Abstract: Incorporated in 1926 by a handful of higher-ups from Monsanto Chemical Company, the Village of Sauget was founded out of corporate interests, which have politically and economically dominated the Village ever since. As an industrial suburb, Sauget and its few residents are secondary to the interests of industry. Governed by the Sauget familial dynasty, the only family to hold the office of mayor in Sauget, the town has maintained a business-friendly governance structure, openly inviting companies to smelt, refine, and manufacture at their leisure. Permeated by heavy industry and safeguarded by few environmental standards, Sauget served as an industrial hotspot throughout the 20th century. As highly publicized environmental and public health crises forced widespread legislation regulating industrial activity, the environmental and human impacts of unobstructed industry and legalized lawlessness were revealed, making the general population privy to previously undisclosed knowledge. This research uncovers how sanctioned violence and its effects were contained within privileged spheres, and how said containment worked to perpetuate environmental and anthropological harms. In considering how Sauget’s status as an industrial suburb enabled the government and corporate actors to perpetuate accumulated harms, my project seeks to analyze the disproportionate effects of industrial air and water pollution throughout Sauget, Illinois.
“Monsanto, incorporated as such on August 14, 1926, is a typical industrial center, comprising not only factories, but a subdivision of small homes for employees. Covering 1.65 square miles, Monsanto is ideally situated. It is governed by a President and six Trustees, men who are eager to make the district attractive to industries. Being self-governing, its tax rates are low and there are no burdensome ‘nuisance’ taxes.” - Mike Seely, Riverfront Times
The story of Sauget, Illinois, has always been dominated by a name, specifically its own name. In 1926, the Village was incorporated under the name “Monsanto,” indicative of the heavy industry which operated in the area. Founded in 1901 by John Francis Queeny, Monsanto Chemical Company is notable for numerous agrochemical and biotechnological breakthroughs, including its leading role in the advancement of genetic modification as well as the creation of the herbicide Roundup. Throughout the 20th century, however, Monsanto was the leading American manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are environmentally toxic carcinogens widely used as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatuses. Thus, the Village has served the exact purpose its name suggests: ground zero for the production of ninety-nine percent of the PCBs used for industrial purposes in the United States from the 1930s through the 1970s. During this forty-year timespan, more than 517,000 metric tons of PCB mixtures were produced and/or used in the United States.
Monsanto remained the name of the Village until 1968, when it was rebranded to honor its first mayor, Leo Sauget, who served from the town’s incorporation until 1969. Sauget, an equally fitting name for the Village, was, and is, dominated by dynasty: Leo’s son, Paul, served as mayor until 2009, followed by Rich Jr., Paul’s nephew, who serves today. Through this unchallenged dynasty structure, the Sauget family has remained friendly to the interests of business. Acting in accordance with the business-first mindset of Leo Sauget, who aided in the organization and incorporation of the Village under the name “Monsanto,” subsequent Sauget mayors have continuously sought to appease the desires of industrial development. Granting lax regulations and removed involvement, the Sauget family has courted dozens of industrial companies, including Cerro Copper, Amax Zinc, ExxonMobil, Clayton Chemical, Veolia Trash Waste, Gavilon Fertilizer, Eastman Chemical, and so on. As can likely be discerned from the names, many of the companies which operate/operated in Sauget use or produce heavy chemicals and/or toxic substances in their operations, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These corporately manufactured toxins are accompanied by a host of health dangers, such as cancer, infertility, organ failure, and so on. Keeping with the favorability first envisioned by Monsanto Chemical Works and advertised by Leo Sauget, the Village has remained open to undesirable industry and blind to the hazardous consequences.
Explicitly prioritizing business interests in the pursuit of profit, the Village quickly assumed the status of an industrial suburb. Exploiting the government as a business tool, and operating in accordance with the desires of industry, industrial suburbs are legally incorporated entities which necessarily lack a social contract. Motivated by the profitability of smelting, refining, and manufacturing operations, the Sauget family created highly favorable conditions for industrial development. The family repeatedly invoked their political clout to maintain an economically attractive environment, working alongside industry officials to satiate their operations. Solidifying the Village of Sauget as an industrial suburb, local firms were able to dictate taxes and regulations, generating larger profit margins for those industries most sensitive to costs of production. Incorporated by corporate hands, and influenced by the same ever since, the Village of Sauget has remained open to industry physically, politically, and economically.
