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#494 - Bill Gaffey's Work, 15-May-1996

Bill Gaffey's work is finished. Bill died suddenly of a heart attack at
age 71 on October 6, 1995 in St. Louis. As a result, his libel lawsuit
against RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY, and its editor, Peter
Montague, has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Gaffey, a mathematician who retired in 1989 as director of epidemiology
for Monsanto, the St. Louis chemical giant, sued Montague and the
Environmental Research Foundation (ERF), publisher of RACHEL'S, for $4
million in 1991. Gaffey said he had been defamed in RACHEL'S #171. The
suit was scheduled for a federal jury trial in St. Louis sometime
during 1996.

Shortly after he began working for Monsanto in 1979, Gaffey and one
Judith Zack studied workers at a Monsanto plant in Nitro, West
Virginia, who had been exposed to dioxin while manufacturing Agent
Orange for chemical warfare use in Vietnam. In their study, Gaffey and
Zack reported finding no evidence of unusual cancers among Monsanto
workers who had been exposed to dioxin for many years.[1] In 1980, this
was an important finding.

Gaffey's study was important to Monsanto because the company had gotten
itself into serious trouble at the time. In the early 1980s, Monsanto
was facing hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars in
lawsuits by tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans, and by former
Monsanto workers, all claiming they had been harmed by exposure to
Agent Orange, or to the dioxin that it contains. If all such claims had
been sustained in court, it seems likely that Monsanto would have been
bankrupted.[2] Bill Gaffey admitted under oath that he knew he had been
hired in 1979 partly to help defend Monsanto against lawsuits over

Monsanto tacitly acknowledged the importance of the Gaffey/Zack study
when, in October, 1980, three years before the study was published, the
company issued a press release headlined, "Study Fails to Link Agent
Orange to Deaths of Industrial Workers."[3]

No doubt about it, Bill Gaffey's study was important to Monsanto,
fighting for its life. With help from Gaffey, Monsanto successfully
defended itself against every lawsuit by Vietnam vets and Monsanto
workers who felt they had been harmed by dioxin exposures. The company
was salvaged, and it went on to pioneer powerful new biocides and
genetically-engineered forms of life, thus rounding out a contribution
unique in the annals of American industry. (See REHW #144, #295, #327,
#381, #382, #383, #384, #434, #454, #483.)

But Gaffey's work was also important to the federal government. The
Veterans Administration relied in part on Gaffey's work to deny medical
benefits to tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent
Orange. (Not until 1992 did the VA reverse its position on this.) U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relied in part on the Gaffey
study to set generous limits on dioxin exposures for the American
public, thus providing minimal regulation for politically powerful
industries such as paper, oil, and chemicals.[4] EPA now acknowledges
that dioxin is a devilishly potent growth dysregulator and
"environmental hormone," but in large measure the agency still
regulates dioxin by rules set during the era of Bill Gaffey's work.
(See REHW #279, #390, #391, #414.) In the mid-1980s, animal studies
were showing dioxin to be breathtakingly toxic, but skeptics (and those
sowing doubt for a living) could always point to the Gaffey study (and
other work sponsored by Monsanto) as evidence that humans were somehow
exempt from harm.

Therefore, it was important news when the veracity of Bill Gaffey's
work fell under suspicion. During a worker lawsuit against Monsanto in
1984, plaintiffs' lawyers discovered that Gaffey and Zack had
classified four workers as "unexposed" to dioxin when the very same
four workers had been classified as "exposed" to dioxin in a previous
Monsanto study co-authored by Zack.[5] Reluctantly, Zack confirmed this
fact under oath.[6] Thus was it discovered that Gaffey's data had been

When an official of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Cate
Jenkins, learned of this in 1990, she immediately sent a memo to her
superiors, attaching a portion of a legal brief about the Gaffey study
(and other studies sponsored by Monsanto), indicating she believed
there was evidence of fraud.[7] Jenkins has since documented that EPA
relied upon Monsanto's studies to set national dioxin standards.[4] As
an EPA employee, Jenkins is required by federal law to report any
evidence of fraud that she encounters in her work. (Monsanto officials
complained vigorously to EPA about Jenkins.[8] EPA promptly transferred
Jenkins to an unimportant position with nothing to do. She spent the
next several years in a legal battle of her own against EPA, finally
winning complete exoneration and reinstated to full duty. See REHW #400
and see our new publication by William Sanjour, ANNALS OF THE EPA: PART
4--THE MONSANTO INVESTIGATION [Annapolis, Md.: Environmental Research
Foundation, 1996.])

