Monsanto prevails in PCB pollution case, but cities plan to appeal

By Kerry Goff | Oct 16, 2016

SAN JOSE -- A federal judge has dismissed lawsuits in which the cities of San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley sought to force Monsanto to help pay for reducing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) contamination in the San Francisco Bay.

In an article published by The Gazette, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila said the cities did not show that Monsanto’s sale many decades ago of products containing PCBs caused a public nuisance that damaged property rights.

“Monsanto, known for its genetically modified crop seeds, was the only U.S. maker of PCBs,” The Gazette article said. “It faces lawsuits by at least eight West Coast cities raising similar claims.”

According to the article, PCBs were outlawed by the U.S. government in 1979 and have been linked to cancer, immune system difficulties and other health problems. They were once widely used to insulate electrical equipment to help reduce the risk of fires. They also were used in such products as caulking, floor finish, paint and carbonless copy paper.

“Monsanto produced PCBs from 1935 to 1977, and has said it stopped making them because they are not readily biodegradable,” The Gazette article said.

The complaint explained that Monsanto’s PCBs polluted storm water flowing into San Francisco Bay, forcing the cities to spend money to lower the discharge and comply with environmental laws. But the judge said storm water should be considered “public water of the state” under California law, even if it was discharged through manufactured pipes.

“The cities do not take ownership of storm water merely because it flows through municipal pipes on the way to the bay,” Davila said in his ruling. “Therefore, they cannot pursue nuisance claims for damages.”

Monsanto was satisfied with the ruling.

“The court’s ruling confirms that there is no legal basis of the cities’ claims,” Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy at Monsanto, said in a statement. “The cities of San Jose, Berkeley and Oakland have been ill-served by the overly aggressive tactics of their contingency fee counsel, and we hope this ruling will conclude this matter.”

According to an East Bay Times article, the judge did leave an open door for the city to resubmit its complaints.

The cities apparently are not ready to concede and will take the opportunity to prove their side. San Jose city spokesman David Vossbrink said that an amended complaint would be filed by Sept. 13, which was the deadline set by the judge.

“The cities look forward to providing the court further information in the amended complaint regarding their storm water management and legal standing,” John Fiske, a lawyer for the cities, said in a statement.

Other cities that have sued Monsanto over PCB contamination include San Diego, Seattle, Portland, Long Beach and Spokane. All eight cities are represented by the same two law firms.

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Organizations in this Story

City of Oakland City of San Jose Monsanto Company

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