Environmental Justice Case Study:

 The People of Anniston, Alabama




Table of Contents

·        Problem

·        Background                                                                                       

·        Timeline                                                                               

·        Key Actors                                                                          

·        Demographics

·        Strategies Used

·        Solutions

·        Contacts

·        Appendix

·        Back to Environmental Justice Case Studies




            This small, low-income community is home to one of the most recognizable names in chemical production, Monsanto (now known as Solutia).  From the late 1920s/early 1930s to the 1970s, polychlorinated biphenyl’s (PCBs) were produced at the Anniston Monsanto facility (Beiles, 2000).  As such, claims have recently been filed by more than 3,000 citizens of Anniston against Monsanto for damages allegedly caused by releases of these PCBs into the areas air, lakes, rivers, and soil.  These citizens allege that the company knew it was releasing PCBs into the atmosphere, knew the hazards that accompanied exposure to PCBs, and consequently, did nothing to stop the discharges and did not take the appropriate measures to protect those living in Anniston (Beiles, 2000).  As it is suggested that Monsanto knew they were introducing PCBs into the environment, the citizens also allege that company officials attempted to conceal their environmental violations (Beiles, 2000).

            Although this environmental saga began over six decades ago, the real devastation caused by Monsanto only began to emerge within the last seven to eight years.  The findings that have been unearthed during this time frame have undoubtedly left lasting scars on the souls of the residents of Anniston and will have lasting effects on future generations to come.  This case differs from other PCB related cases as it is among the first to be filed by citizens and not corporations (Beiles, 2000).  As the area immediately surrounding the Monsanto plant is predominately comprised of African-Americans, environmental injustices have definitely occurred in Anniston.

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            WWI marked the arrival of chemical producers in Anniston.  In 1929 the Theodore Swann Company became the first of the two Monsanto facilities that produced PCBs in the United States (US ATSDR Health Consultation, 2000).  As PCBs, which were used as insulating materials in various types of electrical appliances, gained in popularity and became a big business, Monsanto approached the Swann Company with an offer to purchase their Anniston PCB facility.  In 1935 the deal was finalized and Monsanto took over ownership of the Anniston plant.  PCBs were manufactured at this plant for some 41 years until Monsanto suspended Anniston’s PCB production in 1971 (Kaley II, 2000). 

            During the years that followed, the cancer, learning disabilities, increased asthma rates, and reproductive deformities experienced by those living closest to the Monsanto plant were never considered to be linked to the years of PCB production (Table 1).  Coincidentally, according to the Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard (2000), in 1990 Calhoun County, the county where Anniston is located, ranked among the worst 20% of all counties in the United States in terms of an average persons added cancer risk from hazardous air pollution (Table 2). It was not until 1993 that the residents of Anniston got their first glimpse of troubles linked to Monsanto and their PCBs (Beiles, 2000).  It was at this time that largemouth bass in the nearby Choccolocco Creek were discovered with blistered scales.  Tests confirmed that these fish had extremely high levels of PCBs (Beiles, 2000; Kaley II, 2000).  One could have hardly imagined that these fish would reveal years of secrets that held such serious implications for the human population of Anniston.  At about the same time, the Alabama Power Company was preparing to break ground on a piece of land obtained years earlier from Monsanto.  When the ground breaking took place, a PCB landfill was mistakenly opened spilling black tar onto the earth (Beiles, 2000).  This landfill was actually one of two unlined landfills used to dispose of hazardous waste that were located adjacent to the plant (US ATSDR Exposure Investigation Report, 2000).  As a result of these two unexpected events, a firestorm of controversy would ensue.

            In late 1995 the congregation of a local Anniston church, Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church, was approached by a Monsanto manager with a proposition that included purchasing their sanctuary for a hefty sum (Beiles, 2000).  Initially, the deal appeared to be nothing more than a simple real estate transaction.  But as the proposal was being considered, it was revealed that the underlying reason for Monsanto’s interest in the church was that high concentrations of PCBs had been found in the area and, in order for a clean-up to take place, the church would have to be destroyed.  Upon this discovery, the citizens of Anniston began to attribute their various health conditions to PCB exposure.  Soon after in 1996, Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church, along with over 3,000 residents, filed suit against Monsanto (Beiles, 2000).

 Just a year later, in rankings compiled by the Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard (2000), Calhoun County ranked in the worst 30% of US counties in terms of major chemical releases (Table 3).  These statistics seemed to validate the argument that something or someone had been polluting the air and water of Anniston.  