In RACHEL'S #171, we reported on the Jenkins memo and the accompanying
legal brief, and were subsequently sued for $4 million by Gaffey, who
said his reputation had been tarnished and his consulting business
STATESMAN,[10] among other newspapers,[11] also reported the
allegations of fraud, but were not sued.

At the time Jenkins wrote her memo, it was already a matter of debate
in the scientific press that Gaffey and Zack had classified workers as
"unexposed" when, in a previous study co-authored by Zack, the same
four workers had been classified as "exposed." In NATURE (the British
equivalent of SCIENCE magazine in this country) in 1985 and 1986, a
vigorous debate was conducted over the Gaffey/Zack study and its
misclassification of exposed workers.[12] Neither Zack nor Gaffey chose
to join in this debate, though they were specifically invited by the
editors of NATURE to respond to allegations that they had misclassified

Did Bill Gaffey's creative reclassification of four workers make any
difference in the conclusions of the Gaffey/Zack study? It certainly
did. By misclassifying workers, Gaffey was able to say that no
excessive cancers could be found among Monsanto's Nitro workers--a
complete reversal of the truth.

Properly classifying the four workers would have yielded the conclusion
that lung cancers were significantly elevated among dioxin-exposed
workers at the Monsanto plant--exactly the reverse of Bill Gaffey's
widely-publicized finding. Ellen Silbergeld of the Environmental
Defense Fund reanalyzed the Gaffey data, after properly classifying the
four workers, and she reported statistically significant cancers among
the exposed workers. My own analysis of the Gaffey data yielded a
similar conclusion.[13]

If Gaffey had not cooked the data, history might have turned out very
differently for Monsanto, for the dioxin-exposed Vietnam veterans who
had to fight for a 15 years for recognition of their troubles, and for
the millions of Americans exposed to dioxin as a result of EPA's lax
(or non-existent) dioxin regulations. Today the nation is still being
poisoned by dioxin regulations set partly on the basis of Bill Gaffey's
fraudulent study. Yes, Bill's work was extraordinarily important.

As for his claim that RACHEL #171 cost him $4 million in damaged
reputation and lost consulting fees: under oath, Gaffey could not name
a single colleague who had read RACHEL #171, and he could not document
the loss of a single dollar.

In sum, Bill Gaffey's lawsuit against us was completely without merit,
a classic SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) -
-an entirely frivolous action intended merely to harass and frighten
us, and to waste our precious resources.[14] Instead what it did was
reveal how many, many good friends we have, willing to sacrifice to
come to our defense. Now Bill Gaffey is gone. May the victims of his
work grant him forgiveness, and may he rest forever in the coolest spot
there is in that unspeakable place that he has surely gone to.

--Peter Montague


[1] Judith A. Zack and William R. Gaffey, "A Mortality Study of Workers
Employed at the Monsanto Company Plant in Nitro, West Virginia," in
Richard E. Tucker, Alvin L. Young, and Allan P. Gray, editors, HUMAN
(New York: Plenum Press, 1983) pgs. 575-591.

[2] For example, see: "More Agent Orange suits filed in Chicago; still
others will follow." CHEMICAL WEEK February 28, 1979, pg. 18.

[3] Dan R. Bishop, "Study Fails to Link Agent Orange to Deaths of
Industrial Workers [press release]," (St. Louis: Monsanto, October 9,

[4] Cate Jenkins, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
Characterization and Assessment Division, Regulatory Development Branch
(OS-332), memorandum to John West, Special Agent in Charge, and Kevin
Guarino, Special Agent, Office of Criminal Investigations, National
Enforcement Investigations Center, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
entitled "Impact of Falsified Monsanto Human Studies on Dioxin
Regulations by EPA and Other Agencies --January 24, 1991 NIOSH Study
Reverses Monsanto Study Findings and Exposes Certain Fraudulent
Methods," January 24, 1991. And see: Cate Jenkins, U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, Characterization and Assessment Division, Regulatory
Development Branch (OS-332), memorandum to John West, Special Agent in
Charge, and Kevin Guarino, Special Agent, Office of Criminal
Investigations, National Enforcement Investigations Center, U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, entitled "Criminal Investigation of
Monsanto Corporation --Cover-up of Dioxin Contamination in Products --
Falsification of Dioxin Health Studies," November 15, 1990.

