Monsanto PCB Contamination Lawsuit

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Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a class of synthetic chemicals widely used in building materials until they were banned in 1979 due to their toxicity.

PCBs haven’t been used in new construction for decades but many schools across the country are contaminated with these pollutants, which are linked to cancer and other adverse health effects. Tens of thousands of school buildings in the United States may be contaminated with PCBs, potentially exposing millions of students and staff to dangerous toxins.

A single company—Monsanto—is responsible for virtually all the PCBs used in this country. With growing public awareness of PCB dangers, Monsanto is facing increased scrutiny and a wave of PCB contamination lawsuits.

Milberg is suing Monsanto for PCB exposure at Vermont schools and investigating PCBs at the North Carolina State University campus. The firm expects our cases and investigations against Monsanto to expand as the company’s decades of PCB deception gain wider recognition.

What are Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)?

A type of “forever chemical,” PCB is a commercially produced chemical made with carbon, hydrogen, and chlorine. PCBs are chemically stable, non-flammable, and have a high boiling point and electrical insulating properties, making them popular for industrial and commercial applications.

Monsanto produced approximately 99% of the PCBs used by U.S. industry.

Produced as mixtures and sold under trade names such as Aroclor, Aceclor, Askarel, and Therminol, PCBs degrade slowly and persist in the environment for many years. They’ve been shown to travel long distances and bioaccumulate in human and animal tissue. High concentrations of PCBs were recently discovered almost five miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean.

Why Did the EPA Ban PCBs?

PCBs were manufactured in the United States from 1929 until 1977. The Monsanto Chemical Company produced approximately 99% of the PCBs used by U.S. industry until the EPA halted their production in 1977 over evidence that they build up in the environment and may harm health. In 1979 the EPA issued regulations banning the use of PCBs.

What Are the Health Risks of PCB Products?

PCBs have been shown to adversely impact health in many ways. They’re linked to cancer as well as immune, reproductive, developmental, neurological, endocrine, hepatic (liver), cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and musculoskeletal effects.

How Can Building Occupants Experience PCB Exposure?

As PCB-containing building materials age and degrade, they can produce vapors and dust that are released into the air. Students, teachers, and staff can then breathe them in. Occupants can also get dust containing PCBs on their hands and swallow it while eating or drinking, or their skin can contact materials with PCBs.

Once PCBs enter the body, they’re unlikely to leave. In fact, since PCBs are not eliminated entirely, they can build up in the body over time. While short-term exposure to PCBs can cause acute toxic effects, prolonged exposure is generally considered a more severe health concern.

Where Were PCBs Used?

Prior to their ban in 1979, PCBs were used in products and materials that include:

  • Adhesives and tapes
  • Cable insulation
  • Caulking
  • Electrical equipment such as transformers and capacitors
  • Floor finish
  • Fluorescent light ballasts
  • Oil-based paints
  • Old electrical devices or appliances with PCB capacitors
  • Plastics
  • Thermal insulation material such as felt, foam, fiberglass, and cork

How Many Schools Contain PCBs?

PCBs have been banned since 1979, but they still linger in older buildings built before PCB use was stopped.

According to a 2016 report, The ABCs of PCBs, schools built or renovated before 1980 are likely to contain PCBs in building materials like caulk, florescent light ballasts, adhesives, paints, and floor finish.

It’s difficult to determine exactly how many schools might have PCB hazards because there is no federal requirement for testing or inspection of schools for PCBs. However, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health estimates that the number of schools with PCBs in building caulk is between 13,000 and 26,000.

Around two-thirds of U.S. public schools were built between 1950 and 1984; half were built between 1950 and 1969.

Federal law has rules for removing building materials containing PCBs above a certain level, but the discovery of PCBs in schools often occurs by chance during renovation projects.

Vermont launched a first-of-its-kind initiative to test schools for PCBs following the closure of Burlington High School in 2020 when air testing discovered high PCB concentrations. Early results from several dozen Vermont schools found that at least one-third of them have PCB levels that warrant mitigation or remediation under EPA guidelines.

  • The U.S. Department of Education says that approximately 65% of public schools nationwide were built between 1950 and 1984, and nearly half were built between 1950 and 1969.
  • Data from 2016 indicates that EPA has been made aware of hundreds of cases of potential PCB hazards that could affect thousands of school buildings.

For further perspective on PCB prevalence in older structures, a study about PCB contamination in Boston schools and other buildings found that one-third contained caulking materials with PCB content exceeding the EPA’s 50 parts per million (ppm) regulatory cut-off.

Another study of buildings renovated or constructed in San Francisco found that 88% of caulk samples taken were positive for PCBs, with concentrations ranging between 1 – 220,000 PPM.

What Do Monsanto PCB Contamination Lawsuits Allege?

PCB contamination lawsuits claim that Monsanto knew about the potential for harm caused by their PCBs but continued to market and sell them without any warnings.

  • The evidence presented in these cases includes internal company data and government data. It suggests that Monsanto was aware of scientific literature establishing the toxic effects of PCBs in humans as far back as the 1930s, and  had confirmed their toxicity in the late 1960s.
  • As evidence of PCB-related health problems grew, Monsanto allegedly doubled down on denial, ignoring widespread PCB contamination from their products and the harm that exposure could cause.
  • Monsanto failed to warn customers and the public about the toxicity and hazards of its PCB products to protect their monopoly on PCB production in the United States and maximize profits, the lawsuits also claim.

Have any PCB Contamination Lawsuits Succeeded?

Plaintiffs have scored some victories against Monsanto in PCB contamination lawsuits. For example, New Hampshire reached a $25 million settlement with Monsanto in 2022 for PCB contamination of state-owned property. Similar, separate agreements were entered into with the Attorneys General of New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Washington D.C.

In 2023, a jury ordered Monsanto to pay $857 to a group of former students and parent volunteers who said the company’s PCBs sickened them at a Washington state school, causing brain damage, autoimmune disorders, and other health issues.

On its website, Bayer, which purchased Monsanto in 2018, states that it is facing two categories of PCB contamination litigation: environmental harm cases and personal injury and building cases. Monsanto references PCB injury litigation in the Seattle area and Vermont.

What is Milberg Doing to Hold Monsanto Accountable?

Milberg is filing Vermont PCB contamination lawsuits against Monsanto. We filed our first case in December on behalf of a woman who attended Twin Valley Elementary School in Wilmington and a second lawsuit in January based on PCB contamination at Burlington High School.

The firm is also investigating PCBs at N.C. State’s Poe Hall, where five rooms were found to have PCB contamination at levels up to 38 times higher than EPA standards. At least 100 cancer cases and more than a dozen reports of serious illness have been reported by people who spent time in Poe Hall.

In addition, Milberg is currently representing the City of East St. Louis, Illinois in an environmental PCB damage action.

I Was Exposed to PCBs. Can I File a PCB Contamination Lawsuit?

If you spent significant time in a school building known to contain PCBs, and have been diagnosed with an injury or illness that is attributable to PCB exposure, you may be eligible to file a PCB contamination lawsuit.

Monsanto is among the largest, wealthiest, and most influential corporations in the world. Holding them accountable requires a law firm with the necessary strength and resources.

Milberg’s Environmental & Toxic Torts Practice has a history of successfully taking on some of the planet’s biggest polluters. Since 1965, Milberg has been fighting to protect victims of corporate wrongdoing and has recovered over $50 billion for our clients.

For a PCB contamination lawsuit review, please contact us.