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Monsanto/Sauget
30 Apr 2014
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Description

Monsanto, one of the world’s leading chemical and agricultural biotechnology corporations, was originally headquartered out of the eponymous town of Monsanto, Illinois. Founded in 1901, the company of Monsanto originally produced artificial sweeteners and various other consumable chemicals, but later expanded into detergents and pesticides. Famously, Monsanto produced Agent Orange, a defoliant, which was used by the American military in Vietnam. The 1980s marked Monsanto’s first foray into genetic modification of plant cells; the company conducted their first field tests of genetically modified crops in 1987. Ten years later, Monsanto began divesting most of its chemical businesses, focusing exclusively on biotechnology, for which it is now recognized today. Forty percent of the crops presently grown in the U.S. contain Monsanto’s genetic modifications.

Despite the company’s continued financial success, Monsanto has received criticism on a wide variety of topics, such as its corporate control of the seed industry, and most commonly, the negative environmental impacts of its products. As Monsanto’s production of polychlorinated biphenyls, which are environmentally toxic and may cause cancer in humans, became national news, the town changed its name to Sauget, Illinois, after its first village president, presumably to detract attention from the company’s presence and history in the region. Monsanto also divested its chemical and fiber divisions into Solutia, Inc. in 1997; according to Monsanto’s website, through this divestment, Solutia “assumed and agreed to indemnify Pharmacia (then known as Monsanto Company) for certain liabilities related to the Chemicals Business.” The liabilities being referred to are the PCB production and environmental pollution at the Sauget plant, as well as other plants in Alabama; divesting Monsanto’s chemical division allowed the company to avoid financial liability, and downplay discussion of their involvement in the public realm.

The town of Monsanto was originally created as an industrial suburb in order to “offer [the business of] Monsanto a tax- and regulation-free dumping location at a time when environmental rules existed mainly at the local level." Even with Monsanto’s operations no longer present in the town, the impact of the factory’s heavy pollution still affects the area. Sauget is home to two Superfund sites, and has been described by the Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most polluted communities in the region: “It’s basically a soup of chemicals, including PCBs, benzene, toluene, and dioxin and organic solvents,” according to Richard Karl, director of the EPA’s Region 5 Superfund Division. To date, the EPA has spent tens of millions of dollars cleaning up the area, but doesn’t anticipate being able to leave in the near future.

Monsanto has also left a legacy of poor environmental practices that continues today. Richard Sauget Jr., the current village president, acknowledges that “[Sauget was] basically incorporated to be a sewer;” however, rather than trying to change this image, he has embraced industries considered undesirable by other areas. Sauget has welcomed trash-transfer stations and zinc smelting companies, as well as morally “unclean” establishments such as strip clubs, off-track betting parlors, and 24-hour liquor stores. Particularly notable is the American Bottoms Treatment Plant, which has served much of the Illinois side of the St. Louis metropolitan area since its construction in 1986, and processes an average of 27 million gallons of wastewater per day. Sauget’s willingness to accept almost any type of industry within its city lines has allowed its economy to stay afloat despite Monsanto’s exodus from the community, whereas other former industrial suburbs, such as National City, failed without their original companies.

However, despite relative economic prosperity, Sauget is home to no churches, supermarkets, or schools; locals must purchase groceries in either East St. Louis or Cahokia, and children commute to Cahokia to attend classes. Sauget’s government shows more investment in expanding the town’s relationship with industry than developing its community infrastructure. Similarly, in the past, Monsanto disinvested itself from the area in order to retain its cohesive and unified public image—again prioritizing economic interests over the good of the townspeople. Sauget’s historically corporation-focused nature and pattern of disinvestment in civic wellbeing has led the area to lack the feeling of a vibrant community. 

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