Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings filed a lawsuit this week against Monsanto and two corporate spinoffs.
The lawsuit seeks to recover damages and cleanup costs associated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which Monsanto manufactured for decades.
Also named was Solutia Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Company and Pharmacia LLC, successor to the Monsanto Chemicals Company and now, a wholly-owned subsidiary of pharma giant Pfizer, Inc.
“Monsanto knew that PCBs were toxic and that once they entered the environment, they would be there to stay,” said Jennings. “Even as PCBs’ environmental harms became undeniable, Monsanto not only continued to manufacture and sell PCBs but increased production. Now, decades since PCBs were banned, Delaware taxpayers are still footing the cleanup bill. We’re suing Monsanto and its spinoffs to make them pay to clean up their mess.”
Bayer, the successor to Monsanto, issued the following statement that claimed the company never discharged PCBs in Delaware.
“We are reviewing this lawsuit and will respond to the complaint at the appropriate time; however, we believe it is without merit. Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into Delaware’s waters, and therefore should not be held liable for the contamination alleged by the state. Where it has been determined that those cleanups are necessary, federal and state authorities employ an effective system to identify dischargers and allocate cleanup responsibilities. Litigation of the sort brought by the state risks undermining these efforts.”
Jennings’ lawsuit, filed in Delaware Superior Court, argues that Monsanto knew as early as 1937 that PCBs had systemic toxic effects in humans and animals; that is not only understood, but actively promoted the fact that PCBs do not naturally break down; and that despite full awareness of these dangers, Monsanto determined, in its own words, that it could not “afford to lose one dollar of business,” and continued to manufacture, market, and sell PCBs because “selfishly too much Monsanto profit” would otherwise be lost.
Monsanto was the only major manufacturer of PCBs in North America for nearly half a century until Congress banned the chemicals’ domestic manufacture in 1978. Despite that ban, PCBs continue to pollute Delaware’s natural resources and waterways, including the Delaware River, Delaware Bay, and the Christina River Basin, as well as fish and wildlife throughout the state, the suit alleges.
PCBs were used for decades as a component of products including hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, and insulating fluids for electric equipment, as well as paint, caulking, and the emulsion used to coat carbonless copy paper.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCBs are known to cause cancer in animals and the EPA has concluded that they are probable human carcinogens. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, PCB exposure can cause severe liver damage, depressed immune system function, skin conditions such as acne and rashes, significant irritation of and harm to the nose and lungs, gastrointestinal discomfort, changes in the blood and liver, depression, fatigue, and learning capacity impairment.
Monsanto was acquired by German pharmaceutical and seed/crop protection giant Bayer, which dropped the company’s name. Bayer had to divest some of Monsanto’s assets to complete the deal due to antitrust issues.
Monsanto was known in the corporate world for its hard-nosed stance in selling seeds to farmers and dealing with competitors and Bayer apparently decided the name had little value in the marketplace.
DuPont ended up in a long-running legal battle, with the Wilmington company paying out $1.75 billion in a patent settlement while gaining access to Monsanto’s seed research.
DuPont earlier settled with the State of Delaware on its environmental legacy in the state.
Monsanto and its successor continue to face lawsuits over its herbicide Round-Up and its effects on those using the product.
Monsanto was part of the wave of mergers in agriscience was the merger and spinoff of Dow and DuPont, which led to the formation of Corteva, the combined agriculture business of the two companies.