UPDATE: Although one court ruled Monsanto won’t face penalties for PCB, a long-lasting carcinogen, another similar suit by the City of San Diego is still pending.
UPDATE July 15, 2015: Monsanto prevailed over residents of seven states in a suit filed against the company over deaths and illnesses related to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cancer-causing chemical compounds manufactured by subsidiaries of the international agribusiness corporation until the late 1970s.
A jury in a St. Louis County court found Monsanto not guilty last week, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported. Monsanto applauded the verdict while insisting the company no longer manufactures chemicals for anything but agriculture (a claim that contradicts the company’s apparent involvement in the manufacture of white phosphorous for the U.S. military).
The Dispatch’s Tim Barker notes that, “It’s unclear what impact, if any, this ruling will have on other pending litigation involving Monsanto and its PCB history.” This includes an ongoing lawsuit between Monsanto and the City of San Diego.
MINNEAPOLIS — Already struggling from the bad publicity generated by a report linking an ingredient in its popular herbicide Roundup to cancer, agribusiness giant Monsanto is facing lawsuits over another carcinogenic substance it once sold.
Residents of seven states are suing Monsanto over its manufacture of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which were once a common ingredient in industrial fluids like coolants before scientists discovered their toxic qualities. Although banned by Congress in 1979, PCBs now represent a persistent pollutant in the environment, resulting in continued exposure and ongoing, expensive clean-up efforts.
In addition to Monsanto, the residents are also suing Solutia, Inc., a chemicals company spun off from Monsanto in 1997, and Pharmacia, Monsanto’s former pharmaceutical unit that’s been owned by Pfizer, Inc. since 2003.
Writing for the St. Louis Business Journal, Ben Unglesbee offered background on the suit, which was filed on May 28:
“According to the suit, filed by Alabama resident Roger Bailey and 11 others from six states, Monsanto manufactured and sold 99 percent of PCBs made in the U.S. ‘Because PCBs were dumped in the environment over decades by Monsanto, its customers, and the end users of various PCB-containing products, PCBs are now ubiquitous in the environment,’ the plaintiffs’ complaint said.”
In response, Monsanto officials said: “We believe the allegations are without merit and the former Monsanto Company is not responsible for the alleged injuries.”
The City of San Diego is also suing Monsanto over its manufacture of PCBs, claiming their ongoing toxic effect on the environment is a public nuisance. While other cities have successfully sued Monsanto or its spin-off companies for their role in the improper disposal of the chemical near its manufacturing plants, these lawsuits take a broader approach, blaming Monsanto for its ongoing effect on the lives of residents. ThinkProgress’ Natasha Geiling elaborated on this approach:
“Though the case might not be traditional, it’s not without precedent.
‘The analogy would be lawsuits against paint manufacturers for lead paint,’ Rena Steinzor, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and president of the Center for Progressive Reform, told ThinkProgress. Asbestos is another example of a toxic substance often cited in claims of public nuisance.
Public nuisance cases dealing with lead paint and asbestos have seen limited success across the United States, largely being denied by courts — with the exception of California.”
While six states rejected public nuisance claims that linked lead paint to cancer, California proved the exception, paying out handsomely to plaintiffs:
“Judge James Kleinberg, according to a review of the case by the law firm Morrison & Foerster, found that a company could be considered liable for having created a public nuisance if ‘companies had created or assisted in creating the nuisance by actively selling and promoting lead paint with actual or constructive knowledge about its health hazards.’ In the end, three of the five companies were found liable and ordered to pay a $1.1 billion fine to assist in the clean-up of over 4.7 million California homes.”
These lawsuits mark the second time Monsanto products have been linked to cancer in 2015. A March report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, as “probably” carcinogenic. In the months since then, reaction against the chemical has been widespread, with Brazil’s public prosecutor seeking to ban the chemical and Colombia taking action to stop its use in the war on drugs.