School district proposes toxic chemical settlement.
The Monroe School District is set to pay students and their families $34 million after the students were exposed to toxic chemicals, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These chemicals and other safety hazards had been present for at least eight years on its Sky Valley Education Center campus. In offering the deal, the district is not admitting fault, and it has repeatedly defended its cleanup efforts despite opposition from regulators, according to court documents.
As early as 2014, court documents show, Monroe School District officials found that harmful conditions were noticeable its buildings, including poor air ventilation and the presence of PCBs, dubbed a known carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In total, more than 200 parents, teachers and students have filed a series of lawsuits against Monsanto (owned by Bayer since 2018) after experiencing symptoms from this chemical, and this case is separate from the Monsanto filings. As part of the case, King County Superior Court Judge Richard McDermott blames Monsanto, writing that the chemical company “is going to have to get serious about a global settlement that is large enough that the plaintiffs will have to pay attention.”
Many plaintiffs experienced “significant, profound damages which they will have to live with for the remainder of their lives and for which they deserve to be compensated,” wrote McDermott, adding, the Monroe School District is “far less culpable than the product manufacturer.”
The EPA came to the district and offered to help school officials take care of the PCB issue. At that point, the school submitted a certified letter indicating that the cleanup efforts were successful, and all PCB had been removed. Yet, upon following up, the agency noted this wasn’t the case. Despite the fact that school districts are required to inspect campuses, there is no requirement to enforce recommendations or remove certain hazards. State law also does not require school districts to disclose testing results to parents, students or teachers.
The $34 million offer is the maximum allowed under the school district’s insurance policy, according to the district, “in order to protect [the Monroe School District’s] finances and its ability to continue operating. Records show that the offer is about half as much as the district’s overall policy. About a third of the payout is set to go toward attorneys’ fees, and after that, each child will receive approximately $171,000; each adult would receive $58,000; and each family member of those exposed would collect $2,300, according to court documents.
“The anti-Monsanto statements in the report were not supported by any judicial fact-finding, not adopted by the court, and are damaging to a fair and impartial jury selection and trial process,” a statement by Bayer indicated.
As a result of the issues found at the Sky Valley campus, state lawmakers are now planning to push for PCB testing and remediation. They will prioritize renovating or replacing older buildings that could have the toxic chemicals in their walls. They are also discussing mandating cleanup efforts by any schools found to have environmental hazards.