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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.
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.
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Speaking during a conference in Washington, DC in June, Derrick Morgan, senior vice president for federal and regulatory affairs at the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), touted "model legislation" that states across the nation have passed in recent months.
AFPM represents a number of major fossil fuel giants, including Chevron, Koch Industries and ExxonMobil.
"We've seen a lot of success at the state level, particularly starting with Oklahoma in 2017," said Morgan, citing Dakota Access Pipeline protests as the motivation behind the aggressive lobbying effort. "We're up to nine states that have passed laws that are substantially close to the model policy that you have in your packet."
Big Oil is now using its political power to try and criminalize protests of oil & gas infrastructure.— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 19, 2019
"This legislation has potential to punish public participation and mischaracterize advocacy protected by the First Amendment."https://t.co/bmiHjONEhy
The audio recording comes just months after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law legislation that would punish anti-pipeline demonstrators with up to 10 years in prison, a move environmentalists condemned as a flagrant attack on free expression.
"Big Oil is hijacking our legislative system," Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said after the Texas Senate passed the bill in May.
As The Intercept's Lee Fang reported Monday, the model legislation Morgan cited in his remarks "has been introduced in various forms in 22 states and passed in ... Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, Iowa, South Dakota, and North Dakota."
"The AFPM lobbyist also boasted that the template legislation has enjoyed bipartisan support," according to Fang. "In Louisiana, Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the version of the bill there, which is being challenged by the Center for Constitutional Rights. Even in Illinois, Morgan noted, 'We almost got that across the finish line in a very Democratic-dominated legislature.' The bill did not pass as it got pushed aside over time constraints at the end of the legislative session."
Many of the state bills restricting the right to protest have been "drafted by companies and passed through groups like ALEC, the secretive group of corporate lobbyists trying to rewrite state laws to benefit corporations over people." @greenpeaceusa https://t.co/ZxpTjWdrwT— Stand Up To ALEC (@StandUpToALEC) May 6, 2019
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.