Berkeley Votes To Sue Monsanto For PCB Contamination

| Resist!

Above Photo: From DailyKos.com.

California, like many places in the United States, has pollution problems. The Bay Area’s waterways have some of the worst plastic pollution around. Monsanto used to produce chemicals, once used far and wide to lubricate machinery, in inks, paints, caulking, and more—called PCBs. PCBs are most likely straight-up cancer-causing poison. Over the decades, many places around our country have found outrageous levels of PCB contamination in their waters. Places like New York are embroiled in controversies surrounding PCB contaminators who prefer to have tax breaks than actually pay to clean up the polluted mess they made. Well, the city of Berkeley, in the Bay Area of northern California, is joining the growing list of municipalities that need big companies, like Monsanto, to help pay for the cleanup.

The City Council voted 6-0 in closed session Jan. 5, with members Jesse Arreguin, Max Anderson, and Linda Maio absent, to file the complaint in San Jose’s Northern District Court alleging the company and its descendant firms are responsible for the contamination.

PCBs or polychlorinated biphenyls, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as “probable human carcinogens,” are man-made chemical compounds produced in the United States uniquely by Monsanto between 1935 and 1977. Congress outlawed PCBs in 1979.

This is happening now because of increasing restrictions on how polluted things are allowed to be. City legislatures find themselves needing to prioritize environmental cleanups. Putting off paying for the removal of toxins can’t be put off any longer.

The complaint condemns the company’s behavior, arguing that “Monsanto’s conduct was malicious, oppressive, wanton, willful, intentional, and shocks the conscience, warranting punitive and exemplary damages, because Monsanto callously decided to increase sales and develop new ways to promote PCBs, knowing PCBs are toxic, cannot be contained, and last for centuries.”

The Mercury Times received an email response from Monsanto, in it:

“Monsanto is not responsible for the costs alleged in this matter. PCBs sold at the time were a lawful and useful product that was then incorporated by third parties into other useful products. If those companies or other third parties improperly disposed of products or improperly used any material which created the need for the cleanup, then they bear responsibility for the costs.”

This is not a bad argument in as much as it’s been gun and war profiteers’ defense for decades. Times are a changing—hopefully.

  • Grateful for this media coverage, but I wish the article mentioned Council member Kriss Worthingto, who is responsible for Berkeley joining the lawsuit, and who thus deserves more prominent mention than the 3 Council members who were absent.