Washington state officials are expecting to receive millions, if not billions, of dollars from agrochemical giant Monsanto after becoming the first state to sue the corporation over pervasive pollution. The state has found over 600 sites suspected or confirmed to be contaminated with PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a toxic industrial chemical that was banned in 1979.
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Washington joins eight other U.S. cities to sue Monsanto over similar claims, though it is the first state to do so.
"It is time to hold the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs accountable for the significant harm they have caused to our state," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said, stressing the damage the chemicals have caused to the health of protected salmon and orcas despite the tens of millions of dollars Washington has spent to clean up the pollution, AP reported.
The company used the chemical from 1935 until they were outlawed in 1979 by Congress, in everything from paint, to coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids.
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Documents showing that the company knew about the dangers of the chemical as far back as 1937 will serve as the backbone of the case. These include tests the company had performed on animals which revealed “systemic toxic effects” from prolonged exposure to PCBs, Ferguson said.
“Monsanto produced PCBs for decades while hiding what they knew about the toxic chemicals' harm to human health and the environment," he said.
Despite knowing this, Monsanto continuously lied to officials around the country. In 1969, the company even penned a letter to New Jersey's Department of Conservation stating that, "Based on available data, manufacturing and use experience, we do not believe PCBs to be seriously toxic," AP reported.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has confirmed the dangers of the chemicals, which have have been proven to affect the immune, nervous and reproductive systems and to cause cancer.
Though the company has said it believes the case “lacks merit,” a recent victory by plaintiffs St. Louis could set a precedent. This past May, three plaintiffs were awarded US$45 million in damages related to exposure to PCBs that caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The lawsuit accused the corporation of continuing to sell the compounds despite knowing of their dangers and misleading the public about their safety.
Several other cities — including Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, Long Beach and San Diego, California — have also sued Monsanto over PCB pollution, the attorney general's office said. Those cases are ongoing.