Quantcast
Health

Monsanto Ordered to Pay $46.5 Million in PCB Lawsuit in Rare Win for Plaintiffs

A St. Louis jury has awarded three plaintiffs a total of $46.5 million in damages in a lawsuit alleging that Monsanto and three other companies were negligent in its handling of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a highly toxic and carcinogenic group of chemicals.

This case, which went on trial April 28, involved only three of nearly 100 plaintiffs claiming that exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Photo credit: GMO Free USA

Yesterday's 10-2 verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court awarded $17.5 million in damages to the three plaintiffs and assessed an additional $29 million in punitive damages against Monsanto, Solutia, Pharmacia and Pfizer, the St. Louis Dispatch reported.

PCBs were used to insulate electronics decades ago. Before switching operations to agriculture, Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound from 1935 until 1977. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned PCBs in 1979, due to its link to birth defects and cancer in laboratory animals. PCBs can also have adverse skin and liver effects in humans. PCBs linger in the environment for many decades.

The lawsuit claims that Monsanto continued to sell the compounds even after it learned about its dangers and falsely told the public they were safe. Indeed, internal documents have surfaced showing that Monsanto knew about the health risks of PCBs long before they were banned. A document, dated Sept. 20, 1955, stated: “We know Aroclors [PCBs] are toxic but the actual limit has not been precisely defined."

The verdict is the first such victory in the city of St. Louis and a seemingly rare win overall. Monsanto has historically prevailed in similar lawsuits filed against the company over deaths and illnesses related to PCBs, as MintPress News noted.

"This is the future," plaintiffs' lawyer Steven Kherkher of Houston told EcoWatch.

"The only reason why this victory is rare is because no one has had the money to fight Monsanto," explaining that his law firm, Williams Kherkher, and other law firms pooled their resources to get the case off the ground.

"It's not going to be rare anymore," he said as his law firm has accumulated about 1,000 plaintiffs surrounding PCBs.

As more cases mount against the company, Kherkher said, “every judge allows us to acquire more and more information from Monsanto and discover their documents. There is a lot more information out there that has yet to be mined."

Monsanto has issued a statement following the verdict, saying they are planning to appeal:

We have deep sympathy for the plaintiffs but we are disappointed by the jury's decision and plan to immediately appeal today's ruling. Previous juries in four straight similar trials rejected similar claims by attorneys that those plaintiffs contracted non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a result of eating food containing PCBs. The evidence simply does not support today's verdict, including the fact that scientists say more than 90 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases have no known cause.

Kherkher represented three families from Oklahoma, Michigan and Alaska in the personal injury lawsuit saying PCBs caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

"The man from Oklahoma died at the age of 58 and had no health problems at all," Kherkher said. "He wasn't a smoker or a drinker and he exercised, but his body was filled with Monsanto's PCBs. He grew up in Michigan and Monsanto polluted the waters of Michigan and he suffered and died."

“A lot people just don't know that Monsanto's PCBs are in the orange juice you drank this morning and the pizza you'll eat tonight. The air that you're breathing has PCBs in it," Kherkher said. “Monsanto has discounted it, saying it's only parts per billion or parts per trillion, but it adds up."

He also disputes Monsanto's claim that most non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases have no known cause, citing a 2013 decision from the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying PCBs as carcinogenic to humans. The agency found limited evidence from some studies suggesting that exposure is linked to increased risks of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer.

Juror Nathan Nevius told the St. Louis Dispatch after the ruling, “All of us could pretty much agree that Monsanto was negligent."

Another juror, Ashley Enochs said, “I think it goes to show that large companies can put stuff out there that's harmful and they can do it for along time but that justice is going to be served whether it's a year after the products are put out, or in this case, 80 years."

As far as the environmental footprint of PCBs, ThinkProgress explained that the sheer number of lawsuits that have surfaced across the country in the last three decades against Monsanto over the chemical proves how difficult it is to hold a polluter accountable.

Still, a growing number of West Coast cities have slammed lawsuits against the St. Louis-based corporation for cleanup costs of the compound. On May 19, the city of Long Beach in California became the eighth city to sue the biotech giant, joining Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Berkeley, San Diego, San Jose and Oakland. These cases are pending.

According to Courthouse News Service, Long Beach says in its federal lawsuit that Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs are "widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms" including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans."

The complaint further states: "PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff."

Long Beach says it has "incurred substantial costs" cleaning up the chemicals and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages for public nuisance and costs of suit.

In response, Scott Partridge, Monsanto's vice president of global strategy, said that the city's lawsuit was "instigated by trial lawyers who have been aggressively shopping their services to local government officials," Courthouse News Service reported.

"The speculative legal theories being advanced have no basis in the law, and should ultimately be rejected by the courts in California," he continued. "The facts are clear: There's no evidence that Monsanto discharged a single PCB molecule into the waters of Long Beach, as Monsanto never had a PCB manufacturing facility in Long Beach or anywhere else in California. Any PCBs that may exist were introduced by unidentified third parties or by the city itself.

