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fingerprinting for pcbs - norwegian sea pollution traced to chemical giants

bayer, germany | monsanto, us | kanegafuchi, japan

“It is highly reasonable that companies which have produced, sold and earned income from PCB and which have been closer than anyone else to knowing about the harmful effects of the substance should contribute towards the cost of clean up.” Øivind Østberg, Norwegian lawyer.


In 1998 and 1999, ten young Friends of the Earth Norway activists took to the sea with the goal of tracing PCB pollution along the coastline directly back to the manufacturers of this toxic industrial chemical. “Chemical fingerprinting” helped them to identify and attribute specific PCB pollution to corporate producers Bayer, Monsanto and Kanegafuchi.


The results of their investigations created shock waves throughout Norway. Analysis of the samples showed high levels of PCB pollution in the waters off the Norwegian coast. PCBs, used in hydraulic oil, paint for ships, construction materials and electronic equipment, are among the most hazardous of known environmental toxins and have been linked to cancer, hormonal disruption and behavioural changes. Although most countries banned PCBs in the 1970s, they are not easily degradable and persist for hundreds of years in the environment.


PCB pollution in Norway is a worrying and expensive problem. Fish sales from many fjord areas have been banned, affecting livelihoods for many fishermen. Total clean up costs for Norwegian coastal waters are estimated at US$2.5 billion. Friends of the Earth Norway is trying to convince Oslo port authorities to sue Bayer and Monsanto for part of the clean up costs. Authorities, no doubt intimidated by the power of these companies, continue to resist holding them responsible for their actions.


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