TAXPAYERS may have to pay hundreds of millions of pounds to clean up toxic sites in Wales unless a claim is made on the assets of a bankrupt American company by the end of the month.
An expert who began monitoring two of the sites 40 years ago says it is vital that British authorities take action to hold the Monsanto group to account. The bankrupt company Solutia is part of the Monsanto group, which he accuses of being the major polluter.
The Environment Agency says Brofiscin quarry at Groesfaen, near Pontyclun, in Cardiff's commuter belt, contains up to 75 different toxic substances. They allegedly include Agent Orange derivatives and carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Now Douglas Gowan, a retired pollution consultant who monitored the quarry from 1967, warns it could take many of the contaminants up to 100 years to degrade. And he claims there are several other such contaminated sites in Wales such as those at Maendy, Penrhos, T-Llwyd, Pentyrch, Ruabon, Wrexham, and Newport.
In a hard-hitting statement filed with a Bankruptcy Court in New York, where one of the Monsanto companies is in reorganisation, Mr Gowan accuses the group of knowingly risking health and environment by dumping huge amounts of toxic chemicals.
Mr Gowan, 63, first became involved in the long-running Brofiscin saga working for the NFU in London. The NFU's Glamorgan branch asked him to investigate allegations of pollution, cattle and sheep deaths and unusual reproductive problems among livestock on farms in the Pontypridd area.
His statement, lodged with the court in New York, where all case documents are made publicly available, says, "The discharges sampled contained highly toxic pollutants and factual evidence suggests that the cattle deaths, reproductive problems and abortions, were a direct consequence of that pollution, and of the ingestion of PCB, which were found in the stream and well water."
He said subsequent tests at the Royal Veterinary College in London, using mice fed the Brofiscin stream and well water, caused flaccidity, tumours and death.
"The cattle that died or aborted at Brofiscin farm also exhibited similar symptoms of lethargy and flaccidity and loss of muscular control."
Mr Gowan estimates that in the seven years that Maendy and Brofiscin accepted these wastes, as much as 80,000 tons of contaminated waste were dumped.
In his statement, Mr Gowan asserts, "These sites were not authorised by their planning consents to accept hazardous, chemical wastes. What is not immediately clear is the sheer magnitude of the environmental problems now created."
Brofiscin alone may well cost up to £100m to clean up, claims Mr Gowan. He has provided detailed evidence to lawyers in the USA involved in the bankruptcy proceedings involving the Monsanto group, claiming that the group was responsible for the dumping. To have any chance of eventual success, claims on Solutia's assets "almost certainly" have to be submitted by the end of March. Up to now, the Environment Agency in Wales has declined to submit a claim to the court in America.
Monsanto, which was split into three corporate entities in 1997, said in a statement, "On behalf of Pharmacia Corp (a surviving part of Monsanto now owned by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer), Monsanto Company is handling issues related to the historical manufacture of PCBs in Wales.
"We continue to work with the Wales Department for Environment and other regulatory bodies to resolve these issues.
"While the people involved in the manufacture of PCBs at the time and quoted in various documents are no longer with the company and probably deceased, a thorough, non-selective review of all of the documents will show that Pharmacia did inform its contractors of the nature of wastes prior to disposal, and that Pharmacia did not dump wastes from its own vehicles."
Solutia, a spin-off firm from Monsanto, which now runs the Newport site, said it was giving Monsanto and regulatory agencies "information as requested".
A spokesman for Monsanto in the USA, responding to Mr Gowan's claims of cows dying from PCB poisoning, said, "The Ministry of Agriculture in Wales investigated at the time and concluded that PCBs were an unlikely cause. Derivatives of Agent Orange are mentioned. I am assuming it was something like dioxins but Agent Orange was never produced in the UK. I have no knowledge of the 80,000 tons of contamination referred to."
We sent the entire text of Mr Gowan's court statement to Monsanto, seeking a response. Last night, a company spokesman said, "We confirm all we have said previously, including that there is no connection with Agent Orange, which old Monsanto never manufactured in the UK.
"Everyone involved has been working with the Government for years to address whatever needs to be done.
"Indeed, the Government is in the best position to determine exactly how much waste may be present and what needs to be done about it, not others."
An Assembly Government spokesperson said, "Carwyn Jones, the Rural Affairs Minister, takes the issues raised in relation to Brofiscin extremely seriously and has asked the Environment Agency to carry out a thorough investigation into the situation.
"The agency is investigating liability of various parties for the clean-up of the site."
Mr Gowan points out that as long ago as 1988, a Welsh Office survey of contaminated land made findings about the PCBs in both Brofiscin and Maendy.
It said, "They are mobile, non- degradable and carcinogenic. They could present a hazard to users of local groundwaters."