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·        1917: Southern Manganese Corporation began manufacturing at what is now the current Monsanto site

·        late 1920s: production of biphenyls began

·        late 1920s/1930s: Southern Manganese Corporation became the Theodore Swann Company and began producing PCBs at the Anniston facility

·        1935: The Monsanto Corporation purchased the Swann Anniston PCB plant

·        1956: Monsanto considered PCBs to be toxic enough that they gave workers protective gear and clothing

·        1960s: Team of Swedish researchers discovered PCBs in the environment

·        1970: Reported that Monsanto was dumping approximately 16 lbs of PCB waste a day into the Anniston water system

·        1971: Monsanto ceased PCB production in Anniston

·        1977: Monsanto stopped producing PCBs altogether

·        1979: United States government bans the production of PCBs

·        1985: Investigations led by Monsanto under a Consent Order with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management documented the presence of PCBs in sediment samples from off-site drainage ditches and in soil samples from private residences east and north of the facility

·        1993: Monsanto begins contributing clean-up funds to the city of Anniston

·        1995: Alabama Department of Public Health concluded that exposure to soil and sediment in the West End Landfill, Eastern Drainage Ditch, Snow Creek, and Choccolocco Creek presented a public health hazard

·        1995: Former State Legislator Donald Stewart is informed of Monsanto’s desire to purchase Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church

·        1996: Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church and residents of Anniston file suit against Monsanto

·        1997: Monsanto’s chemical division becomes “Solutia”

·        1998: Monsanto settled with Mars Hill awarding them $2.5 million and a new church van

·        1999: Citizens Against Pollution file a letter with the EPA asking for action in regard to PCB contamination in Anniston

·        2000: Environmental Protection Agency initiates process to qualify Anniston as a Superfund clean-up site

·        2000: Lawsuits filed by Anniston residents still pending in court

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Key Actors

v     Citizens of Anniston

The health of this group of individuals is at the heart of this battle.  The citizens of Anniston believe they have been directly affected by the PCBs produced by Monsanto and as a result, are experiencing a wide variety of adverse health affects.  Over 3,000 Anniston residents have rallied against Monsanto filing suit alleging they knew about the PCB contamination they were causing and failed to take corrective action.


v     Citizens Against Pollution (CAP)

CAP, also known as the West Anniston Environmental Justice Task Force, is a group of citizens who have joined in a collective effort to fight Monsanto.  This group has become a vehicle through which the citizens are able to directly influence change.  Members of CAP aided in the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) investigation by collecting soil samples.  It was also this group that formally asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take some type of action in regard to Anniston’s PCB contamination.


v     Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church

As the membership of this church was the first to be approached by Monsanto officials about selling their property, this offer brought the issue of PCB contamination to the forefront in Anniston.  It was through negotiations between Mars Hill and Monsanto that many local residents learned of the situation that was taking place in their backyards.  The members of Mars Hill were the first to file suit against Monsanto.


v     Monsanto/Solutia

For many years Monsanto produced PCBs in Anniston.  Now they are at the center of a battle accusing them of knowingly contaminating Anniston’s air, soil, and water with PCBs and failing to protect the local residents.  Monsanto contends that once they were made aware of the contamination, they implemented swift and effective plans to stop the releases, repair the damage that had already occurred, and protect the citizens (Kaley II, 2000).


v     Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)

Although they ultimately ordered Monsanto to begin an extensive cleanup in Anniston, many felt that the ADEM was also involved in the PCB cover-up.  Further, several people believed that the ADEM fought to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from making Anniston a clean-up priority (Opinion, 2000).

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            Anniston is located in Calhoun County, Alabama.  It is situated in the Southern Appalachians in the east-central portion of the state.  Anniston is approximately 60 miles east of Birmingham and 90 miles west of Atlanta.  Population demographics reveal the following:

·        1999 US Census Bureau population estimates show that 116,541 people call Calhoun County home.

·        1998 estimates suggest that 79.3% of the population of Calhoun County is white, while 19.6% black, 0.9% Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.2% American Indian, and 1.8% Hispanic.

·        1990 Census data reveals that 38,758 people live in Anniston.  Of those, 24,481 are Caucasian and 13,987 are African-American.  290 individuals are classified as “other race” which includes American Indians, Eskimos, and Asian or Pacific Islanders.


Additional census data shows that the per capita income in 1989 in Anniston was $10,607.  During this time, the average per capita income for whites was $13,214, while the average for blacks was only $5,946.  Of the nearly 39,000 people who live in Anniston, approximately 8,699 live below the poverty level.  5,205 of those individuals are African-American.  Despite the fact that some in Anniston have pursued and/or obtained degrees in higher levels of education, the majority of the population, both white and black, have only obtained a high-school diploma or an equivalent (Table 4). However, more Caucasian residents have succeeded at each educational level than African-American residents (Table 5). Although Anniston itself is predominately Caucasian, the area surrounding the Monsanto facility is primarily minority and low-income. 

