Monsanto is being sued for water contamination by the city of Spokane, Washington. The city filed a lawsuit against the agrochemical monster in August 2015, accusing Monsanto of selling chemicals for decades when it knew were harmful to humans.
The suit doesn’t state monetary demands. It alleges Monsanto is responsible for high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls – or PCBs – destroying the Spokane River.
Monsanto PCBs contaminated Spokane River
Spokane’s city utility spokeswoman Marlene Feist called the suit “long-term litigation.” She said Spokane will spend $300 million in the next few years to keep PCBs and other pollutants from further contaminating the river.
PCBs have contaminated the river by many means, including through commercial and industrial products such as paint, hydraulic fluids, sealants, inks and others.
Monsanto was the only maker of PCBs in the U.S. from 1935-1979. The company concealed the toxicity from the municipality, Spokane attorneys wrote in a complaint filed in U.S. District court.
Monsanto sued for failure to warn of Contamination
City attorneys wrote: “Despite Monsanto’s knowledge, Monsanto failed to provide adequate warnings that its PCBs would become a global contaminant and contaminate waterways and wildlife, such as Spokane’s stormwater and fish in the Spokane River.”
The lawsuit says Monsanto is responsible for contaminating Spokane’s wastewater and stormwater with PCBs which the city is legally required to remove before the water flows into the Spokane River. It estimates such treatment amounts will cost more than $100 million. The suit says the Spokane River is currently violating water quality standards for the presence of PCBs.
Monsanto denies responsibility
Monsanto spokesman Charla Lord said the corporation is not responsible for cleanup and other lawsuit-related costs. She said Monsanto has been focused solely on agriculture for the last decade, and that it now only shares a name with a company that dates back to 1901. She said the former Monsanto voluntarily ceased PCB production and selling before PCBs were banned in 1979.
Reuters wrote that Lord also claimed PCBs sold at the time were a “lawful and useful product that was then incorporated by third parties into other useful products” such as fire protection in electrical equipment, among other uses. She said, “If improper disposal or other improper uses created the necessity for clean-up costs, then these other third parties would bear responsibility for these costs.”
Spokane River contaminated with PCBs
Elevated levels of PCBs have been found in the Spokane River in sediments, fish and wildlife. Some PCBs enter the river through the city’s water and storm water discharges. In trying to meet a 2017 federal deadline to stop pollution from entering the river, Spokane has adopted an Integrated Clean Water Plan. It is adding more levels of treatment at its water treatment plant, efforts which, according to Feist, convinced the law firms to represent Spokane.
San Diego, San Jose, Westport also suing Monsanto
The city seeks “compensatory damages,” including lawyer fees, interest, any other relief the court deems proper. The lawsuit names two companies that spun off from Monsanto corporation in the 1990s. Spokane joins other municipalities such as San Diego, San Jose and Westport, Mass., in seeking damages from Monsanto.
PCBs cause Cancer
The U.S. EPA calls PCBs probable carcinogens. They are linked to inducing many types of cancers, including breast, liver, gall bladder, melanoma and others. Evidence suggests PCBs impair immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems.
Monsanto hides behind new names
The traditional Monsanto company – which produced agricultural, chemical (including Agent Orange and PCBs) and pharmacy products – was spun off in the 1990s into three separate entities: Monsanto, Solutia and Pharmacia. All three companies are named in the lawsuit brought by Spokane.