Situated in the disciplines of environmental justice and environmental history, my research relies heavily on primary sources. To provide the historical context for my project, I consulted newspaper articles dating back to the early 20th century. The Belleville News-Democrat, in particular, was critical in chronicling Sauget’s social, economic, and political developments. Using a variety of key search terms, I scoured numerous digital databases to create a historical archive. Further, I relied on site assessments, toxicology reports, plant histories, court opinions, and EPA documents to contextualize and expand my project beyond the historical framework. These documents were accumulated through general searches and website exploration. The archive which resulted from my investigation, however, lacks a comprehensive investigation into company histories. In alignment with the findings of this project, these histories have been hidden from public record, further illustrating how spheres of knowledge are able to selectively produce or withhold environmentally and anthropologically damaging information. Despite these missing narratives, the primary sources I have gathered constitute an archive which demands attention and accountability. This archive makes evident the devastating violence Sauget suffered for three decades.
In addition to this web of primary sources, my project seeks inspiration from framework environmental history and environmental justice literature. Paralleling heavily publicized instances of disproportionate environmental harms, environmental justice emerged as an academic area of study in the late 20th century. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality by Robert D. Bullard evaluates environmental justice in five predominantly black communities. Throughout the book, Bullard analyzes motivating factors, reactions, and impacts of environmental degradation in the communities. Though Bullard’s methodology differs from my work, his findings parallel and guide my own; for example, Bullard found that those who resided in incorporated communities (i.e., industrial suburbs) were generally more favorable to the presence of the industry.
In addition to Robert Bullard’s foundational piece, I rely on Andrew Hurley’s Environmental Inequalities: Class, Race, and Industrial Pollution in Gary, Indiana. Hurley evaluates the impacts of industrial pollution on wealthy, middle-class, and working-class communities of black and white individuals, especially focusing on each group’s exposure and reaction to pollution. Drawing on the community and environmental histories of Environmental Inequalities, my research analyzes the social, political, and economic community development amidst mounting industrial air and water pollution.
Directly engaging the relationship between industrial presence and community development, throughout Smeltertown Monica Perales analyzes the effects of ASARCO, one of the largest smelting operations in American history, on a Mexican-American border town. Perales paints the history of Smeltertown through both the memories of local descendants and historical documents, while simultaneously providing a detailed account of the smelting plant and industrial actors who perpetrated high levels of industrial pollution.
Likely the closest complement to my research, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town by Ellen Griffith Spears offers a case study of Anniston, Alabama, the only other American town to house Monsanto’s chemical operations. Further, through both company and town histories, Spears chronicles steps taken by Monsanto to hide health information from the public. In addition to building on both town and company histories, my research incorporates the concept of private versus public knowledge. In both Anniston and Sauget, information shares played a central role in the ecological and human impact of industrial pollution.
Analytically and methodologically, my project draws on these foundational works of environmental history and environmental justice. My research, however, diverges from the aforementioned work by accentuating an overlooked area where corporate interests and government corruption have produced severe environmental and public health abuses. While in no way a place of common knowledge, any account of Sauget is dominated by an insinuation of ruin. The scars of heavy industry and ingrained government corruption are neglected in favor of liquor stores and gentlemen’s clubs, blemishing the town with the temptation of vice. This prevailing account completely disregards the constant, concentrated industrial operations which have harmed the region for decades. Despite egregious levels of pollution and analogous health consequences, Sauget exists in near invisibility. A product of industrial suburbanism, this invisibility has perpetuated the observed environmental and bodily harms Sauget swallowed for nearly a century. Thus, this project seeks to call attention to how industry and government, two privileged actors, assumed a deceptive designation of legitimacy, which enabled them to inflict and perpetuate irreparable environmental and human damage.
Figure 1. Geographic layout of the region.
The Early Years
On August 7, 1926, the southern Illinois region in which Sauget now exists held a vote for the incorporation of the Village of Monsanto. Led by forty-seven petitioners and a handful of attorneys for Monsanto Chemical Works, the 1.65 square miles were to become home to the 230 residents of the new village. Despite objections regarding the low population, the vote proceeded with little delay. Gaining autonomy on August 14 in a victory of sixty-seven votes to four, the Village of Monsanto then elected Leo Sauget and his fellow officials with a landslide victory of forty-two out of fifty total votes. In addition to the baffling size of the Village of Monsanto and the ease with which it gained its autonomy, the surrounding area was struck by the Village’s wealth, naming the municipality as the wealthiest in Illinois. Robbing neighboring communities of the economic prosperity promised by new industry, the Village reported a $20 million property value, accentuating preexisting injustices in the region. Taken in tandem, the size and wealth of the Village are in no way coincidental. From its inception, the Village of Monsanto served as a means to maximize profitability and minimize responsibility. Backed by the money and power of Monsanto Chemical Works, the incorporation dealt a major economic blow to neighboring East St. Louis, a community that has long been victim to an extensive history of industrial ruin and injustice. Had the Village’s incorporation petitions failed and East St. Louis annexed the district, income from municipal and park board taxes would have increased in East St. Louis between $75,000 and $100,000; however, by gaining autonomy, the industries located within the 1.65 square miles saved themselves said monetary sum.
