MARIN COUNTY, CA — Nine Marin municipalities and the county have filed a joint lawsuit against Monsanto and two other companies to hold them accountable for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) contamination in their communities, and in San Francisco Bay, officials said in a news release.
County officials said the lawsuit is aimed at mitigating the costs that jurisdictions would incur to remove pollutants.
The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Marin County Superior Court by the county along with the towns of Belvedere, Mill Valley, Novato, San Rafael and Sausalito and the towns of Corte Madeira, Ross, San Anselmo and Tiburon.
Solutia, Inc. is listed. and Pharmacia LLC as other defendants in the case.
Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country, with plaintiff agencies alleging that Monsanto intentionally misled the public, environmental regulators, and its customers so that it could reap huge profits from PCB sales, county officials said.
Marin County Councilor Brian Washington said in a statement that Marin and other participating jurisdictions chose not to participate in a proposed national class action settlement because they failed to adequately cover anticipated costs to comply with the regulations and prevent further harm.
“PCBs have left a long, toxic legacy,” Washington said.
“Responsible companies should contribute to the solution so that taxpayers do not have to bear the full burden.”
PCBs, whose production was banned in the late 1970s, are known or suspected to cause a wide range of cancers including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, breast cancer, liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and melanoma.
They are implicated in non-cancerous health problems such as cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary (liver), immune, neonatal, neurological, ophthalmic and reproductive diseases.
PCB contamination from the defendants’ actions is already widespread in the Gulf region.
The entire bay is classified as “weaker” by PCBs under the Federal Clean Water Act. County officials said this vulnerability threatens natural resources and human health, noting that PCB contamination in the bay has required state agencies to issue strict warnings about the consumption of fish caught in the bay.
PCB-containing water and sediment end up in wastewater and stormwater systems, which eventually make their way into the bay.
PCB contamination was so severe in the bay that the California Bureau of Environmental Health Risk Assessment advised some people not to eat certain types of fish caught in the bay.
Children and women between the ages of 18 and 49 are advised not to eat the striped bass, sharks and beluga sturgeon caught in the bay. Everyone is also advised not to eat the skin and fatty tissue of any fish caught in the bay.
When the regulations are fully in effect, it is expected that communities will have to use significant taxpayer money to pay for testing and monitoring, develop infrastructure to capture PCBs in runoff, conduct more street sweeping, and deploy other measures to comply with those regulations.
Monsanto has produced approximately 99 percent of all PCBs used in the United States since the 1930s and continued until their manufacture was prohibited by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.
According to Monsanto’s own internal documents, company officials were aware of and warned of the risks to human health and the environment from PCBs, but Monsanto falsely promoted the product and failed to warn customers of its risks, county officials said.
In the 1950s, the US Navy refused to purchase a Monsanto PCB, Pydraul 150, for use on its submarines after the Navy conducted its own tests that showed Pydraul 150 killed all 100 rabbits exposed to fumes.
Monsanto hid that information from the public and its customers.
Marin County and the other towns and cities involved in the lawsuit are represented by their own employees with the support of outside counsel Sher Edling LLP of San Francisco. The complaint includes allegations of public nuisance, private nuisance, and trespassing.
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