Attorney general wants to recoup damages and cleanup costs related to polychlorinated biphenyls

Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson is suing Monsanto, seeking to recoup damages and cleanup costs associated with the company’s alleged mishandling of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Monsanto was the only US company to produce PCBs from 1935 to 1979, when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned their manufacture. The compounds were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, particularly electrical insulation. The EPA now classifies PCBs as probably carcinogenic to humans.

Ferguson maintains that Monsanto was aware of PCBs’ toxicity and environmental impact. ‘Monsanto knew the dangers of PCBs yet hid them from the public to generate profits,’ he said. Washington governor Jay Inslee agrees, and also believes Monsanto is liable.

‘Monsanto is responsible for producing a chemical that is so widespread in our environment that it appears virtually everywhere we look — in our waterways, in people and in fish — at levels that can impact our health,’ Inslee said. ‘It’s time to hold them accountable for doing their fair share as we clean up hundreds of contaminated sites and waterways around the state.’

Beyond seeking compensation for damages to the state’s natural resources, the lawsuit also asks the court to award present and future costs to address the ‘ongoing public nuisance’ caused by PCBs. The attorney general’s office estimates that damages could reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, Scott Partridge, said the state’s case is weak and ‘lacks merit’. He suggested that the lawsuit targets a product manufacturer for ‘selling a lawful and useful chemical four to eight decades ago.’