Intimately tied to the rapid industrial development, the Sauget family has maintained control of the Village and exploited this power to actively recruit otherwise rejected industries. Through this strategic arrangement of hands-off governance and industrial recruitment, the Saugets have blurred the line between corporate interests and local governance, willingly committing the Village of Sauget to the status of an industrial suburb.
Beginning as farmers, the Sauget family worked to establish influential connections in nearby communities to unify and strengthen the community. The father of the first mayor of Sauget, Ludwig Armand Sauget, hunted with John Queeny, the founder of Monsanto, on land that would become the Village of Sauget. As the Village’s first mayor, Leo Sauget took steps to ensure that taxes were low and investment was high, creating a highly favorable environment for corporate entities. The Saugets became directly linked to industrial interests in 1959 when Leo Sauget founded Industrial Salvage, which operated as a landfill for industrial waste.
Under the direction of the Leo Sauget, the Village of Monsanto saw the immediate invasion of industry. While dozens of companies have operated in the area, four in particular have dominated the Village since its incorporation. Operational in the area since 1917, Monsanto Chemical Works expanded rapidly in the 1930s, producing chemical products such as sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, nitric acid, and zinc chloride. Paralleling Monsanto’s early investment, Lewin Metals, now Cerro Flow Products, established its electrolytic copper facility in 1927, constructing a new facility in 1957 when absorbed by Cerro de Pasco Corporation. Soon following, what became the Clayton Chemical site operationalized as a railroad repair yard from 1930 to 1962. The company then turned to solvent reclamation in the late 1960s, dedicating the site to decades of chemical enterprise. Finally, Amax Zinc, now Big River Zinc, was founded in 1929, operating ever since as a zinc refinery. Experiencing immediate success upon its entry, the zinc refinery produced 100,000 tons per year of zinc metal at its peak operations. Incited by a suitable physical atmosphere and cued by favorable government relations, the Village underwent a period of great wealth and economic prosperity.
Prospering from the success of local industries and a total invested capital of $60 million, Leo Sauget kept his constituents financially burden-free while his pro-business style of governance welcomed numerous industrial firms into the municipal limits. With no questions asked and a tax rate of thirteen cents, the Village of Monsanto under Leo Sauget’s direction recruited heavy industrial firms with ease and resolve. Alongside rapid business development, the Village of Monsanto increasingly solidified its identity as an industrial suburb. In 1930, the Village of Monsanto reached a peak population of 305 residents. However, despite its marginally larger populace, the Village still struggled to form independent public structures. In 1932, the Village of Monsanto was denied its own school district on the grounds that its separation from Maplewood District No. 190 would remove seventy-seven percent of the assessed value from the school district, despite possessing only twenty-five percent of the students. Taken at face value, creating a separate school district seemingly contradicts the prevailing assumption that industrial suburbs evade the provision of public services. However, the Village likely pursued this path in order to manipulate the tax rate, as the court ruling opposes a “new district where school taxes would be lowered.” Paralleling this disproportionate wealth and outsourcing of public goods, fire protection within the municipal limits of the Village also remained under the control of East St. Louis. Evading the provision of public services, the governance structure was able to secure its capital capture while satisfying the interests of local industries. This entanglement of motives only worked to reinforce the harms necessarily linked to an industrial suburb.
Exploiting the lack of governmental oversight, reckless industrial activity within the Village persisted. Building upon its product line, which included sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, nitric acid, and zinc chloride, Monsanto was producing over one hundred heavy and intermediate chemicals by 1957. Alongside these chemical additions, waste from Monsanto’s operations, in the form of both wastewater and landfill, was disposed of throughout Sauget Area 2, beginning in 1955 and continuing through 1978. Throughout this twenty-two-year period, Monsanto continued to increase and diversify its production, adding chemical outputs and repeatedly disposing of hazardous waste in landfills owned and operated by the Sauget family. Paralleling the company’s expansive production, continuous investigations into the potential dangers posed by PCB production were conducted by Monsanto officials. As early as 1969, Monsanto possessed knowledge that PCBs had the potential to be a global contaminant, threatening the “contamination of human food, the killing of marine species, and the possible extinction of several species of fish-eating birds.” Company officials discussed what to share with their customers, acknowledging the legal and moral obligations the situation presented. However, despite the peril PCB production posed, business marched onward.
Cerro Copper, Clayton Chemical, and Amax Zinc underwent similar periods of production expansion, engaging in operations which would ultimately exaggerate already rampant levels of pollution within the Village. Through practices of both landfilling and direct dumping of hazardous substances, including dioxins, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), and heavy metals, the companies engaged in environmentally and anthropologically perilous activities.
