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Monsanto prevails in PCB lawsuit

Monsanto prevails in PCB lawsuit


FILE PHOTO: Creve Coeur-based Monsanto's headquarters.  

A St. Louis County jury has found that Monsanto is not liable in a series of deaths and illnesses suffered by people who were exposed to the PCBs manufactured by the company until the late 1970s.

The jury found in favor of the agriculture giant after a full day of deliberations Monday, according to a St. Louis County Circuit Court clerk. The trial, involving plaintiffs from around the country, took nearly a month.

The lawsuit, filed against Monsanto, Solutia, Pharmacia and Pfizer, sought relief for plaintiffs who developed lymphohematopoietic cancer after being exposed to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, made by Monsanto. The company was the primary U.S. manufacturer of PCBs from 1929 to 1977, according to the lawsuit. They were used in a range of products, including food packaging and paint, before being banned in the late 1970s.

Creve Coeur-based Monsanto applauded the verdict Tuesday.

“The jury found the evidence doesn’t support the assertion that Monsanto’s conduct or the historic use of PCB products was the cause of the plaintiffs’ harms,” the company said in a written statement that also made reference to a similar jury decision last year in California.

An attorney for the plaintiffs did not return a call seeking comment.

The lawsuit was somewhat complicated by the fact that the original Monsanto Chemical Co. no longer exists, leading to the inclusion of four different companies in the defendant list.

In 1997, Monsanto’s chemical business was spun off as Solutia. Three years later, the rest of Monsanto — its life sciences division — merged with Pharmacia. Then in 2002, the current incarnation of Monsanto, based in Creve Coeur, was spun off. A year later, Pharmacia merged with Pfizer.

The current Monsanto is responsible for the legacy chemical claims related to PCBs. But the company has worked to put distance between those chemicals and its modern role in agriculture.

“Between 40 and 80 years ago, the former Monsanto made PCBs, which were sold to sophisticated companies who incorporated them as safety fluids into electrical equipment, into plastics, and into thousands of useful construction and building material products. PCBs served an important fire protection and safety purpose for the electrical and other industries,” the company said.

“Monsanto today, and for the last decade, has been focused solely on agriculture. While our involvement in this trial stems from contractual obligations associated with those former businesses, the Cherry and Kitchen case has nothing to do with Monsanto’s business today,” the company said.

The lawsuit accused Monsanto of being negligent in the production and marketing of PCBs, which do not readily degrade in the environment or the human body. It said Monsanto continued to sell PCBs, despite knowing they could harm people.

“Such conduct was gross and flagrant and done with a reckless disregard for human life and for the safety of others,” according to the lawsuit.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, this ruling will have on other pending litigation involving Monsanto and its PCB history.

Among the legal actions still facing the company is a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the city of San Diego, over PCB contamination around its bay area.

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Timothy Barker is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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