Monsanto Can’t Shake Poisonous History of PCB Contamination

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Monsanto is being sued by three cities in California and the state of Washington due to impacts from contamination by their PCBs.

Monsanto’s motion to dismiss lawsuits over PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls) contamination filed by the California cities of San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley was denied by a Dallas court this month. Those cities and others are alleging the company’s PCBs contaminated lakes, bays, rivers and other bodies of water, according to representing law firm Baron & Budd. The state of Washington filed a separate lawsuit against Monsanto over PCB pollution in December 2016.

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, produced PCBs from 1935 until Congress banned them in 1979. PCB chemical compounds were found in a multitude of products including paints, electrical equipment, caulks and many others. PCBs are a “probable human carcinogen,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They have been linked to severe health problems in humans, including pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, melanoma and others.


The cities are suing Monsanto for costs associated with PCB cleanup and stormwater system retrofit damages. They allege the company was aware of the dangers of PCBs and the likelihood of contamination. Despite those risks, Monsanto is accused of not only continuing to promote the sale of the compounds but also encouraged third parties to use them in their products without proper warnings or instruction.

“We are extremely pleased that Judge Davila denied Monsanto’s motion to dismiss the case,” said Scott Summy, who leads the Environmental Litigation Group at Baron & Budd. “We believe Monsanto acted negligently, and as a result should be held responsible for costs associated with PCB cleanup.”

Orin Langelle, photojournalist and co-founder of Global Justice Ecology Project, says he has been personally and profoundly impacted by Monsanto’s recklessness.

“My father worked at Wagner Electric in Wellston, Missouri as a journeyman machinist. He worked around transformers that used PCBs as insulating oil. In 1980 he died of malignant melanoma, which PCBs cause,” Langelle said.

Langelle said other laborers who worked in close proximity with his father had died early as well. It wasn’t until years later that the families of the dead workers began putting the pieces together: All of these deaths were connected to Wagner’s use of PCBs, Langelle said.

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The Wagner Electric plant closed in 1983, receiving a $3 million tax credit in exchange for donating its 55-acre site to St. Louis County. The Wellston Loop newspaper wrote: “But it also left behind a legacy of toxic waste. PCBs were discovered on the site, and although Wagner ultimately paid St. Louis County $2 million, the site remained contaminated.”

“I will always hold Monsanto responsible for my father’s death as those bastards at Monsanto knew the risks posed to workers for many years, but corporate profits were more important than workers, so they just let the workers go on dying,” Langelle said.

In addition to humans, PCBs have also been found to be dangerous to fish and wildlife. These compounds escape from their original applications, washing away with rain and moving into stormwater systems. PCBs are toxic, cannot be contained to their original applications, and do not biodegrade in nature.

In the US, there are nine designated Superfund sites (polluted locations requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous material contaminations) that Monsanto has owned in seven different states. Monsanto contaminated these sites with PCBs, arsenic laden waste, 2,4,5-T (used in Agent Orange), dioxins, cadmium, radium or a combination of these toxins.

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In 1983 the entire town of Times Beach, Missouri, population 2,800, had to evacuate due to contamination by dioxin-laced PCB byproduct that was sprayed on the town’s roads, horse race fields, and lawns. Critics claimed that the oil had come from a Monsanto plant, although the company denied it. Monsanto refused to take responsibility for the contamination and subsequently, another company paid for the cleanup. This was the largest civilian exposure to dioxin in US history.

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