chemicals (Monsanto) and the companies who caused PCB pollution, neighborhood contamination, and worker exposure have attempted to minimize their liability by attempting to minimize the chemicals' toxicity. Monsanto was shown to have provided inaccurate data in a study of worker exposure. GE recently commissioned a study of its workers allegedly exposed to PCBs and the results appear to be strikingly familiar to the inital results of the now-discredited Monsanto study.
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