In order for Monsanto to maintain its 1971 position that “PCBs are not and cannot be classified as highly toxic,” Monsanto engaged Industrial Bio-Test Labs of Northbrook, Illinois, to do safety studies on its Aroclor PCB products. Seven years later, IBT Labs would be at the center of one of the most far-reaching scandals in modern science, as thousands of its studies were revealed through EPA and FDA investigations to be fraudulent or grossly inadequate.
One of IBT’s top executives was Dr. Paul Wright, a Monsanto toxicologist who took a job at IBT Labs in part to supervise the PCB tests, and then returned to Monsanto. Wright was eventually convicted of multiple counts of fraud in one of the longest criminal trials in U. S. history – with his legal fees paid by Monsanto.
While fraud on the PCB tests was not raised in the IBT trial, it is strongly suggested by memos and letters that came to light in later civil lawsuits. Several of these show how, at Monsanto’s request, IBT Labs customized its studies. “I think we are surprised (and disappointed?) at the apparent toxicity at the levels studied,” Monsanto’s Elmer Wheeler wrote in March 1970 to IBT president Joseph Calandra.
“I doubt that there is any explanation for this but I do think that we might exchange some new thoughts.”
In a letter to IBT Labs two months later commenting on a set of PCB test results, Wheeler wrote, “We would hope that we might find a higher ‘no effect’ level with this sample as compared to the previous work.”
In later years, Monsanto’s requests would become even more blatant. “In two instances, the previous conclusion of ‘slightly tumorigenic’ was changed to ‘non-carcinogenic,'” Monsanto wrote in July 1975. “The latter phrase is preferable. May we request that the Aroclor 1254 report be amended to say ‘does not appear to be carcinogenic.'”
Two weeks later, Calandra responded: “We will amend our statement in the last paragraph on page 2 of the Aroclor 1254 report to read, ‘does not appear to be carcinogenic’ in place of ‘slightly tumorigenic’ as requested.” Testimony about the IBT Labs scandal in a Texas lawsuit against Monsanto indicates that IBT was aware that PCBs caused extremely high numbers of tumors in test rats, with 82 percent developing tumors when fed Aroclor 1254 at 10 parts per million and 100 percent at 100 parts per million. Yet with a stroke of a pen, IBT Labs certified PCBs a noncarcinogen.
Working behind the scenes of such scientific miracles was Paul Wright. In July 1976, after returning to Monsanto, he was given a $1,000 award for “forestalling EPA’s promulgation of unrealistic regulations to limit discharges of polychlorinated biphenyls.” A year later, IBT Labs was found out, and Wright, Calandra, and another IBT exec were eventually convicted of federal fraud charges.