            The Monsanto facility is located in West Anniston.  It is situated on approximately 70 acres.  The area north of the plant is comprised primarily of residential, industrial, and commercial properties.  East and West of the site numerous other residential properties are found (ATSDR Health Consultation, 2000).  

Text Box:









Image from Solutia Website (www.solutia.com)

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            Strategies used by the people of Anniston ranged from holding public forums to taking a “hands-on” approach to mobilizing against Monsanto.  After learning of Monsanto’s offer to purchase the Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church, community members gathered at the church to attend an open information session.  This session provided residents with up-to-date factual information regarding the case as well as an opportunity to prepare for further mobilization efforts such as the founding of a grass roots community action organization.  Meetings such as these were held throughout the investigation to keep community members informed and active in the struggle.

            Many of the residents of Anniston further mobilized by forming an organization known as CAP- Citizens Against Pollution, which is also known as the West Anniston Environmental Justice Task Force.  This organization was instrumental in bringing the situation in Anniston to the attention of the EPA.  CAP also organized a meeting of approximately 60 people including residents, lawyers, EPA representatives, Alabama Department of Environmental Management representatives, Alabama Department of Public Health officials, and officials from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (Environmental Protection Agency, 2000).  As a result of this meeting, investigations were conducted that found that the Monsanto facility and the adjacent community were contaminated with PCBs (Environmental Protection Agency, 2000).

            Community members also actively participated in exposure investigations and other studies by collecting soil samples for analysis (US ATSDR Health Consultation, 2000). 

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             As a result of the lawsuits and the public outcry, Monsanto conceded that much of the PCB contamination in Anniston was caused by their facility (Kaley II, 2000).  Consequently, parts of West Anniston were declared a public health hazard due to PCB pollution (Bouma, 2000).  The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) ordered Monsanto to begin a major clean-up effort.  This led to Monsanto demolishing buildings on the contaminated land, laying plastic tarps, and covering them with clean soil.  According to Monsanto estimates, they have contributed more than $30 million toward the clean-up in Anniston (Kaley II, 2000).  A substantial amount of these monies were used to acquire residential land and provide these homeowners with relocation funds equaling approximately twice the appraised value of their property (Kaley II, 2000).  Although many residents did accept the relocation offers, there are still numerous residents who refuse to leave the only place they have known and a place their families have lived for generations.  As such, these people are still being exposed to high levels of PCBs.  Additionally, downstream waterways are being assessed for human health and environmental impacts.  To the dismay of many animal rights activists, Monsanto has proposed that some of the land be converted into a wildlife refuge.

            During efforts to settle with Monsanto, Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church was divided into two factions; one supporting the action against Monsanto and the other contending that those who were making decisions regarding the case were doing so without the proper authorization.  Ultimately, after on-going litigation between these two groups Mars Hill was awarded $2.5 million and a new church van (Supreme Court of Alabama, 2000).  Another church, Bethel Missionary Baptist, was given relocation funds and was able to build a new sanctuary on a site outside of the contaminated area (Kaley II, 2000).  The lawsuits filed by the residents of Anniston are still pending in court.  There are no clear indications as to when a decision will be handed down.

            A document created by Robert G. Kaley II (2000), Director of Environmental Affairs for Solutia, states that more clean-up plans are on hold pending state and federal approval.  As of September 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency had initiated the process to qualify Anniston as a Superfund clean-up site.  As EPA officials state that they are very early in the Superfund evaluation, it may be months before a decision is made (Raeke, 2000).

            Although PCB production was banned at the Anniston plant years ago, the Anniston facility is still a functional chemical plant.  Currently the plant produces products including polyphenyls which include biphenyl, and paranitrophenol (PAP) which is used to make acetaminophen, a non-aspirin pain reliever.  Many residents are fearful that, in years to come, these supposedly “safe” chemicals will be at the heart of yet another environmental drama.  Only time will tell.

