Judge Advances LA County’s Spat With Monsanto Over PCB Cleanup

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge Thursday denied Monsanto’s bid to dismiss a lawsuit seeking payment from the company to clean up cancer-causing chemicals from Los Angeles County waterways and storm sewer pipelines.

The Los Angeles River, swollen with storm runoff, on Dec. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Cities up and down the West Coast have sued Monsanto in recent years, accusing it of polluting waterways and beaches with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.

Attorneys for LA County claim in their May 30 complaint that the compound leaches into soil, bays, streams and the region’s storm sewer system causing harm to both communities and wildlife.

“PCBs have traveled into many water bodies in Los Angeles County by a variety of ways,” the complaint says. “PCBs were used in many industrial and commercial applications such as paint, caulking, transformers, capacitors, coolants, hydraulic fluids, plasticizers, sealants, inks, lubricants, and other uses.”

The county wants Monsanto – now a subsidiary of German chemical giant Bayer – to pay for cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from dozens of waterways, including the LA River, San Gabriel River and the Dominguez Watershed.

Monsanto moved to dismiss the lawsuit in August, arguing it never discharged PCBs into waterways and that LA County would still have to clean countless other chemicals even if PCBs were never invented.

“This lawsuit is the latest attempt by plaintiffs’ attorneys to saddle the former manufacturer of a lawful, useful product with regulatory compliance costs that are not recoverable as tort damages, and to have defendants fund a wish list of hypothetical infrastructure projects that are unconnected to any harm allegedly caused by the product, and may never be built,” Monsanto’s motion stated.

At a hearing on the motion Thursday, Monsanto attorney Daniel Blakely of Capes Sokol told U.S. District Judge George H. Wu that the company provided clear instructions for the safe disposal of PCBs. He said the county filed its complaint a decade late and that its tort claims are barred by a three-year statute of limitations on property damage claims.

LA County’s attorney Jason Julius of the Baron Budd firm told Wu the county’s complaint sufficiently shows Monsanto’s liability from improper disposal of PCBs and that concerns about statutes of limitation may be resolved in discovery.

Wu denied Monsanto’s motion to dismiss from the bench.

A Bayer spokesperson said the company is “pleased that the court indicated that it may narrow the claims in this case, but we continue to believe the lawsuit has no merit as none of the defendants used, stored or discharged PCBs in the Los Angeles environment.”

A spokesperson for the county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Monsanto, known for producing genetically modified seeds and the herbicide Roundup, was the sole manufacturer of PCBs from the 1930s through the 1970s marketed under the name Aroclor.

The compounds – which severely affect reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems – were banned by the federal government in 1979.

Pharmacia, Inc., a subsidiary of Pfizer, and chemical company Solutia are also named defendants. Solutia took over the Monsanto Company’s chemical products business around 1997 while Pharmacia operates the pharmaceuticals business for Old Monsanto, as it’s described in court papers.

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