Los Angeles County sues Monsanto over allegations of PCB chemical contamination in waterways

By Rich Peters | Jun 5, 2019

LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County recently filed a lawsuit against Bayer, who last year purchased Monsanto, alleging that the company contaminated its local waterways and environment for decades with PCB chemicals used while manufacturing Monsanto products.

“Polychlorinated biphenyls (or 'PCBs') are man-made chemical compounds that have become notorious as global environmental contaminants — found in bays, oceans, rivers, streams, soil and air,” opens the 53-page court document. “...The extent of PCB contamination is of very serious concern because PCBs are known to cause a variety of adverse health effects. In humans, PCB exposure is associated with cancer as well as serious non-cancer health effects, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. In addition, PCBs destroy populations of fish, birds, and other animal life.”

The suit was filed by the county and the Los Angeles County Flood Control District on May 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are from the county's office of counsel and Baron & Budd of San Diego and Dallas, Texas.

The lawsuit states that from 1935 to 1979, Monsanto Co. was the only manufacturer in the United States that intentionally produced PCBs for commercial use and that the most common trade name for PCBs in the United States was Aroclor, a chlorine compound, which was trademarked by the original Monsanto.

“The EPA has determined that Monsanto’s PCBs are probable human carcinogens,” states the lawsuit. “...In addition, the EPA concluded that PCBs are associated with serious non-cancer health effects. From extensive studies of animals and primates using environmentally relevant doses, EPA has found evidence that PCBs exert significant toxic effects, including effects on the immune system, the reproductive system, the nervous system, and the endocrine system.”

The lawsuit comes in wake of a similar 2016 Bay Area suit against Monsanto that was eventually dismissed by a federal judge after it was found that the plaintiff cities San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley failed to meet the threshold requirement for bringing a public nuisance claim against Monsanto. A second claim of equitable indemnity that would have forced Monsanto to share the cost of damages and cleanup with the Bay Area cities was also dismissed, ruled as premature.

“Monsanto voluntarily stopped producing PCBs more than 40 years ago,” Bayer wrote in a statement. “When Monsanto sold PCB, it sold to many industrial and manufacturing customers, as well as the U.S. government, which put them to various uses. Today, where there exists a need to clean up chemicals in the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency and State Governments employ an effective system to identify dischargers and clean-up as necessary. We are still reviewing this lawsuit, but believe the complaint to be without merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously.”

Monsanto is coming off of three straight high-profile courtroom losses in which the plaintiffs alleged that the chemical glyphosate, the main ingredient in its herbicide product Roundup, was a substantial factor in causing their cancer. The company was hit with nearly $2.2 billion in total damages.

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