Sigma-Aldrich Corp. of St. Louis has agreed to pay a $480,000 fine to settle federal allegations that it illegally exported toxins that could be used in biological warfare.
The U.S. Department of Commerce said there is no evidence that Sigma's chemical products were misused. The penalty marked the government's first settlement with any company accused of illegally exporting toxins.
The Commerce Department requires export licenses for 10 biotoxins - natural or synthetic versions of poisons produced by living organisms. Licenses are intended to prevent terrorists or renegade nations such as Libya and Iraq from using biotoxins to develop and produce biological warfare weapons.
Biotoxins also can be used for legitimate uses such as health and biotechnology research or new drug development.
Commerce Department officials said their investigation of Sigma's trading business, Sigma Chemical Co., found that on 48 occasions between July 1992 and January 1993, Sigma exported biotoxins to various countries without the required licenses.
"The U.S. is leading international efforts to forestall the spread of biological weapons," said John Despres, an official in the Commerce Department's Bureau of Export Administration. Despres said Sigma failed to follow the agency's rules.
Peter Gleich, vice president of Sigma-Aldrich, said his company inadvertently violated export laws and has since obtained the needed licenses.
"We reached a settlement to avoid long and expensive litigation," Gleich said.
Sigma-Aldrich produces and sells research chemicals needed by laboratories around the world.
Gleich said the company exported five biotoxins, most of them derived from the staphylococcus and tetrodotoxin toxins. …