Monsanto, a multinational conglomerate known for its agricultural products, has found itself entangled in a web of legal battles concerning polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Once commercially popular, these toxic chemicals have led to substantial legal repercussions for Monsanto, particularly in relation to their impact on schools.
According to TWO Teknik, PCB is harmful due to its tendency to build in the body’s fat reserves. It is an extremely stable chemical that the body is unable to decompose naturally. Similar to asbestos and smoking, the body eventually develops cancer cells as a result of PCB buildup.
In this article, we will dive into the historical context, legislative responses, and recent court decisions surrounding Monsanto’s legal liability in PCB-related product claims. We will shed light on the implications for both affected individuals and the company itself.
PCBs in Construction
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, first entered the construction scene in the 1930s, revolutionizing processes like caulking. These chemicals offered builders an attractive solution for ensuring the longevity of structures, especially public government facilities designed to endure decades of wear.
By the 1950s-1980s, the post-war Baby Boom prompted a surge in school construction, with PCBs playing a crucial role. Many of these structures, still in use today, haven’t undergone substantial upgrades since their initial construction. This has raised concerns about potential health risks associated with aging PCB-laden materials.
In response to the widespread use of PCBs, Congress amended the Toxic Substance Control Act in 1979, banning the manufacture of these chemicals. However, the amendment did not mandate the immediate abatement of existing PCBs in buildings, leaving a regulatory gap.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) subsequently provided guidance on remediation. However, the lack of federal requirements and dedicated funding left schools grappling with the complex and costly task of addressing PCB contamination.
Daniel Lefkowitz’s Mission
The year 2004 marked a significant turning point when Daniel Lefkowitz, a concerned parent in New York state, discovered PCBs while planning renovations. His subsequent mission to test his son’s school and others in the state triggered controversy.
This shined a spotlight on the widespread presence of PCBs in schools and prompted legislative and legal action. Amidst Lefkowitz’s efforts to assess PCB levels, concerns about the potential health impacts of PCB exposure came to the forefront.
Parents, educators, and communities became increasingly aware of PCB exposure symptoms. According to ATSDR, these symptoms include but are not limited to neurological issues, neurophysiological challenges, and autoimmune disorders. Lefkowitz’s advocacy brought attention to the latent risks posed by PCB exposure, sparking a broader conversation about the need for comprehensive solutions.
In 2015, the city of Hartford, Conn., took legal action against Monsanto, the primary manufacturer of PCBs for decades. The lawsuit alleged that Monsanto’s products were responsible for the closure of a high school building after hazardous PCB levels were discovered.
TorHoerman Law notes that the PCB lawsuits underscore the complexity of assigning blame in this case. Monsanto contended that the school district’s decision to tear down the building was unnecessary. The manufacturer stated that other construction contractors contributed to the spread of PCBs.
In 2016, there was a comprehensive evaluation of PCBs in schools, drawing attention to the potential health threats posed by contaminated school buildings. Despite prior research highlighting the risks, legislative action to address these concerns has been slow.
Five years later, Markey proposed legislation that would mandate federal spending to address PCB issues in schools. As of now, legal proceedings are underway, emphasizing the challenges of enacting comprehensive federal measures.
Vermont took a pioneering step in 2021 by passing first-in-the-nation legislation to address PCBs in schools constructed or renovated before 1980. The legislation mandated testing for PCBs and provided funding for remediation efforts.
Burlington High School’s closure and relocation to a former Macy’s department store underscored the urgency of addressing PCB findings. This set a precedent for other states to consider proactive measures and allocate resources for testing and remediation in educational facilities.
Monsanto’s Legal Battles
Recent legal battles have taken a toll on Monsanto’s reputation and finances. The Monroe School District in Washington state awarded $34 million in settlement funds to parents and students affected by PCB exposure. The subsequent jury decision in May 2022 marked a significant blow to Monsanto. Former teachers at Sky Valley Education Center convinced the jury to award them millions.
According to a December 2023 update by The Guardian, Monsanto has been ordered to pay $857 million to settle some PCB lawsuits. They were filed by ex-students of a Seattle school. This adds to the company’s mounting legal challenges.
Monsanto continues to contest the verdict, arguing against the alleged link between PCB exposure and the health issues reported by the plaintiffs. These legal battles further highlight the complexities of assigning responsibility and seeking justice in cases of PCB contamination.
In conclusion, Monsanto’s legal battles over PCBs highlight the enduring consequences of historical negligence, resulting in substantial financial setbacks. The complex regulatory landscape and diverse state-level initiatives underscore the urgent need for comprehensive federal measures to address PCB contamination in schools.
These cases emphasize the importance of proactive regulatory frameworks and corporate accountability for public health. Monsanto’s ongoing disputes serve as a cautionary tale, urging industries and regulators to address the intricate challenges of assigning responsibility promptly. The verdicts resonate as a call for decisive action to mitigate the far-reaching impact of industrial products on communities.