Abstract

Digging deep into the history of phosphate mining, this article engages contemporary debates about the environmental sustainability of using Roundup to produce our food by focusing on the front end rather than the back end of the product’s life cycle. Though many people may not know it, the critical raw material Monsanto uses to make Roundup an effective herbicide is elemental phosphorus, which comes from a processing plant in southeast Idaho that remains an operating Superfund site to this day. In the years ahead, scholars may well demonstrate a clear and irrefutable link between Monsanto’s herbicide and carcinogenesis. But if we look to history, we see that there are some troubling realities about producing Roundup in the first place. Documenting the supply-side ecological costs of Roundup manufacture, this article questions the efficacy of a decentralized EPA remediation strategy, honed in the 1990s, that allowed an operating facility to continue releasing pollutants into the environment more than a quarter century after it had achieved national priority listing under the Superfund program.

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