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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
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Public Schools Call Pharmacia ‘Wanton’

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) - A city school system says Pharmacia Corp. should pay for removal of all fluorescent light fixtures because they have toxic PCB's.

Tuscumbia City School System sued Pharmacia in a federal class action.

"On December 29, 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that every school system in the United States remove the ballasts from every fluorescent light fixture in every school built before 1979 because of the presence of the toxic chemical Polychlorinated Biphenyls ('PCBs')," the complaint states. "Monsanto, now known as Pharmacia, manufactured the PCBs in all those ballasts. Monsanto intentionally marketed PCBs for use in fluorescent light fixtures while knowing that PCBs were toxic, that failing ballasts would release PCBs into classrooms, and that PCBs could cause systemic toxic injuries. Because Monsanto was negligent, reckless and wanton, it should bear the burden of replacing the ballasts."

Monsanto merged with Pharmacia in 2000. Pharmacia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer. "Accordingly, Pharmacia is the former Monsanto Company. As used herein, Pharmacia is referred to as 'Monsanto,'" the complaint states.

Fluorescent light ballasts regulate the flow of electricity in the lamps.

"Essentially all ballasts manufactured for fluorescent light fixtures before 1979 contain liquid PCBs," according to the complaint. "It has been at all relevant times generally known that ballasts leak and fail, that in normal operations ballasts get hot, and that often they overheat when they fail. At all relevant times, Monsanto knew that ballasts manufactured before 1979 contained liquid PCBs and knew that ballasts leak and fail. Monsanto also knew ballasts often overheat when they fail. Monsanto knew that failing ballasts would release PCBs into classrooms.

"PCBs can enter the body in numerous ways. One way that PCBs enter the body is through skin contact, which is hazardous. PCBs also can vaporize, particularly when heated, permitting them to be breathed. Breathing PCBs is hazardous. PCBs that get on children's hands are likely to be transferred from their hands to their mouths, and ingestion of PCBs is hazardous.

"PCBs are a man-made organic chemical. They do not exist in nature. The PCB problem is caused purely by man, and in this country purely by Monsanto.

"Monsanto was the sole U.S. manufacturer of PCBs. There were essentially no imported PCBs. Monsanto was therefore the sole manufacturer of the PCBs contained in the fluorescent light fixtures at issue in this case.

"Monsanto manufactured PCBs in the United States from 1929 until 1979 at which time the United States Congress banned their further manufacture. Every nation in the world has outlawed the manufacturing of PCBs.

"The Toxic Substances Control Act specifically outlaws the manufacture of PCBs. PCBs are the only toxic substance whose manufacture is specifically outlawed by this act."

Citing an EPA publication, "Basic Information on PCBs," the Tuscumbia schools add: "'PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system.'

"In children, exposure to PCBs has been shown to adversely affect the endocrine and cognitive systems. In particular, children exposed to PCBs have been shown to exhibit reduced IQs and changed behaviors.


"Monsanto not only was aware at the time it sold PCBs that PCBs were being used in fluorescent light fixtures, but also actively and intentionally marketed and sold its PCBs for use in fluorescent light fixtures. For example, at least as early as 1944 Monsanto's PCB 'Salesmen's Manual' encouraged the sale and use of PCBs in fluorescent light fixtures. At all times relevant it was generally known that many of these fluorescent light fixtures were being installed in schools. And, of course, it was generally known that teachers, staff and particularly children would be present in those schools.

"Monsanto knew at the time it marketed PCBs for use in florescent light fixtures that PCBs were toxic and that physical contact, ingestion or inhalation of PCBs could cause systemic toxic injuries. This knowledge is shown by many documents from Monsanto's own files. For example, a copy of a 1937 article in the Journal of Industrial Hygiene and Toxicology summarized the conclusions at the Harvard Medical School. This document, found in Monsanto's files, states: 'These experiments leave no doubt as to the possibility of systemic effects from [PCBs].' In the same year as this Harvard article, 1937, Monsanto recorded in its own memo: 'Experimental work in animals shows that prolonged exposure to [PCB] vapors evolved at high temperatures or by repeated oral ingestion will lead to systemic toxic effects.'" (Brackets in complaint; previous citation omitted.)

The school says Monsanto conducted experiments on animals, which showed that exposure to PCBs could cause liver damage and hormonal changes.

It claims Monsanto continued to sell its PCB-laden ballasts, despite evidence that PCBs are animal carcinogens, are likely to cause cancer in humans, and have other toxic effects on the human reproductive, immune, neurological and endocrine systems.

"Monsanto also knew that PCBs were highly stable chemicals and that once released in a classroom they would remain a hazard for many years. With all this knowledge, Monsanto chose to sell PCBs for use in fluorescent light fixtures anyway," the complaint states.

The school claims that when scientists became concerned with the effects of PCBs on humans, Monsanto tried to cover up the facts. It says Monsanto lied to the public and media and withheld information about PCBs from the government.

The complaint states: "Monsanto falsely wrote to individuals in 1971 that PCBs were not 'used in insecticides' even though they were used as an 'extender.' Monsanto intentionally withheld information about PCBs from the government. In August of 1971, a Mr. Anderson from the U.S. Attorney Generals office called Monsanto pretending to be a potential buyer of PCBs and asked questions about PCBs. Monsanto recognized the call as suspicious and did not answer his questions. Monsanto then recorded in a memo, 'I shudder to think how easily it would have been for someone to receive this call and start spilling the beans as to whom we have been selling [PCBs].'

"In 1972 Monsanto documented that it had directed its employees to 'insure that no statements are transmitted to the EPA which might prove incriminating.' In another memo the same year it wrote that there was to be 'No discussion [of PCBs] with federal authorities.'

"Three different PCB studies commissioned by Monsanto in July of 1975 found that PCBs caused tumors. Again Monsanto covered up the information. It did this on this occasion by asking the laboratory doing the studies to delete the reference to PCBs causing tumors from the reports ('may we request the report be amended'), which it did three times. The same year it commended one of its employees for his 'outstanding role' in preventing the FDA from publicly stating one of its chemicals was a suspected carcinogen.

"When it finally stopped selling PCBs in 1979, Monsanto ordered that its warehouses and other locations worldwide take any remaining stocks of PCBs to landfills and assure that they are 'buried in drums not identified with Monsanto.'" (Brackets and parentheses in complaint.)

The Tuscumbia City School System says removing, replacing and disposing of PCBs is expensive.

It seeks class certification, compensatory and punitive damages for negligence, and wants Pharmacia to pay for the removal and replacement of all the ballasts.

It is represented by D. Frank Davis with Davis & Norris.

Seventeen pages of EPA publications are attached as exhibits to the 18-page complaint.

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