The early history of the Village of Monsanto was distinguished by industrial development and relative prosperity. At one point distinguished as one of the wealthiest municipalities in the United States, the Village of Monsanto kept both its citizen base and industrial firms appeased with low tax rates and minimal government involvement. In outsourcing basic social services, such as public schools and fire protection, to the surrounding communities, Leo Sauget devoted much of his mayoral powers to profitable business ventures, which were given nearly self-sufficient oversight powers. In doing so, however, Mayor Sauget formally established the Village of Monsanto as an industrial suburb. Despite the economic benefits associated with the foundational components of an industrial suburb, unequivocal ecological and social costs necessarily result. With the interests of industry dictating government decisions, the Village was committed to its status as an industrial suburb by the second half of the twentieth century.
The Rise of Environmentalism
Although the environmental movement has existed in various forms for centuries, modern environmentalism gained traction in the early twentieth century. From John Muir and Gifford Pinchot to the City Beautiful Movement and the New Deal era of environmental activism, environmentalism has evolved from broad aesthetically aimed goals to issue-oriented agendas targeting specific ecological threats. In terms of tangible protection and policy-led efforts, however, the most influential period of environmentalism paralleled the period of relentless industrial pollution throughout Sauget.
Prompted by a convergence of salient problems, favorable mass political opinion, and the nationalization of environmental issues, environmentalism made incredible gains beginning in the 1960s. Further, framework literature, including Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner, and The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich, accentuated the local impact of environmental issues and demanded the attention of the American public. In response, a number of highly influential environmental policies were pushed through Congress, imposing regulations and standards on previously overlooked point sources of environmental harms. Amongst the legislation passed, four core policies transformed the modus operandi in Sauget: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The Clean Air Act (CAA) was enacted in 1970 to combat a variety of air pollutants, including hazardous or toxic air pollutants, acid rain, chemical emissions, and regional haze. In the case of the Clean Air Act, states came to bear the responsibility for developing and implementing plans to meet the standards. Similarly, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 aims to regulate the discharge of pollutants into American waters, as well as regulating quality standards for surface waters. In general, regulations and standards under the Clean Water Act are federally administered. Both the CAA and the CWA imposed a defined set of standards aimed specifically at limiting pollutants from large industrial operations; as such, preserving and restoring air and water quality became federally recognized public health targets. Further, these national policy actions explicitly called upon industries, like those in Sauget, to alter their operations in order to achieve these ambitions.
In addition to preventative standards, policymakers also sought to address pre-existing and future hazardous waste. A lesser known policy, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund), utilizes a federal “Superfund” to clean up uncontrolled and/or abandoned hazardous waste sites, accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants into the environment. CERCLA empowers the EPA to seek out the parties liable for pollution and ensure their cooperation in cleanup efforts; as such, CERCLA is largely a federally regulated policy. Finally, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) grants the EPA the authority to oversee hazardous waste at all stages; thus, the federal EPA regulates the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. Both CERCLA and RCRA act as key guardrails in preventing and addressing hazardous waste pollution.
Given the nature of industries within Sauget, these policies were fundamental in confronting toxins and hazardous waste which had been disregarded and mishandled for decades. These four policies established compliance and cleanup mechanisms which would hold industry accountable for categorical pollutants long overlooked. Despite the national protections of the 1970s and increased transparency of hazardous waste, it still remains that the detrimental effects of industrial pollution were withheld from the public for decades.
In the case of Sauget, two forces came to a divisive head: industry, which had long served as the region’s lifeline, and environmental entities, which, armed with recently acquired power, threatened the suffocation of industry. Recent legislation prompted increased awareness of environmental hazards, and calls for accountability soon became commonplace. As the strides of the 1960s and 1970s continued to gain momentum, media outlets turned their attention to local instances of nationally publicized environmental harm. Environmental hazards and toxins in particular gained significant attention in the early 1980s, as civic leaders, newspapers, and politicians raced to assert their stance on dioxins and PCBs. Information regarding the danger of these and other environmental toxins finally entered the public sphere; however, localized action to remedy the threat was varied.
With the implementation of foundational environmental policies, paralleling the discontinuance of PCB production at the Sauget facility in 1977 and the 1979 national ban of the manufacture and use of most PCBs, the EPA faced the task of identifying and mediating hazardous toxins already present in the local environment. In 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency launched its first formal battle against dioxins, devoting itself to identifying and cleaning up hundreds of contaminated sites. As one of fifty plants where dioxins had been produced, the W. G. Krummrich (WGK) plant was an early named source for contamination. Alongside the investigation into the WGK plant, EPA officials also directed their attention to the landfill which had been overseen and operated by the Saugets for the previous two decades. Quickly discovering PCB concentrations of 16,000 parts per million in the soil, 320 times the safety threshold, and fearing dioxin leakage into the Mississippi River, officials made the landfill a top priority for remediation.