"Monsanto takes seriously its own environmental responsibilities. But in this case, there is no valid claim against Monsanto. If the city wants to deal with these PCBs, it should seek out those who allowed PCBs into the Long Beach water."

Monsanto company could gain further legal protection after Congressional Republicans snuck in the so-called "Monsanto Rider" in the Toxic Substances Control Act reauthorization bill that will give the chemical giant permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs, the New York Times reported in February.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Ground-Breaking Agreement Marks First Voluntarily Limits to Industrial Fishing in Arctic

Lake Mead Drops to Lowest Level in History

Leonardo DiCaprio, Ralph Lauren Recipients of 'Big Fish' Award at Riverkeeper's Fishermen's Ball

Will Congress End the Era of Unlimited, Untested Chemicals and Reform TSCA?

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Leonardo DiCaprio/Getty

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Awards $20M in Largest-Ever Portfolio of Environmental Grants

Environmental activist and Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced that his foundation has awarded $20 million to more than 100 organizations supporting environmental causes.

This is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation's (LDF) largest-ever portfolio of environmental grants to date. The organization has now offered more than $80 million in total direct financial impact since its founding in 1998.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Andrew Hart/Flickr

UN Environment Chief: Make Polluters, Not Taxpayers, Pay For Destroying Nature

Erik Solheim, the head of the United Nations' Environment Program, made an interesting point during a recent speech in New York: Companies, not taxpayers, should pay the costs of damaging the planet.

"The profit of destroying nature or polluting the planet is nearly always privatized, while the costs of polluting the planet or the cost of destroying ecosystems is nearly always socialized," Solheim said Monday, per Reuters, at the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

Keep reading... Show less
Soy was one of the key agricultural crops found to have decreased nutritional content when grown in a high C02 environment. Bigstockphoto

C02 and Food: We Can't Sacrifice Quality for Quantity

Bigger isn't always better. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Many anti-environmentalists throw these simple truths to the wind, along with caution.

You can see it in the deceitful realm of climate change denial. It's difficult to keep up with the constantly shifting—and debunked—denier arguments, but one common thread promoted by the likes of the Heartland Institute in the U.S. and its Canadian affiliate, the misnamed International Climate Science Coalition, illustrates the point. They claim carbon dioxide is good for plants, and plants are good for people, so we should aim to pump even more CO2 into the atmosphere than we already are.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Meet the 4 Horsemen of the EPA-pocalypse

By Mary Anne Hitt

Every week, another decision that endangers our families seems to come out of Scott Pruitt's and Donald Trump's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The latest facepalm/outrage comes in the form of confirmation hearings that start this week for four completely unacceptable nominees to critical leadership positions at EPA.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular

Trump's Pick for Top EPA Post Under Scrutiny for Deep Ties to Chemical Industry

From Scott Pruitt to Betsy DeVos, President Donald Trump has notoriously appointed a slew of individuals with serious conflicts of interests with the departments they oversee.

The latest is Michael L. Dourson, Trump's pick to head the EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, the government's chemical safety program. Media reports reveal that the toxicologist is under intense scrutiny for his extensive ties to the chemical industry and a resumé dotted with some of the biggest names in the field: Koch Industries Inc., Chevron Corp., Dow AgroSciences, DuPont and Monsanto.

Keep reading... Show less
Researchers warn that unchecked fossil fuel emissions would raise global temperatures to catastrophic levels. Gerry Machen / Flickr

New Study: Global Warming Limit Can Still Be Achieved

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the UK have good news for the 195 nations that pledged to limit global warming to well below 2°C: it can be done. The ideal limit of no more than 1.5°C above the average temperatures for most of human history is possible.

All it requires is an immediate reduction in the combustion of fossil fuels—a reduction that will continue for the next 40 years, until the world is driven only by renewable energy.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Hurricane-damaged Barbuda. Caribbean Community / Flickr

Devastated Island Leaders: Climate Change 'A Truth Which Hits Us'

As residents in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands prepared to take cover from Hurricane Maria, representatives of island nations devastated by hurricanes made a plea to the UN for recovery funding.

In a hastily-convened special session, leaders of Barbuda, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and other nations detailed the billions of dollars needed to rebuild after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and argued that the increasing impacts of climate change on island nations required a rethinking of how the UN provides humanitarian aid.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel / Facebook

National Guard Chief Highlights Climate Change as Pruitt Touts Denial on TV

Climate change could be causing storms to become "bigger, larger, more violent," underlining the need to have a robust military response to disasters across the country, the top officer of the National Guard Bureau said Tuesday.

"I do think that the climate is changing, and I do think that it is becoming more severe," Gen. Joseph Lengyel told reporters, noting the number of severe storms that have hit the U.S. in the past month. The general might want to take U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt aside for a chat on climate change and disasters: Pruitt sat down for two friendly interviews on Fox yesterday to tout his idea for a red team/blue team "debate" on climate.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

Get EcoWatch in your inbox