Many west coast cities have filed lawsuits against Monsanto over PCB pollution, holding the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation accountable for the environmental and health impacts caused by the toxic chemical.
In early December, Washington State became the first of several cities to file a lawsuit against Monsanto for the damages caused by the toxic chemical. The lawsuit, the first of its kind, prompted other west coast cities – including Spokane, Seattle, Portland San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Long Beach and San Diego – to file a suit against Monsanto, all in federal court.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of manufactured organic chemicals that were extensively used in the past, in a wide variety of products including electrical equipment, surface coatings, inks, adhesives, flame-retardants and paints. The chemicals were produced by Monsanto from 1935 to 1979, when production of the chemicals was banned in the United States.
Exposure to PCBs has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, immune system problems and can even affect fertility and development. PCB molecules are very stable, allowing them to persevere in the environment long after initial exposure. PCBs have been found in waterways, where they can enter the food chain via fish and other local wildlife; in the atmosphere and in the soil.
“PCBs have been found in bays, rivers, streams, sediment, soil and air throughout Washington state, with more than 600 suspected or confirmed contamination sites from Puget Sound to the Wenatchee River, Lake Spokane to Commencement Bay,” a press release from Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
The presence of this chemical in waterways in Washington State has been the cause of growing concern for the environment, local wildlife, the health of residents and the future of the cities. The Spokane River, Washington State, plays an important economic role for the state. However, as the river is one of the most polluted in the area, many fear the financial, social and environmental impacts will be devastating for future generations.
“For us, it’s really about how do we get the cleanest river for future generations,” said Marlene Feist, utilities director of strategic development in Spokane, WA. “This river is our greatest asset—it runs through the heart of the city, it’s an economic driver, and a driver of outdoor recreation.”
To rid the state of PCBs, several clean-up efforts are scheduled to take place. Clean-up costs are expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a press release. The state of Washington has explained that it believes that it is Monsanto’s’ responsibility to contribute to the clean-up effort and finally take responsibility for the damages caused by the chemical.
“Monsanto is responsible for producing a chemical that is so widespread in our environment that it appears virtually everywhere we look – in our waterways, in people and in fish – at levels that can impact our health,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “It’s time to hold them accountable for doing their fair share as we clean up hundreds of contaminated sites and waterways around the state.”
In addition to seeking accountability for the damages caused by the chemical, the lawsuit also reveals that the states claim Monsanto “knew PCBs were toxic to humans and wildlife and had spread throughout the ecosystem” 10 years before they were banned in 1979, and knowingly concealed this information.
In response to the lawsuits, Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in a statement:
“This case is highly experimental because it seeks to target a product manufacturer for selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago that was applied by the U.S. government, Washington State, local cities, and industries into many products to make them safer.”
In a quarterly earnings report held in October 2016, Monsanto revealed that it had set aside $280 million to potentially settle personal injury claims from PCBs. News of the lawsuit comes shortly before Monsanto’s battle with the state of California came to a head. The lawsuit by Monsanto was filed after officials in the state had announced plans to become the first to label the company’s top-selling herbicide, Roundup, as a cancer threat.
Monsanto responded by suing to block the label. On Friday, Fresno County Superior Court Judge Kristi Kapetan ruled that California can require Monsanto to label Roundup with relevant cancer warnings.
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