Beyond the critical conditions of the W. G. Krummrich plant and nearby dumping sites, officials found that local companies had spent the past decades directly disposing pollutants into the Mississippi River, burying hazardous waste, and releasing plumes of toxins into the air. Faced with millions of gallons of toxic chemicals and highly contaminated soils and groundwater, the EPA estimated costs of $10 million for a two- to four-year cleanup project. Labeling the EPA an uncontrollable monster, entities of power within the Village, namely the local government and industries, repudiated the potential ecological and health impacts of inaction. However, given the severity of EPA findings, both parties faced no choice but to abide by both the remediation efforts and subsequent price tag put forth by officials.
Despite these eventual remediation efforts, privileged circles possessed knowledge of the environmental and human health consequences posed by industrial outputs years before national legislation forced accountability. In 1969, ten years prior to the ban of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), company memos transmitted between unknown Monsanto officials described the toxic chemical as a “global contaminant” for which there was “no practical course of action that can so effectively police the use of these products as to prevent environmental contamination.” For years, if not decades, any conjecture related to the potential environmental and health consequences of PCBs was confined to select circles. Composed of corporate and government entities, these circles passively participated in the industrial endangerment of thousands.
Reports of the targeted environmental contamination highlighted dioxins and PCBs as the cause of numerous public health concerns. Medical examinations and clinical laboratory tests performed on Monsanto employees in October 1979 revealed that over ninety percent of the 108 laborers showed signs of illnesses related to dioxin exposure, including headaches, fatigue, and neuro-behavioral problems. Similarly, the effect of PCBs on reproductive health gained national and local attention following the publication of Theodora Colborn’s book Our Stolen Future, which names Sauget as the birthplace of PCBs and warns of the looming threat the chemical wields. Another local case held more than two dozen companies in and around the Sauget area, including Monsanto and Solutia, liable for a man’s leukemia diagnosis as a result of PCB exposure via the proximity of his house to Dead Creek.
Despite the ongoing reports of ailments and deaths linked to toxin exposure, as well as the widespread acknowledgement of severe pollution, liable actors, namely the Sauget family and local industries, continued to dodge accountability.
With an initial $10 million price tag, EPA cleanup efforts took hold of the region by 1985. As heavy machinery began excavating mass amounts of soil and sediment, the surrounding population witnessed a tangible confirmation of what were originally rumors and fears. Despite the physical changes imposed on their community, however, Sauget and surrounding populaces received no official documentation from the EPA, the local government, or industry officials, once again leaving community members without the knowledge to advocate for their interests or voice their concerns.
The EPA focused its efforts within the Sauget Industrial Corridor, which extends throughout the Villages of Sauget, Cahokia, and East St. Louis and is situated on the floodplain of the East Bank of the Mississippi River. The SIC obtains parcels of land which have historically been used for a variety of disposal and landfilling activities for the industries of the area, including Monsanto, Clayton Chemical, and Amax Zinc. These areas were utilized as “sand and gravel borrow pits, wastewater impoundments, and waste disposal sites,” which led to the release of environmental hazards via toxic waste. The EPA distinguished two areas, Sauget Area 1 and Sauget Area 2, which in turn contain subsites, to focus remediation and cleanup efforts. Adjacent to Sauget Areas 1 and 2 sit the industrial sites of Monsanto and Clayton Chemical, both of which have been designated as potentially responsible parties. Sauget Area 1 encompasses Dead Creek Segments A–F, Borrow Pit Lake, and Sites G, H, I, L, M, and N in both Sauget and Cahokia. Sauget Area 2 includes Sites O, P, Q, R, and S, in addition to a groundwater “Plume Discharge Area,” which is adjacent to Site R on the Mississippi River. The layout of these sites in relation to the Village and industrial facilities can be viewed in Figure 2.
The geological layout of the SIC is extremely conducive to pollution, given both the soils and waterways present in the area. With high percentages of sand and silt, surface water and/or rainwater can more easily penetrate local soils and reach subsurface soils and groundwater. Further, three streams—Dead Creek, Prairie du Pont Creek, and Cahokia Chute—as well as the Mississippi River, are hydrologically connected to the assessment area and periodically undergo flooding events. Given this geological background, industrial contamination poses a significant risk to both the physical environment and regional flora and fauna.
Indiscriminate land use practices, discharges, emissions, and both direct and indirect releases within the SIC contribute to an intricate web of contamination that is often difficult to track and address properly. Accentuating the vulnerability of the environment, many of the hazardous substances which have been documented either experience minimal degradation or persist in the environment eternally. Similarly, a number of the substances bioaccumulate or biomagnify, leading to a more extensive, more potent area of exposure. These certainties, in combination with the geological layout of the area, further underline the potency of pollution within the area.
