In 1929, the Monsanto company introduced a new class of chemicals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), substances that would revolutionize electronics. Seven years later, several workers at the Halowax Corporation in New York who worked with PCBs fell ill, and three died of severe liver failure. By the mid-1930's, officials Monsanto and General Electric (GE), which was one of the leading licensees of the technology, knew about the potential health effects of PCBs. Soon more studies linked PCB exposures to cancer, developmental problems, and damage to the immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems.
But the corporations continued their production and use of PCBs for decades. Finally, the chemicals were banned by Congress (the only such specific chemical ban ever enacted) in 1976. By then, GE had dumped an estimated 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River, making areas of the River the country's largest "Superfund" contamination zone, threatening the health and environment for millions of New Yorkers to this day. Millions more Americans are threatened today by other failures to assess and avoid the health problems caused by chemical-dependent technologies.