Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced on Monday that the city would be suing the Monsanto Company, along with Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia LLC, for polluting LA’s waterways with with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dating back to the 1930’s.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PCBs cause a wide variety of adverse health affects. Cancer, liver damage, and negative effects to the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other parts of the body are some of the more serious long-term side effects. Even a short time of exposure can cause numerous types of irritation, stomach pain, nausea, and other effects.
PCBs were used in a multitude of products in the mid-20th century, including industrial equipment, paint, ink, paper, fireproofing products, hydraulic fluid, another things. Known for it’s staying power, PCBs were often cited for not naturally breaking down, adding to their long-term effects.
The lawsuit, which was filed on Friday in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, names Monsanto and the other companies, through former corporate predecessors, as the manufacturers, users, and sellers of PCBs from the 1930’s up until 1979. Monsanto alone made at least 99% of PCBs in United States between 1929 and 1977. Feuer says in his lawsuit that Monsanto knew of the dangers to humans and the environment very early on, as evidenced by internal orders by the company advising employees in the 1950’s to not eat lunch in the PCB department. At the same time, Feuer’s lawsuit says that the chemicals were being readily sold nationwide and that Monsanto allegedly had a misinformation plan for decades to keep the information on the dangers of PCBs away from the public. This resulted in PCBs to not only be widely used, but also disposed of in unsafe ways due to the companies not informing the public of their dangers.
After decades of use, and Monsanto not telling the city or the public of the environmental or health dangers, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finally banned PCBs in 1979 under the Toxic Substances Control Act following federal studies on their dangers. In the following decades, PCB contamination has been found to still exist across the waterways of Los Angeles. It remains so high to this day that the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment still recommends limiting eating fish that have been caught around the city. PCBs also, to this day, have been detected in water draining into the Pacific Ocean.
Due to corporate spin-offs and mergers in the 1990’s and 2000’s, Monsanto was partially broken up and resold to other companies. Today, Monsanto is owned by the German Bayer Corporation, while Pharmacia is now owned by Pfizer, and Solutia is owned by the Eastman Chemical Company.
Due to the continued dangers and health risks, as well as the damage caused in the past, Feuer filed the lawsuit on Friday while formally announcing the suit Monday. The city hopes for compensation for the numerous measures that the city has taken over the years to reduce PCB contamination as well as continued funding efforts in the city to eliminate PCBs until the chemical is completely gone from LA’s waterways.
LA sues three chemical companies over PCB pollution
“It’s time for Monsanto to clean up and pay up,” said Feuer on Monday at a press conference outside City Hall. “The health and environmental impacts of PCBs–impacts the City has been working hard to reduce in waters throughout L.A.–are just jaw dropping. We allege Monsanto knew decades ago that PCBs are toxic and inevitably would cause widespread contamination. It’s infuriating that Monsanto continued to manufacture and sell them–and, we allege, deceive the public about them.”
“The city has expended millions and millions of dollars so far and is going to continue to expend millions and millions of dollars to remediate this issue. We’ve had to dredge soil from locations, for example.”
Bayer responded to Feuer’s suit on Monday, noting that Monsanto ended making the chemical in the 70’s and should not be held liable for any damages or damage mitigation efforts.
“Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago, and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into Los Angeles’ waters, and therefore should not be held liable for the contamination alleged by the city,” said Bayer in a Monday statement. “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 city risks undermining these efforts.”
Environmental experts noted that while PCBs are not the most dangerous chemical to be found in water, the fact that it may have harmed many Angelinos in the past decades and hurt the environment may be enough for a judge to rule in favor of the city.
“Waterway or well toxic chemical cases still abound in the U.S.,” said Lucas Thompson, an environmental researcher who sometimes assists lawyers, to the Globe on Tuesday. “This isn’t Love Canal, but there are echoes of Woburn and Hinkley, the one in California famous from Erin Brockovich. Now Monsanto is claiming that they never contaminated the water through any means. This makes the case tricky. L.A. needs to prove, without a doubt, they did this. And Bayer and the others, they can’t say that PCBs aren’t dangerous but they can show how they didn’t pollute. And right now, with Monsanto giving all those warnings to employees in the 1950’s and all those water readings, LA seems to have something to put up. This will be an interesting case.”
An exact figure of how much LA is seeking has not yet been named by Feuer. The case is expected to be heard in LA County Superior Court later this year.
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