Washington State Sues Monsanto Over PCBs

Seattle, WA — According to a Washington Post article, Washington has become the first state to sue Monsanto for pervasive pollution from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs were used in many industry and commercial applications, including paint, coolants and hydraulic fluids. Monsanto, St. Louis, MO, produced PCBs from 1935 until 1979, when they were banned by Congress. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that PCBs have been shown to cause various health problems, including cancer in animals as well as effects on the immune, nervous and reproductive systems. Although banned since 1979, Attorney General Bob Ferguson states that PCBs continue to threaten the health of protected salmon and orcas despite the tens of millions of dollars Washington has spent to clean up the pollution.

“It is time to hold the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs accountable for the significant harm they have caused to our state,” stated Ferguson at a press conference announcing the lawsuit alongside Governor Jay Inslee. “Monsanto produced PCBs for decades while hiding what they knew about the toxic chemicals’ harm to human health and the environment.”

This lawsuit arrived a few days prior to shareholders voting to accept a $57 billion buyout from Bayer. For their part, Monsanto spokesman Scott S. Partridge says  the “case is experimental because it seeks to target a product manufacturer for selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago…PCBs have not been produced in the U.S. for four decades, and Washington is now pursuing a case on a contingency fee basis that departs from settled law both in Washington and across the country. Most of the prior cases filed by the same contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this case similarly lacks merit.”

Cities, including Seattle, WA, Portland, OR and Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Long Beach and San Diego, CA have also sued Monsanto over PCBs. Their cases are ongoing. Ferguson sights internal memos as evidence that Monsanto knew about the hazards of PCBs as early as 1937, when animal studies demonstrated “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure to PCB fumes. Another 1969 company memo stated, “There is little probability that any action that can be taken will prevent the growing incrimination of specific polychlorinated biphenyls . . . as nearly global environmental contaminants leading to contamination of human food (particularly fish), the killing of some marine species (shrimp), and the possible extinction of several species of fish eating birds.” This, despite telling officials across the country the contrary.

Washington seeks damages on several ground including product liability, described as Monsanto’s failure to warn about the danger of PCBs; negligence; and even trespass, for injuring the state’s natural resources.