Washington became the first state to sue Monsanto Co. over pollution from a once widely used chemical now known to cause cancer and immune system problems in humans and devastate wildlife populations. The state’s damages may reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Washington is joining a number of cities that have already sued Monsanto under a public nuisance theory – saying the company produced and widely sold polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) even though it knew it was toxic – in the hopes of collecting millions to pay for cleanup of the pollutant.
The pollution has accumulated for decades in humans, plants and animals. The company produced PCB – essentially an insulation product that improves fire safety and durability in a wide range of products, including those purchased by the military – for four decades and didn’t stop until Congress passed the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 1979, the state’s complaint said. The complaint says Monsanto knew long before it was ordered to stop making the substance that it was damaging to the environment. Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement:
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. 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.
The suit has claims for public nuisance, negligence and product liability. At least eight cities – including Spokane and Seattle – have filed similar claims against Monsanto. The governmental entities filing the suits are represented by the same Plaintiffs’ firms, Baron & Budd PC and Gomez Trial Attorneys. The suits allege that from about 1935 to 1980, Monsanto was the only manufacturer in the U.S. that intentionally produced PCBs for commercial use; the chemicals were made in Illinois and Alabama. Monsanto’s commercially produced PCBs were used in many industrial products, including electrical equipment such as transformers, motor start capacitors and lighting ballasts, among other things, the lawsuits say.
In January, San Jose, Berkeley, Oakland and San Diego in California, and Spokane and Seattle in Washington sought to have their suits combined in multidistrict litigation (MDL), court records show. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in April declined, however, saying the facts in the cases will be different because they all address different bodies of water.
In August, Monsanto sought for dismissal of the Portland case, saying those claims were “absolutely time-barred.” In October, a judge mostly upheld Spokane’s case, but dismissed a product liability claim because the city isn’t a consumer.
Washington is represented by Attorney General Robert W. Ferguson and William R. Sherman and Jonathan C. Thompson of the attorney general’s office; John P. Fiske of Gomez Trial Attorneys; and Scott Summy, Carla Burke Pickrel and Celeste Evangelisti of the Baron & Budd firm. The case is State of Washington v. Monsanto Co. et al. in the State of Washington’s King County Superior Court.
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