Portland Becomes 7th City to Sue Monsanto Over PCB Contamination
Downtown Portland and the Steel Bridge from the east side of the Willamette. The city has spent more than $1 billion cleaning up pollution in the river. Photo credit: Flickr
Portland City Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday authorizing city attorney Tracy Reeve to sue the biotech giant.
“Portland’s elected officials are committed to holding Monsanto accountable for its apparent decision to favor profits over ecological and human health," Reeve said in a statement. "Monsanto profited from selling PCBs for decades and needs to take responsibility for cleaning up after the mess it created.”
Map showing general area of concern for pollution at the Portland Harbor Superfund site. Photo credit: EPA
According to a statement from the plaintiff's law firm Gomez Trial Attorneys, Portland has spent and will continue to spend significant public funds to investigate and clean up PCB contamination in the Willamette River and Columbia Slough. The chemical is also one of the main targets of the massive Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup project.
Travis Williams, executive director of Willamette Riverkeeper, explained to KGW: “In our case there are PCBs widely distributed throughout Portland Harbor and that’s one of the main reasons it was listed as a superfund site back in December of 2000.”
The city has spent more than $1 billion cleaning up the Willamette, Portland mayor Charlie Hales told OPB.
“The citizens of Portland dug deep in order to pay for cleaning up our mess, and other businesses should be held to that standard,” Hales added.
Portland Council votes to authorize the city attorney to file suit against Monsanto for PCB #pollution in Willamette & Columbia Slough.— Amelia Templeton (@Amelia Templeton)1458150320.0
As EcoWatch mentioned recently, PCBs were once used to insulate electronics decades ago. Before switching operations to agriculture, Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of the compound, raking a reported $22 million in business a year.
The law firm said that Monsanto manufactured more than 1 billion pounds of PCBs between the 1930s and the 1970s, adding that Monsanto’s own documents show that it continued to sell PCBs long after it allegedly knew of the dangers they presented to human health and the natural environment.
As the Portland Tribune reported:
Documents show Monsanto knew as far back as 1969 that PCBs led to contamination of fish, oysters and birds, said John Fiske, a senior trial attorney with Gomez Trial Attorneys, in a presentation before the City Council on Wednesday. The company realized its product might cause “global contamination,” Fiske said, yet continued to peddle its product, “choosing profits over environmental health.”
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 EPA estimates that 150 million pounds of the chemicals are dispersed throughout the environment, including air and water supplies; an additional 290 million pounds are located in landfills in this country.
Monsanto stopped production of PCBs in 1977 over human health and environmental concerns. The St. Louis-based company released a statement following Portland's move:
We are reviewing the lawsuit and its allegations. However, Monsanto is not responsible for the costs alleged in this matter. Monsanto today, and for the last decade, has been focused solely on agriculture, but we share a name with a company that dates back to 1901.
That company manufactured and sold PCBs that at the time were a lawful and useful product that were then incorporated by third parties into other useful products. Various municipalities built landfills on their bays and operated them for decades to deposit city waste and PCB-containing products into those waterfront landfills. Manufacturing and industrial facilities also operated in these areas, contributing to PCBs in the general area. If the third-party disposal or municipal disposal practices of the past have led four decades later to the state’s development of lawful limits on future PCB discharges into various bays and rivers through storm water, then those third parties and municipal landfill operators bear responsibility for these additional costs.
The seven cities suing Monsanto each filed separate lawsuits against Monsanto in federal court, but will be represented by the same two law firms, California-based Gomez Trial Lawyers and Texas-based Baron & Budd. According to the Portland Tribune, the firms plan to file a motion March 31 in a federal court in Santa Barbara, California, to ask that one judge handle all seven cases.
Meanwhile, a current House bill could give Monsanto permanent immunity from liability for injuries caused by PCBs. The New York Times reported last month that Republicans in Congress have inserted a clause into the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) reauthorization bill that would effectively exempt Monsanto from liability for injuries caused by PCBs.
Environmental attorney Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has sparred over PCBs for three decades, wrote this week that the “so-called "Monsanto Rider" would shield the chemical colossus from thousands of lawsuits by cities, towns, school districts and individuals, who have been injured by exposure to PCBs.
“If Monsanto gets its way, the American people will pay a high price for corporate greed and political corruption,” Kennedy said.
.@RobertKennedyJr: "If #Monsanto gets its way, the American people will pay a high price for corporate greed." https://t.co/kOJ5esoGvh @EWG— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1458069343.0
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Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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