School system PCBs lawsuit is decided.
On October 13, 2022, a jury in King County, Washington found Monsanto, which is owned by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, liable in a trial over PCB contamination at Sky Valley Education Center, an alternative school in Monroe, Washington.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of man-made chemicals that were manufactured in the U.S. for 50 years until production was banned in 1979 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) following the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). In the 20th century, Monsanto manufactured PCBs and thousands of companies used them in their products. One of their major uses was as a safety material in many types of products as a means to reduce fire risk. Two years before the EPA banned the production of PCBs, Monsanto voluntarily stopped their manufacturing of them.
PCBs can remain in the environment for a long period of time and can be found above-ground plants and crops, as well as in bodies of water after they contaminate an area. Once in water, PCBs can bioaccumulate in the fish and when they’re caught and consumed by humans, these chemicals are unknowingly transferred into the digestive system.
The Washington State Department of Health says “The most commonly observed health effects in people exposed to large amounts of PCBs are skin conditions such as acne and rashes. Studies in exposed workers have shown changes in blood and urine that may indicate liver damage. PCB exposures in the general population are not likely to result in skin and liver effects.” They also state that there are studies indicating the exposure of PCBs can be associated with certain kinds of cancer.
So far, there have been five trials consisting of nearly 200 plaintiffs who alleged personal injuries from PCB exposure at the Sky Valley Education Center. According to Bayer, Monsanto was found liable in four of the five trials. Juries awarded the plaintiffs in all four trials monetary settlements totaling $543 million. Bayer Bayer Pharmaceuticals is appealing the first of the five trials, and the company is pursuing post-trial motions for the second, with plans to appeal if necessary. They also claim they plan to pursue post-trial motions and appeals for the other two trials in which they were found liable.
There are currently 16 more lawsuits awaiting trial, and the most recent lawsuit against Bayer Bayer Pharmaceuticals resulted in a $275 million verdict. The money will be awarded to ten students and parents who claim they suffered severe neurological injuries subsequent to PCB exposure at the Snohomish County school.
The Washington Department of Ecology released a chemical action plan to address PCBs in 2015. The following year, the Snohomish County Health District ordered the Monroe School District to repair the Sky Valley Education Center after years of building code violations.
During this process, inspectors found PCBs in light ballasts and caulk used in the walls. Inspectors also found that the PCBs were released into the air due to deterioration of the infrastructure.
Bayer believes the allegations made in these cases are baseless and that Monsanto should not be to blame. Monsanto made previous arguments that the PCB exposure rates “were low” and the alleged injuries could have been caused by “mold contamination or other safety issues.”