This week, the state of Oregon filed a lawsuit against the controversial biotech and chemical company Monsanto. The lawsuit stated that Monsanto knew that many of its products were toxic but kept the information from the public for decades and continued selling them anyway. The lawsuit is seeking a minimum of $100 million in damages that the state incurred from cleanup and medical costs.
The chemical that is at the center of this specific lawsuit is called polychlorinated biphenyls, otherwise known as PCBs. The chemical is resistant to fire and used in paint products, electronic devices, and mechanical oils. The chemical was banned in 1979 due to its adverse effects on humans, animals, and the environment.
“Today, Oregon bears the burden of Monsanto’s decision to place profit above all else. The toxic legacy that Monsanto left Oregonians lives on, as PCBs persist in Oregon’s lands, rivers, and waterways, in its sediments, soils, and in the bodies of animals and humans. It has caused harm to aquatic, marine, and avian species, and poses ongoing risks to the health of the people of the State of Oregon,” the lawsuit reads.
According to an EPA study, PCBs are likely a cancer-causing agent.
The study concluded that:
“There is clear evidence that PCBs cause cancer in animals. EPA reviewed all of the available literature on the carcinogenicity of PCBs in animals as an important first step in the cancer reassessment. An industry scientist commented that ‘all significant studies have been reviewed and are fairly represented in the document.’ The literature presents overwhelming evidence that PCBs cause cancer in animals. An industry-sponsored peer-reviewed rat study characterized as the ‘gold standard study’ by one peer reviewer, demonstrated that every commercial PCB mixture tested caused cancer. The new studies reviewed in the PCB reassessment allowed EPA to develop more accurate potency estimates than previously available for PCBs. The reassessment provided EPA with sufficient information to develop a range of potency estimates for different PCB mixtures, based on the incidence of liver cancer and in consideration of the mobility of PCBs in the environment…. In addition to the animal studies, a number of epidemiological studies of workers exposed to PCBs have been performed. Results of human studies raise concerns for the potential carcinogenicity of PCBs. Studies of PCB workers found increases in rare liver cancers and malignant melanoma. The presence of cancer in the same target organ (liver) following exposure to PCBs both in animals and in humans and the finding of liver cancers and malignant melanomas across multiple human studies adds weight to the conclusion that PCBs are probable human carcinogens… EPA’s peer reviewed cancer reassessment concluded that PCBs are probable human carcinogens. EPA is not alone in its conclusions regarding PCBs. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared PCBs to be probably carcinogenic to humans. The National Toxicology Program has stated that it is reasonable to conclude that PCBs are carcinogenic in humans. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has determined that PCBs are a potential occupational carcinogen.”
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum in Multnomah is behind the lawsuit, and she said that Monsanto knew about how dangerous PCBs were very early on.
“Monsanto knew decades before PCBs were banned that they were toxic to the environment, but they failed to disclose highly pertinent information. Oregon is paying a big price as PCBs are being dredged up in river sediments and measured in the tissues of fish and wildlife throughout the state. PCBs are extremely hard to get rid of — and it will take significant time and resources to fully clean them up. It only makes sense that the manufacturer of these PCBs, Monsanto, help clean up this mess with dollars,” Rosenblum said.
Monsanto has responded to the lawsuit saying that the allegations are “baseless.”
“[Monsanto] voluntarily stopped producing PCBs more than 40 years ago and didn’t use or dispose of any PCBs in the state of Oregon. Clean-up efforts are underway in Oregon with the full group of responsible parties under supervision of the EPA, and it’s most important that everyone stay focused on that work. This lawsuit is baseless and undermines the ongoing EPA cleanup efforts, and Monsanto will defend itself accordingly,” Monsanto vice president for global strategy Scott Partridge said in a statement.
According to The Portland Superfund’s cleanup plan, the clean up will cost $1.05 billion and take up to 13 years to finish.