Through a unanimous vote by its City Council, the city of Berkeley, California has decided to hold Monsanto legally liable for polluting the land and water with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). [1]

The council’s 6-0 vote means that Berkeley is joining Oakland, San Jose, San Diego and Spokane, Washington, in filing suits against Monsanto, the agricultural biotech company based in St. Louis, Missouri.

The news comes near the company’s announcement of cutting a total of 3,600 jobs due to declining sales.

PCB’s were first manufactured commercially in 1929 by the Swann Corporation, which later became part of Monsanto Chemical Company. By 1976, the environmental destruction caused by PCBs was so obvious that even Congress had to outlaw them.

However, even after the U.S. banned PCBs, world production continued at 36 million pounds per year from 1980-1984 and 22 million pounds per year from 1984- 1989. The end of PCB production is still not in sight, and the long-term effects linger in some of the most conspicuous ways.

The San Francisco Bay has been found to be replete with toxic PCBs, causing damage to fish and other marine life.

According to the NRDC:

“In 1997, 50 percent of fish sampled in San Francisco Bay exceeded screening values for PCBs and mercury. (A screening value is the tolerable level of a particular contaminant, as determined by the state.) White croaker and shiner surf perch showed high concentrations of PCBs and pesticides, while striped bass and leopard sharks were found to have high levels of mercury.

In the same year, 15 percent to 37 percent of samples exceeded the screening values for DDT and chlordane. Fish in Oakland Harbor had significantly higher contamination concentrations than the fish in other areas of the bay. In a number of cases, the level of contamination was well above state and federal health standards.”

These contamination levels still linger today. The kicker is that Monsanto has been accused of knowingly contaminating California’s waters with the chemicals.

Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker has stated:

“Monsanto knew that PCBs were toxic and could not be contained as they readily escaped into the environment, finding their way into bays, oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, soil and air. Although evidence confirms that Monsanto recognized that PCBs were becoming ‘a global contaminant,’ well before the 1979 ban, it concealed this information and increased production of these profitable compounds.”

If every major California (and other US) city were to organize a lawsuit against Monsanto for this knowing contamination, it could very well put the company on its knees. The biotech giant is already facing major financial hurdles and multi-billion dollar lawsuits would definitely help to put a chink in their biotech armor.

It seems Monsanto has a lot to answer for.

This article originally appeared at Natural Society.


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