Washington on Thursday became the first U.S. state to sue Monsanto Co. over its decades-long role in producing toxic chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
Until Congress banned them in 1979, an older version of Monsanto was the main manufacturer of industrial PCB chemicals commonly used by companies to make paints, plastics and coolants.
Washington’s lawsuit — which calls for “hundreds of millions of dollars or more” in damages and cleanup costs — alleges that PCBs still contaminate U.S. waterways because of Monsanto’s past efforts to conceal their dangers. As a result of the St. Louis-based seed giant’s negligence, the health of people, plants and fish are now at risk, the lawsuit alleges.
PCB exposure is linked to cancer as well harmful effects to immune and reproductive health, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“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,” said Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement. “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.”
Filed in King County Superior Court, Washington’s lawsuit adds to a growing list of complaints filed against Monsanto for wrongdoing associated with PCB contamination.
In addition to Washington, the cities of Berkeley, Long Beach, Oakland, Portland, San Diego and San Jose all have ongoing cases.
Monsanto officials have said the cases lack merit.
“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,” Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge said in a statement.
Prior to Sept. 1, 1997, the corporation then known as Monsanto Company was made up of an agricultural products business, a pharmaceuticals business and a chemical business.
But that company has since been broken up into separate entities that include modern-day Monsanto, Pharmacia LLC and Solutia Inc, all of which are named in Washington’s lawsuit.
The Washington State Office of the Attorney General stated that PCBs have been found in bays, rivers, streams, sediment, soil and air throughout Washington, with more than 600 suspected or confirmed contamination sites.
The lawsuit alleges that Monsanto knew about PCB dangers as early as 1937, when internal documents warned of “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure to chemical vapors.
“Monsanto knew the dangers of PCBs yet hid them from the public to generate profits,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “I will hold Monsanto accountable for its actions.”