MANHATTAN (CN) – Monsanto cannot toss claims that it caused it damaged a woman’s nervous system by practicing “open pit burning” of a chemical used in “Agent Orange,” a federal judge ruled.
Lead plaintiff Mary B. Spaulding, who lived near Monsanto’s manufacturing plant in Nitro, W. Va., says she developed “peripheral neuropathy” from exposure to dioxin, one of the key ingredients in the most notorious herbicide of the Vietnam War.
The United States dumped tens of millions of gallons of Agent Orange on Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, killing or maiming an estimated 400,000 people, according to Vietnamese estimates.
In court papers, Monsanto credits it mainly with saving U.S. soldiers’ lives by thinning out dense jungle foliage.
According to a recent order, the U.S. government had a contract forcing Monsanto to use its W. Va. Plant exclusively for chemicals to be used in Agent Orange between March 24, 1967 and March 25, 1968.
During this time, Monsanto needed the government’s permission to produce chemicals for other customers, and had to redesign its manufacturing process to meet the Pentagon’s growing demand.
In January, Monsanto sought to toss the suit in part by saying that the U.S. government oversaw their disposal practices, purportedly absolving them of liability as a government contractor.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe rejected that argument.
“Here, there is no evidence that the U.S. Government was ever aware of the alleged open pit burning practice, much less that it had evaluated the hazard posed by such a practice,” Gardephe wrote.
Sandy Spaulding is a co-plaintiff in the suit; Pharmacia Corporation, Flexsys America Co., Flexsys America L.P. and Solutia, Inc. are also defendants.