On May 25, 2016, a St. Louis jury awarded $46.5 million to three plaintiffs who claimed Monsanto and three other companies were negligent in the production of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
The award consisted of $17.5 million in damages and $29 million more in punitive damages, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The verdict came at the end of a trial that lasted nearly a month. This is the latest in a series of lawsuits, some of them still pending.
From 1935 until Congress banned PCB production in 1979, Monsanto was the primary U.S. manufacturer of PCBs. PCBs were used in wide variety of products, including industrial equipment, food packaging, and paint. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals as well as a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. Studies in humans support evidence for potential carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic effects of PCBs. The different health effects of PCBs may be interrelated, the EPA says. Alterations in one system may have significant implications for other systems of the body.
The case just resolved involved three of nearly 100 plaintiffs who claim that exposure to PCBs caused non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Surviving family members made the claims for those who had died. The plaintiffs in this trial are from Alaska, Michigan and Oklahoma.
The lawsuit claims that Monsanto has known of the dangers of PCBs for decades but told the public the compounds were safe. Monsanto continued to produce PCBs into the 1970s. Rivers, streams and some food humans consume still contain some levels of PCBs, according to the Post-Dispatch.
In a statement following the verdict, Monsanto said, “We have deep sympathy for the plaintiffs but we are disappointed by the jury’s decision and plan to immediately appeal today’s ruling.”
The company said that the verdicts in four trials involving similar claims about PCB exposure show that the “evidence simply does not support today’s verdict, including the fact that scientists say more than 90 percent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases have no known cause.”
The Post-Dispatch reports that the Monsanto Chemical Co. that made PCBs no longer exists, but the current Monsanto incarnation, which produces engineered agricultural seeds and herbicides, is handling PCB claims. The other defendants are Solutia, spun off by old Monsanto in 1997; Pharmacia, which absorbed part of the old Monsanto; and Pfizer, which merged with Pharmacia in 2003.
According to one of the jurors, “All of us could pretty much agree that Monsanto was negligent,” while another juror said “justice is going to be served whether it’s a year after the products are put out, or in this case, 80 years.”
Earlier this year, a Los Angeles jury rejected claims against Monsanto over non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In July 2015, a St. Louis County jury found Monsanto not liable in deaths and illnesses related to PCB exposure. The cities of Spokane and Seattle both have cases pending against Monsanto over PCBs.