Monsanto and its ancillaries are facing another lawsuit over pollution caused by their manufactured chemicals. A 6-0 vote by the Berkeley City Council last week prompted an official complaint demanding the conglomerate pay for a cleanup of the PCB-compromised San Francisco Bay.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were almost exclusively produced by Monsanto from 1935 to 1977, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The ATSDR marked the company’s production figure at 99 percent. The Environmental Protection Agency banned PCBs in 1979, deeming them probable human carcinogens. However, the chemical, commonly used in products like paint and ink, is still present in the environment, and it is seeping into the Bay through storm drains.

The January 5 closed meeting of the Berkeley City Council led to the filing of a lawsuit in San Jose’s Northern District Court. The lawsuit points to “elevated levels of PCBs in sport fish” as the cause of long-standing contamination across “all segments of the Bay.”

Monsanto’s conduct was malicious, oppressive, wanton, willful, intentional, and shocks the conscience, warranting punitive and exemplary damages, because Monsanto callously decided to increase sales and develop new ways to promote PCBs, knowing PCBs are toxic, cannot be contained, and last for centuries,” the lawsuit argues.

According to Monsanto’s own internal documents, the company knew about the environmental risks of PCBs since at least the 1960s, but chose to further market the chemicals rather than attempt to find a way to clean up the contamination.

In a San Jose Mercury News interview, Councilman Kriss Worthington chalked up the situation as “a classic example of a corporation externalizing costs and the public getting stuck with paying the bill.”

Berkeley’s lawsuit follows other similar cases brought against Monsanto by California cities. Oakland, San Jose, and San Diego have all attempted to deal with PCBs through legal action. Spokane, Washington has also sued Monsanto over the same contaminants. In Berkeley’s case, the city seeks restitution for its costly government-mandated cleanup.

Monsanto, Solutia, and Pharmacia LLC are all defendants in the lawsuit, as the latter two were once part of Monsanto proper before breaking off as subsidiaries. In an email to the Mercury News, Monsanto spokesperson Charla Lord differentiated between the Monsanto named in the lawsuit and “the former Monsanto.”

The former Monsanto was involved in a wide variety of businesses including the manufacture of PCBs,” Lord wrote, adding, “Monsanto is not responsible for the costs alleged in this matter.”

PCBs sold at the time were a lawful and useful product that was then incorporated by third parties into other useful products. If those companies or other third parties improperly disposed of products or improperly used any material which created the need for the cleanup, then they bear responsibility for the costs,” Lord said.


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