Figure 2. Sauget Area 1 and Area 2.63
To further emphasize the peril imposed on the region, it is critical to identify the pollutants at play. Likely one of the most well-known hazardous substances due to its widespread infamy and prohibition in 1979, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of highly toxic chemicals which, if present in the environment, can cause birth defects and cancer. While both their manufacture and use were phased out, the chemical properties of PCBs make the substance resistant to degradation, allowing the chemicals to persist in the environment. Developed by Swann Chemicals, which was purchased by Monsanto in the 1930s, PCBs were incessantly produced for over forty years. Approximately ninety-nine percent of PCBs used for industrial purposes within the United States from the 1930s until the 1970s were manufactured by the Monsanto Company at the W. G. Krummrich Plant. Further, from 1929 to 1977, 571,000 metric tons of PCB mixtures were produced and/or used in the United States, indicating the enormous quantity of PCBs manufactured in the SIC.
Dioxins, another class of hazardous substances produced through the burning of organic matter at high temperatures, are also widely present within the SIC. Dioxins are strongly linked to cancer and other endocrine-disrupting effects; further, the substance is resistant to decomposition and known to biomagnify in food webs. Likely the byproduct of PCB incineration, dioxins have been widely documented at the W. G. Krummrich plant. Other hazardous substances present in the SIC include volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and semi-volatile compounds (SVOCs). VOCs are a class of organic chemicals used in household products (e.g., paint and cleaning products) which can be toxic to humans and wildlife. VOCs have been documented in the industrial practices of both Monsanto and Clayton Chemical. SVOCs are utilized in a number of consumer products (e.g., pesticides and additives to furniture, cookware), and many do not readily break down in the environment. The production of SVOCs was reported in the industrial activities at the W. G. Krummrich plant.
Finally, a variety of metals, including arsenic, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc, were released into the assessment area. Given that metals are elements, they do not degrade; however, the degree to which they interact with the environment can change over time. Though not exclusively responsible for the release of metals, both the Cerro Copper and Clayton Chemical facilities generated mass amounts of metal waste via their respective industrial practices.
Similarly, it is worth considering that the lion’s share of cleanup activities proceeded without official community engagement, further perpetuating the selectivity of knowledge and shrouding a populace unknowingly predisposed to environmental harms. The EPA turned to the recently implemented environmental laws to address and remediate the presence of the aforementioned toxins. While the CAA and CWA enforced standards of daily operation on local industries, CERCLA and RCRA engaged with the persistence of hazardous pollution. More specifically, CERCLA was activated to address the hazardous waste sites within the Sauget region. With two chemical facilities, waste disposal areas, landfills, recycling facilities, impoundments, inactive borrow pits, areas for construction debris disposal, and lagoons and creeks which flow into the Mississippi River, the Sauget Industrial Corridor posed a distinct and multifaceted challenge. While information concerning the waste sites and their remediation status is dense, this information is critical in understanding the extent and severity of the harm imposed on both the local communities and physical environments.
In the case of Sauget Area 1, EPA action has focused on cleanup and removal of sediment and soil due to the documented hazardous substances in surface water, sediment, and surrounding soils which posed both human health and ecological risks. From the 1930s until as late as 1966, Sauget Area 1 sites were actively utilized as the dumping grounds for contaminants such as PCBS, metals, dioxins, pesticides, VOCs, and SVOCs. The disposal sites of Sauget Area 1 contained over 795,000 cubic yards of soil and buried waste, much of which was contaminated by hazardous substances. Although many remedial actions at the subsites within Area 1 are considered complete, others are ongoing; further, though hazardous wastes are no longer entering Dead Creek and a portion of the contaminated sediments have been removed, hazardous substances are still present in the system. Parties found potentially responsible for the contamination include Monsanto/Solutia, Cerro Copper, Amax Zinc, the Village of Sauget, Sauget and Company, Paul Sauget, and more.
Roughly 17,000 feet in length, Dead Creek is an infamously toxic entity which has reportedly both glowed in the dark and caught on fire due to the previously unchecked hazardous waste pollution. Dead Creek has been used as a waste site since industry first entered the area, with companies along the creek directly disposing of wastewater into the stream prior to 1930. From 1939 to 1943, the Village of Sauget utilized the creek as a surge pond within the larger sewage system, meaning the creek received wastewater discharge from both industries and residences until the sewer connection was closed in 1990. Beginning in the same year, Dead Creek received extensive remediation to remove contaminated sediments and underlying creek sediments, which continued until 2006. Numerous hazardous substances, including PCBs, VOCs, SVOCs, and metals, were documented in both surface water and sediment samples from creek segments, and despite the sixteen-year remediation, some hazardous substances are still present.1 The parties found potentially responsible for the contamination include Monsanto/Solutia, Cerro Copper, Amax Zinc, the Village of Sauget, Sauget and Company, Paul Sauget, and more.
