LOS ANGELES (CN) - Long Beach sued Monsanto for punitive damages Thursday, joining a long list of West Coast cities that accuse it of polluting water and beaches with carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs.
Long Beach says in the federal lawsuit that Monsanto has known for decades that PCBs are "widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms" including marine life, plants, animals, birds and humans.
"PCBs regularly leach, leak, off-gas, and escape their intended applications, causing runoff during naturally occurring storm and rain events, after being released into the environment. The runoff originates from multiple sources and industries and enters Long Beach Waters with stormwater and other runoff," the complaint states.
The Port of Long Beach, Colorado Lagoon and the Dominguez Watershed are among the areas polluted by Monsanto's PCBs, the city says. The city's complaint is similar to lawsuits against Monsanto filed by San Jose, San Diego, Seattle, Oakland, Berkeley, and Spokane.
"PCBs are found in the consumable tissue of fish and other wildlife. Monsanto's PCBs are one of the largest public nuisances on the planet," Long Beach's attorney John Fiske said in a statement.
"It's unfair that Long Beach taxpayers and cities are stuck cleaning up Monsanto's mess."
Best known for mass producing genetically modified seed and the herbicide Roundup, Monsanto used PCB compounds from 1935 to 1979 and marketed the chemical as Aroclor. The manmade compound had multiple uses and is found in paint, caulking, transformers, coolants, hydraulic fluids, sealants and other products. It is known to cause cancer in humans, kill fish and birds, and endanger wildlife.
Monsanto produced PCBs until 1979, when Congress approved the Toxic Substances Control Act, which banned most PCBs.
The city claims Monsanto knew PCBs are highly toxic but concealed it from government agencies for five decades and ignored the dangers to the public and the environment.
"While the scientific community and Monsanto knew that PCBs were toxic and becoming a global contaminant, Monsanto repeatedly misrepresented these facts, telling governmental entities the exact opposite — that the compounds were not toxic and that the company would not expect to find PCBs in the environment in a widespread manner," the complaint states.
Long Beach says it has "incurred substantial costs" cleaning up the chemicals. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages for public nuisance, and costs of suit.
Attorney Fiske is with Gomez Trial Attorneys, of San Diego. City Attorney Charles Parkin and Baron & Budd, of Dallas, also represent Long Beach.
In an emailed statement, Long Beach City Attorney Charles Parkin said that Monsanto "should shoulder the burden of cleaning up the environment, not the taxpayers of Long Beach and the state."
He added, "Long Beach is standing up for clean water and holding Monsanto responsible for producing and distributing products it knew would become a significant risk to the environment."
But Monsanto vice president of global strategy Scott Partridge said Long Beach should look elsewhere to place the blame for PCBs being in the water.
"This lawsuit was instigated by trial lawyers who have been aggressively shopping their services to local government officials," Partridge said. "The speculative legal theories being advanced have no basis in the law, and should ultimately be rejected by the courts in California.
"The facts are clear: There's no evidence that Monsanto discharged a single PCB molecule into the waters of Long Beach, as Monsanto never had a PCB manufacturing facility in Long Beach or anywhere else in California. Any PCBs that may exist were introduced by unidentified third parties or by the city itself."
He added, "Monsanto takes seriously its own environmental responsibilities. But in this case, there is no valid claim against Monsanto. If the city wants to deal with these PCBs, it should seek out those who allowed PCBs into the Long Beach water."
Also named as defendants are Solutia, of St. Louis, and Pharmacia, of New Jersey, a successor to the original Monsanto and now a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer.
Germany-based Bayer AG made an unsolicited $20 billion offer for Monsanto on Wednesday, the St. Louis-based company said. The combined $42 billion company would be the largest agrichemical company in the world. Monsanto said the offer is under review.
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