Delaware Sues Monsanto Over PCB Contamination

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Delaware is suing agro-chemical giant Monsanto and two of its corporate spin-offs.

Attorney General Kathy Jennings said Thursday that the lawsuit seeks to recover damages and clean-up costs associated with PCBs made by Monsanto for decades, despite knowing the dangers they posed to the environment and public health. The lawsuit filed in state Superior Court also says that although PCBs have been banned for years, they continue to pollute natural resources including the Delaware River, Delaware Bay and the Christina River Basin in New Castle County.

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“Monsanto knew that PCBs were toxic and that once they entered the environment, they would be there to stay,” Jennings said. “Even as PCBs’ environmental harms became undeniable, Monsanto not only continued to manufacture and sell PCBs, but increased production. Now, decades since PCBs were banned, Delaware taxpayers are still footing the cleanup bill. We’re suing Monsanto and its spinoffs to make them pay to clean up their mess.”

Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018, and released this statement Friday:

“We are reviewing this lawsuit and will respond to the complaint at the appropriate time; however, we believe it is without merit. Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago, and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into Delaware’s waters, and therefore should not be held liable for the contamination alleged by the state. Where it has been determined that those cleanups are necessary, federal and state authorities employ an effective system to identify dischargers and allocate clean-up responsibilities. Litigation of the sort brought by the state risks undermining these efforts.”

The Attorney General’s Office provided additional background below:

Jennings’ lawsuit, filed in Delaware Superior Court, argues that Monsanto knew as early as 1937 that PCBs had systemic toxic effects in humans and animal; that it not only understood, but actively promoted the fact that PCBs do not naturally break down; and that despite full awareness of these dangers, Monsanto determined, in its own words, that it could not “afford to lose one dollar of business,” and continued to manufacture, market, and sell PCBs because “selfishly too much Monsanto profit” would otherwise be lost.

Monsanto was the only major manufacturer of PCBs in North America for nearly half a century, until Congress banned the chemicals’ domestic manufacture in 1978. Despite that ban, PCBs continue to pollute Delaware’s natural resources and waterways, including the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and the Christina River Basin, as well as fish and wildlife throughout the State. Disturbances to contaminated waterway sediment – including dredging – can exacerbate the issue.

PCBs were used for decades as a component of products including hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, and insulating fluids for electric equipment, as well as paint, caulking, and the emulsion used to coat carbonless copy paper. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals and the EPA has concluded that they are probable human carcinogens. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, PCB exposure can cause serious liver damage, depressed immune system function, skin conditions such as acne and rashes, significant irritation of and harm to the nose and lungs, gastrointestinal discomfort, changes in the blood and liver, depression, fatigue, and learning capacity impairment.

PCBs are difficult and expensive to remove from the environment, and they accumulate in the fatty tissues of living organisms. As a result, these toxic chemicals infiltrate the food chain and accumulate in escalating concentrations as species higher up the food chain—including predatory fish, marine mammals, and humans—feed on smaller species.

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