Sauget Area 2 includes more than 300 acres with over twenty industrial facilities, waste disposal areas, recycling facilities, landfills, and Mississippi River floodplain soils, which were active from 1952 through the 1980s. Both authorized and unauthorized dumping throughout the sites resulted in the discharge of high levels of zinc, VOCs, SVOCs, and PCBs, heavy metals, and pesticides. Further, Area 2 contains roughly 4.5 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and waste, the majority of which is buried below ground. Remedial actions so far have focused on limiting the exposure of contaminated groundwater in the Mississippi River; however, continued actions will focus more broadly on all wastes at Area 2 subsites. Again, those parties which have been found potentially responsible for the contamination include Monsanto/Solutia, Cerro Copper, Amax Zinc, the Village of Sauget, Sauget and Company, Paul Sauget, and more.
This incomplete description of the sites, their pollutants, and the parties responsible communicates the scope of immediate harm, and while many of these sites are considered fully remediated, some continue to pose significant risks. Further, while the restoration of these sites seeks to safeguard both the physical and lived environments, the past, present, and future human impact of the pollution remains largely unaddressed. Similarly, despite exhaustive and ongoing remediation activities for nearly three decades, the earliest official communication between the EPA and affected communities was in 2002, nearly two decades after the first removal efforts.
Beyond physical remediation actions enforced, an array of suits have been brought to trial seeking compensation for the damages incurred. In total, there have been 23 cases led by the EPA addressing the pollution and contaminated sites within Sauget, with the first case dating back to 1985. Early civil and administrative actions headed by the EPA, seeking monetary compensation for remediation activities, have been contrasted by more recent citizen suits, which hinge on the lived impact of industrial pollution. These later, community-based suits embody the disastrous impacts of hindered knowledge shares. After decades of exclusion, community members who bore the brunt of pollution-imposed health impacts mobilized to demand justice.
The first judicial actions, beginning in 1985 and paralleling the onset of cleanup activities, belong to one of two categories: civil administrative actions or civil judicial actions. In tandem with the remediation efforts, these cases cite violations of the CAA, CWA, CERCLA, and RCRA, implicating a very familiar group of suspects: Monsanto, Solutia, Clayton Chemical Co., Big River Zinc, Sauget & Co., and Cerro Copper. Though liability was previously established, the implication of these companies extenuates the legal and social responsibilities they bear. Federal penalties over the three decades of legal action have amounted to nearly $2 million of damage, while the value of the liable parties’ complying actions has amounted to over $48 million.
Alongside cleanup and legal actions led by the EPA, in 1999 a suit was brought against Mayor Paul Sauget, reaffirming the family’s continued intimacy with industrial interests. Alleging that Paul Sauget was both directly and personally involved in hazardous waste disposal via the Industrial Salvage venture, the EPA demanded $620,000 from both Sauget and local companies (Monsanto/Solutia, Cerro Copper, etc.) for cleanup actions in 1995. Paul Sauget rejected the claims and insisted that neither he nor his father had any knowledge of the hazardous waste, including PCBs and benzene, found in the area. The case was officially dropped against Sauget in 2003, despite finding the Village of Sauget liable for dumping sewage into Dead Creek and Paul Sauget’s admitted operation of three landfills near Dead Creek.
Amidst the EPA allegations, Paul Sauget found himself in the middle of another scandal. After racking up more than $130,000 in personal charges on his Village-issued credit card, Paul Sauget was forced to resign as mayor in 2003 after a thirty-four-year reign. Despite the allegations, the Sauget family maintained their monarchy, with the election of Richard Sauget Jr., the great-nephew of Paul Sauget, as mayor in October 2003. As the head of numerous enterprises, including S&S Management, Sauget Rentals Inc., Queeny Properties, and Estelle Properties Inc., Rich Sauget Jr. immediately took steps to promote Sauget as the perfect location for any and all business. The current mayor has repeatedly expressed his family’s comfortability with the heavy industry of Sauget, openly acknowledging that the town was incorporated to be a sewer.
As cleanup efforts continued into the early 2000s, community members—finally privy to the insidious effects of industrial pollution—began to mobilize. In 2009, 1,022 plaintiffs filed twenty suits against Monsanto and Cerro Flow Products citing severe health risks and property contamination. In 2014, Monsanto had agreed to settle a first wave of litigation, though Cerro did not; later the same year, over 10,000 community members filed another 111 suits against Cerro. A number of these suits remain ongoing today; however, the settlements reached unfortunately do little to account for the grave impacts of industrial pollution. Compensated a maximum of $600, and only after providing an exhaustive amount of proof of damage, these community members are forced to live with grave health realities unknowingly imposed on them for nearly half a century.
