Spokane sues Monsanto

Earlier this month [August 2015] Spokane, Washington USA launched a lawsuit against the giant agrochemical corporation MONSANTO. I went to university not far from Spokane, so I wanted to do some research on this issue, which is quite literally close to home.

Spokane

Spokane is the second largest city in Washington State. It sits near the border with Idaho, and is about 140km south of Canada.

Monsanto made and sold Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) primarily under the name Aroclor, which was used in paint, hydraulic fluids, plastics, inks, lubricants and other items. The company was the sole manufacturer of PCBs in the United States from 1935 until 1979, when Congress banned the manufacture and use of PCBs under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

As a top company in the Chemicals industry, Monsanto specialize in Agriculture manufacturing products including herbicides, pesticides and crop seeds. Their corporate slogan is

As a top company in the Chemicals industry, Monsanto specialize in Agriculture manufacturing products including herbicides, pesticides and crop seeds. Their corporate slogan is “Growth for a Better World.”

In its suit filed in US District Court, The City of Spokane claims, inter alia, that Monsanto has known that Polychlorinated Biphenyl (PCB) chemicals were dangerously toxic and were accumulating in the Spokane River’s water, sediments and fish.

Spokane is suing for public nuisance, product liability defective design and failure to warn, negligence and equitable indemnity. Although the complaint doesn’t specify how much money the city is seeking in damages, it does mention that more than $100 million will likely be spent to remove PCBs and prevent further contamination.

“The Spokane River is Washington’s most polluted river when it comes to PCBs”
– Rachael Osborn, senior policy adviser for the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.

The Spokane River is 180km long and flows right through the heart of the city.

The Spokane River is 180km long and flows right through the heart of the city.

Studies have linked PCBs to an increased risk of many kinds of cancer, as well as endocrine damage, reduced immune response and birth defects such as lower IQ scores, low birth weight and behavioral problems (source: United Nations, World Health Organisation). And unfortunately, PCB chemicals “leach, leak, off-gas and escape” from these materials before then seeping into nearby surfaces, air, soil, and water.

This is really nasty stuff. Even Monsanto’s own medical department as far back as the 1950s recommended that the company’s employees not eat in the Aroclor department to avoid “a potentially hazardous procedure that could lead to serious difficulties.” In 1966, a Professor of Zoology conducted tests whereby 25 live fish were placed along a waterway system that accepted wastes from the Monsanto plant in Alabama.  At the “creek originating near the Monsanto plant…  All 25 fish lost turned on their sides in 10 seconds, and all were dead in 3 minutes” (Source: Chemical Industry Archives).

“No company should be allowed to contaminate the environment and rely upon taxpayers to clean up the mess. Monsanto, one of the most sophisticated chemical companies in the world, knew decades ago that PCBs were a significant contamination threat. And yet the company was concerned more with continuing profits than with protecting the public.” – Attorney Scott Summy from Baron & Budd, P.C., one of two firms representing Spokane

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Because there are high concentrations of PCBs in fish, the Department of Health has placed limits on the amount of fish you can eat from certain areas of the river.

In a statement, Monsanto said it was reviewing the lawsuit and that it wasn’t responsible for Spokane’s cleanup costs since “PCBs sold at the time were a lawful and useful product.”

The City of Spokane’s motto is “Near Nature. Near Perfect.” In light of the evidence coming to surface about PCB contamination, I wonder how true that motto actually is.

Further Reading

San Diego’s New Lawsuit Shows Just How Hard It Is To Hold Polluters Accountable

Spokane Sues Monsanto 

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