Jury Finds Monsanto Liable for PCB Pollution

By Cat Lazaroff

ANNISTON, Alabama, February 25, 2002 (ENS) - Chemical giant Monsanto is responsible for polluting the town of Anniston, Alabama, with tons of toxic PCBs, a jury ruled Friday. The ruling is a major victory for residents of the contaminated town, who have sued the company over damage to their property, to their health, and to their emotional well being.

The damages phase of the lawsuit could mean millions of dollars in awards against Monsanto.

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A satellite image of Anniston, Alabama, where dozens of people claim to have been harmed by PCBs dumped by Monsanto (Photo courtesy NASA)
After five hours of deliberations over the course of two days, the jury decided to hold Monsanto and the company that now represents its chemical division liable on six counts: negligence, nuisance, suppression of the truth, trespass, wantonness and outrage.

In Alabama, the claim of outrage - a count almost never claimed or won - requires that the plaintiffs prove conduct "so outrageous in character and extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency so as to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in civilized society."

John Hunter, chair and CEO of Solutia Inc., the company that Monsanto spun off in 1997 to handle its chemical division, said today in a prepared statement that Solutia is "extremely disappointed with the jury's verdict."

"We understand that Anniston residents have concerns about PCBs in their community," Hunter said. "As we've said from the beginning, regardless of the result in this case, we're committed to doing what's fair to deal properly with the impacts of previous PCB production at our plant."

The ruling is the latest stage in the seven year old case, which was launched after the citizens of Anniston learned that Monsanto had dumped PCBs - polychlorinated biphenyls - into the town's creeks, and buried the chemicals in a nearby landfill, for four decades.

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St. Mark United Methodist Church in Anniston, Alabama (Photo courtesy St. Mark United Methodist Church)
Monsanto manufactured PCBs as electrical insulators for 40 years, halting production in 1971 just eight years before the federal government banned the chemical's manufacture and use. During that period, the company disposed of tens of thousands of pounds of PCBs by flushing them into waterways or burying them in and around Anniston.

PCBs are listed as suspected human carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. In humans, exposure to PCBs can cause development problems, neurological defects, skin ailments and other diseases.

In 1996, one of Monsanto's PCB dumps in Anniston sprung a leak, and residents of the small town began learning for the first time the extent of the contamination in their communities. But Monsanto knew about the problem decades earlier.

Internal memos obtained by the plaintiff's lawyers and presented at the trial showed that Monsanto knew as early as the mid-1960s that PCB contamination could pose a risk to Anniston's residents, and that it was already harming wildlife in polluted streams.

In 1970, Monsanto employee W.B. Papageorge sent a memo to employees regarding what to say about the dangers of PCBs.

"It was emphasized that that we must continue to emphasize to all remaining users of PCB's the importance of preventing escape to the environment," Papageorge wrote, "and we must ensure that these warnings are fully documented so that they will support the action we have taken in this area should we become involved in legal actions."

The company did not install pollution controls at its Anniston facilities until 1970. Some of the 3,500 plaintiffs in the case have PCB levels in their blood of 27 times the national average.

Monsanto and Solutia Inc. have already spent more than $85 million to test and clean up Anniston's water and soil, and to settle other lawsuits in nearby communities.

"We've made solid progress to date in investigating and cleaning up PCBs in the Anniston area," said Solutia chair Hunter. "For example, more than 8,000 acres of land have been investigated to determine what needs to be done, and more than 5,000 samples of soil, water, sediment and fish have been collected. About 300 acres of land and more than a mile of drainage ditches have been cleaned."

The companies will now likely face millions or billions of dollars in damages claims from the 15,000 people now suing Monsanto - and thousands more are likely to join future lawsuits.

More information on Monsanto and PCB contamination in Anniston is available from the Environmental Working Group at: http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/dirtysecrets/annistonindepth/intro.asp