What becomes immediately apparent from the story of Sauget is a gross superposition of selfish interests over public welfare. For nearly a century, Sauget government officials, wielding community-derived power, have pursued an agenda which unapologetically and unobstructedly places profit above all else. Committing the town so prematurely to the status of an industrial suburb undoubtedly predisposed the Village to persistent industrial invasion, securing the polluted future of both immediate and surrounding community members.
Although this research has incriminated four specific companies, namely Monsanto, Cerro Copper, Amax/Big River Zinc, and Clayton Chemical, it should be noted that the Sauget Industrial Corridor was home to dozens of industrialized operations. That being said, the four companies incriminated throughout this research are undeniably the most egregious abusers of the area. Monsanto, the company which almost singlehandedly incorporated the Village, did so out of greed. As a longtime friend and hunting buddy of Leo Sauget, John Queeny, the founder of Monsanto, looked to Leo to lead his industrial takeover. Acting in accordance with Queeny’s direction, and motivated by the promise of profitability, Leo Sauget strategically dodged nuisance laws, diligently maintained low tax rates, and unreservedly welcomed industrial actors. Fulfilling the fate of an industrial suburb, the Village witnessed the invasion of three other heavy industrial companies, which would prove instrumental in the environmental, political, and social developments of the Village.
Paralleling the rapid industrial expansion, the Sauget family increasingly involved itself with the ongoings of local business. Blurring the line between personal agenda and public service, the Sauget family unchangingly edges on corruption. While maintaining a burden-free atmosphere for business, the family opened and operated a landfill which illegally accepted industrial discharge and further contributed to the rampant pollution throughout the Village. Even as the most flagrant polluters have halted operations, Mayor Rich Sauget Jr. has continued to promote industrial, commercial, and entertainment developments throughout Sauget, even boasting of his family’s concern for and involvement with the businesses of Sauget. Ruling from their infamous mansion on the hill, the Sauget family continues to unabashedly attract an ever-increasing variety of enterprises.
Such an extensive entanglement and open pursuit of lucrative operations is undoubtedly an abuse of power. More than simple corruption, the Sauget family and the companies which have operated out of the Village are liable for decades of industrial pollution. Despite remediation efforts, the decades-long abuse of local land, water, and air will continue to haunt the environmental history of Sauget. While portions of the toxic waste will eventually dissipate, other chemical discharge will either experience minimal degradation or simply persist in the environment eternally. Worse still, a number of the industrial toxins bioaccumulate or biomagnify, threatening to escalate both the extent and the severity of contamination. Directly related to the ecological effects of industrial waste, the human and bodily impacts of Sauget’s pollution are almost unfathomable. The sheer number of plaintiffs involved in the first citizen suit brought against Monsanto and Cerro Copper can only begin to quantify the regional impact of just two industrial ventures. Considering the time frame and scale at which industry operated in the area, local residents will likely battle ongoing health defects and premature death for decades. Furthermore, industrial waste is not just a human toxin. Its consequences extend beyond immediate health impacts, as regional community members will suffer the disproportionate economic and emotional burdens necessarily associated with excessive, indiscriminate pollution.
Exacerbating an already egregious host of consequences, this research uncovers an archive of information constraint. Delineated by distinct spheres, parties were either privy to or excluded from sensitive information for decades. The Sauget government and local industries worked in tandem to accrue capital at any cost, which necessarily sanctioned environmental and human violence. Such heinous profit motivations created a nearly unobstructed cycle in which knowledge was repeatedly withheld and human suffering, as well as environmental ruin, soon followed. Whether passively or actively involved in the process, both the Saugets and corporate officials adhere to the tenets of their privileged circles, at the detriment of thousands.
The story of Sauget is a nearly flawless case study of an industrial suburb and its inherent array of environmental and human impacts. Greed and corruption dominate this narrative, with government and corporate entities working hand in hand in the ceaseless pursuit of profit. However, the prevailing account of Sauget lacks any regard for the lived impacts of these factors. Environmentally and anthropologically, the effects of industrial pollution are nearly incomprehensible. While it is surely accepted that no population should be subject to such unobstructed industrial activity, in recounting and underlining the history of Sauget, this research seeks to compel reflection and action. In no way a stand-alone case of environmental injustice, Sauget contributes to an extensive archive of populations which have borne a disproportionate burden for decades, if not centuries. In acknowledging, engaging, and eventually acting on this certainty, this research attempts to hold accountable liable actors while simultaneously striving toward a more conscious, egalitarian future.
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