[5] Judith Zack and Raymond R. Suskind, "The Mortality Experience of
Workers Exposed to Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin in a Trichlorophenol
Process Accident," JOURNAL OF OCCUPATIONAL MEDICINE Vol. 22, No. 1
(January, 1980), pgs. 11-14. In this study, the four workers in
question can be found in Table 10, cases 1, 2, 5, and 7. In the
Gaffey/Zack study the same four workers can be found in Table 11, lines
5, 6, 9 and 22.

[6] James M. Adkins... ET AL v. Monsanto, U.S. District Court, Southern
District of West Virginia (Civil Action No. S1-2098). Deposition of
Judith Zack, March 1, 1984.

[7] Cate Jenkins, "Memo to Raymond Loehr: Newly Revealed Fraud by
Monsanto in an Epidemiological Study Used by EPA to Assess Human Health
Effects from Dioxins," dated February 23, 1990. At the time she wrote
this memo, Dr. Jenkins was a chemist with the Waste Characterization
Branch (OS 332), Characterization and Assessment Division, U.S. EPA,
401 M St., SW, Washington, DC 20460. Loehr was Chairperson of the
Executive Committee of the Science Advisory Board (A-101), Office of
the Administrator, U.S. EPA, 401 M St., SW, Washington, DC 20460. The
Jenkins memo had attached to it 25 pages of a brief filed in Case No.
5-88-0420, in the Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District. The
author of the brief was Rex Carr, 412 Missouri Avenue, East St. Louis,
IL 62201.

[8] Richard J. Mahoney, CEO, Monsanto Co., letter to William Reilly,
EPA Administrator, March 26, 1990.

[9] Jeff Nesmith and Charles Seabrook, "Dioxin research altered, EPA
says," ATLANTA CONSTITUTION March 23, 1990, pg A1.

[10] Jeff Nesmith (Cox News Service), "EPA Memo: Dioxin Study
Fraudulent," AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN March 23, 1990, pg. A6.

[11] For example, see Jeff Nesmith, "Key Dioxin Study a Fraud, EPA
Says," THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE March 23, 1990, pg. unknown; and: Jeff
Nesmith, "Monsanto altered dioxin study, EPA memo says." THE
INDIANAPOLIS STAR March 23, 1990, pg. unknown; and: Jeff Nesmith,
"Monsanto Study on Dioxins Called a Fraud by EPA Memo." THE ORANGE
COUNTY [CALIFORNIA] REGISTER March 23, 1990, pg. unknown.

[12] See Alistair Hay and Ellen Silbergeld. "Assessing the risk of
dioxin exposure." NATURE Vol. 315 (May 9, 1985), pgs. 102-103. And:
Michael Gough, "Dioxin Exposure at Monsanto," NATURE Vol. 318 (December
12, 1985), pg. 504. And: Alistair Hay and Ellen Silbergeld. "Dioxin
Exposure at Monsanto," NATURE Vol. 320 (April 17, 1986), pg. 569.

[13] In NATURE Vol. 320 (April 17, 1986, pg. 569, Silbergeld wrote, "A
reanalysis of the [Gaffey] data, presented by EKS [Ellen K. Silbergeld]
at the Dioxin 85 Symposium in Bayreuth in September 1985, indicates an
excess mortality due to lung and bladder cancers." Silbergeld reported
her reanalysis in a paper at the Fifth International Conference on
Dioxin, September 19, 1985, in Bayreuth, Germany. Unfortunately, this
paper was never published and Silbergeld in 1993 did not fulfill a
request for a copy. I reanalyzed the data myself in an unpublished
(Annapolis, Md.: Environmental Research Foundation, November 22, 1993.)
Properly classifying the four workers in question yields the conclusion
that lung cancers and cancers of the respiratory tract were
significantly increased (p < 0.05) among dioxin-exposed workers, thus
reversing the main conclusion of the original Gaffey/Zack paper.

[14] George W. Pring and Penelope Canan, "Slapp-Happy Companies," NEW
YORK TIMES March 29, 1996, pg. A21. And see the new book by Pring and
University Press, 1996).

Descriptor terms: william gaffey; judith zack; monsanto; agent orange;
dioxin; lawsuits; studies; obituaries; occupational safety and health;
vietnam veterans; veterans administration; epa; william sanjour; annals
of the epa; cate jenkins; ellen silbergeld; nitro, wv; epidemiology;