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·        Solutia Inc. Headquarters

P.O. Box 66760

St. Louis, MO 63166-6760

(314) 674-1000



·        Solutia Inc. Anniston Plant

702 Clydesdale Avenue

Anniston, AL 36201-5390


·        Serving Alabama’s Future Environment

(205) 782-0424


·        Sweet Valley/Cobb Town Environmental TaskForce

P.O. Box 531

Eastaboga, AL 36260

(256) 831-7600

FAX: (256) 835-5958


·        Coalition for Environmental Consciousness

44 Main Street

Ridgeville, AL 35954

(205) 570-0386


·        Miles College Program for Environmental Justice

5500 Myron Massey Boulevard

Birmingham, AL 35208

(205) 929-1552

FAX: (205) 929-1453

E-MAIL: ccwwaw@aol.com


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Table 1. Self-reported Health Concerns of Anniston Residents


Reported Health Concerns

Number of Reports



Cardiovascular Problems


Respiratory Problems


Skin Problems


Endocrine Problems


Birth Defects/Learning Disabilities


Immune Problems


Neurological Problems




Blood Problems


Eye Problems


Kidney Problems




Reproductive Problems




Prostate Problems




ATSDR Health Consultation, 2000

Table 2. Ranking based on Health Risks


Health Risks

Percentage Range for US Counties

(scale: 0-30% cleanest counties; 40-60% average; 70-100% dirtiest counties)

Added cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants (HAPs)


Non-cancer risk from HAPs


Number of people living in areas where cancer risk from HAPs exceeds 1 in 10,000


Number of people living in areas where non-cancer risk from HAPs exceeds 10


Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard, 1990





Table 3. 1997 Rankings of Major Chemical Releases



Percentage Range for US Counties

(scale: 0-30% cleanest counties; 40-60% average counties; 70-100% dirtiest counties)

Total environmental releases


Cancer risk score (air and water releases)


Non-cancer risk score (air and water releases)


Air releases of recognized carcinogens (cancer causing agents)


Air releases of recognized developmental toxicants


Air releases of recognized reproductive toxicants


Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard, 1997


Table 4. Educational Attainment for Persons 18 years of age and older


Level of Educational Attainment

Number of Persons Attaining

Less than 9th grade


9th to 12th grade, no diploma


High-school graduate, includes equivalency


Some college, no degree


Associate’s degree


Bachelor’s degree


Graduate or professional degree


United States Census, 1990




Table 5. Educational Attainment by Race for Persons 25 years of age and older


Level of Attainment



Less than 9th grade



9th to 12th grade, no diploma



High-school graduate, includes equivalency



Some college, no degree



Associate’s degree



Bachelor’s degree



Graduate or professional degree



United States Census, 1990

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Works Cited

Beiles, N.  “What Monsanto Knew.”  The Nation 29 May 2000: 18-22.

Bouma, Katherine.  “EPA Alerts Anniston Residents about Lead.”  The Birmingham

 News Online.  08 Aug. 2000.                 


Dougan, Katherine R.  “PCBs in Anniston’s Soil, Air.”  The Anniston Star Online.

17 Feb. 2000.     


Environmental Defense Fund Scorecard.  2000.  http://www.scorecard.org/env-releases/.

Kaley II, Robert.  “PCBs Fell on Alabama…”  Ohio Citizen Online.  03 July 2000.             


Opinion, Our.  “Absent ADEM: Who’s Looking Out for Us?”  The Anniston Star Online.

            09 March 2000.


Opinion, Our.  “The Biologist and the Bureaucrat.”  The Anniston Star Online.

            9 June 2000.


Raeke, Richard.  “Anniston Undergoes Superfund Evaluation.”  The Anniston Star

            Online.  29 Sept. 2000.



Solutia,Inc. 2000. http://www.solutia.com/corporate/worldwide/anniston.html.

Supreme Court of Alabama.  October Term, 1999-2000.  1972232 and 1980170.

Mars Hill Baptist Church of Anniston, Alabama, Inc., v. Mars Hill Missionary Baptist Church.  Appeals from Calhoun County Circuit Court (CV-96-234).


Thurgood Marshall School of Law Environmental Justice Clinic.  2000. 


United States.  Bureau of the Census.  Population Profile of Calhoun County, Alabama,

1990. http://www.venus.census.gov/cdrom/lookup/97553010.

United States.  Bureau of the Census.  State and County QuickFacts for Calhoun County,

            Alabama, 2000.  http://www.census.gov/ .

United States.  Centers for Disease Control.  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease

Registry.  Exposure Investigation Report: Solutia Incorporated/Monsanto Company, Anniston, Calhoun County, Alabama. 2000.


United States.  Centers for Disease Control.  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease

Registry.  Health Consultation: Evaluation of Soil, Blood, & Air Data from Anniston, Alabama.  2000. http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/HAC/PHA/annpc/ann_p3.html.

United States.  Environmental Protection Agency.  2000 National Achievement Awards

            Superfund.  2000. http://www.epa.gov/superfund/new/awards/sf_index.htm