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LA suit over Monsanto PCB water contamination clears first legal hurdle

The judge rejected Monsanto's argument that the city of LA can't claim public nuisance for an area it doesn't entirely own.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Los Angeles County judge on Monday advanced LA's lawsuit against Monsanto over chemicals the city says have contaminated its water supply.

Monsanto filed a demurrer — essentially a series of objections to the city's complaint — arguing, among other things, that the city filed a public nuisance claim "for property located outside the city’s jurisdictional boundaries.”

Los Angeles, Monsanto attorney Jad Davis said at a hearing Monday, was "asserting nuisance on property they don’t own."

Matthew Pawa, the lawyer representing the city of LA, responded: "This is a common feature of suits against Monsanto. You have this issue, you do have a property interest in the stormwater, and that stormwater causes a nuisance both inside and outside the city."

LA County Superior Court Judge Kevin Brazile didn't take much time before rejecting Monsanto's arguments.

"It’s clear that part of the water problem is outside the city, part of it is inside the city," said Brazile. "When you mix water, I don’t know how you determine that. The argument seems proper to me."

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer applauded the ruling.

"We're pleased with the court’s ruling and look forward to holding Monsanto accountable for the role we allege it played in selling and distributing PCBs for decades,” Feuer said in a written statement. "The city has already spent considerable resources cleaning up PCBs and will continue to expend considerable resources in the future. We've alleged these costs should be borne by Monsanto rather than city taxpayers.”

A spokesman for Bayer, the German conglomerate that owns Monsanto, said in a statement: "Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago, and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into or near Los Angeles’ waters, and should not be responsible for the impairments alleged by the city.”

The city sued Monsanto in March over polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies as a "probable" human carcinogen, and which were banned in 1979 but have nonetheless lingered in a variety of older products like paints, sealants and electrical equipment. According to LA's complaint, and similar complaints filed by other California cities, rain causes those chemicals to seep into rivers, lakes and streams.

Though Monsanto stopped manufacturing PCBs in 1977, it had done so for nearly 50 years prior to that, under the name "Aroclor." According to city's suit, "Monsanto was responsible for the manufacture of 99% or more of all PCBs used or sold within the United States."

People who ingest PCBs, either by drinking or eating fish living in contaminated water, can experience a variety of short-term adverse health effects including headaches, nausea and rashes. PCBs can also cause birth defects, and evidence points to the chemical increasing the risk of certain types of cancer.

In March, weeks after LA filed its suit, a federal judge approved a $550 million class action settlement between Monsanto and a number of California cities, including Long Beach, San Diego and Oakland, over the PCB water contamination issue. That suit was filed nearly six years before LA's.

Judge Brazile also sent a tentative trial date for March 24, 2025, nearly two and a half years away.

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