Jury finds Monsanto guilty in PCB contamination case
GADSDEN, Alabama (CNN) -- Chemical giant Monsanto was found liable for contaminating an Alabama town with the toxic chemical PCB, a jury decided Friday.
The verdict came in a complicated lawsuit against Monsanto and its chemical-manufacturing spinoff, Solutia Inc. Monsanto is a subsidiary of Pharmacia Corp.
Some 3,500 Anniston, Alabama, residents and business owners originally sued the companies, claiming Monsanto knowingly contaminated their community for decades with PCBs, chemicals used as an insulating fluid in electrical capacitors and transformers.
In this first part of the trial, 16 plaintiffs brought charges ranging from negligence to creating a nuisance, according to plaintiffs' attorney Donald Stewart. Friday's verdict establishes the company's liability in those cases, and lays the groundwork for punitive damages.
The next phase of the trial aims at establishing causation and damages for the rest of the plaintiffs.
"We won on all counts," Stewart said. "We're gratified about the decision and look forward to presenting the remaining cases."
Monsanto, which spun off its chemical business -- including the Anniston plant-- in 1997, has been trying to distance itself from the case, pointing out that Solutia now owns the plant.
Monsanto attorneys had argued the company acted responsibly by closing the Anniston plant in 1971 -- six years before PCB production was banned by the government. The attorneys said the company wasn't aware the chemicals were being released or that they could be dangerous to the general public.
In Anniston, entire neighborhoods have been torn down and fenced off because of PCB pollution, and many residents have high levels of PCBs in their blood.
PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyls -- widely used in electrical equipment and other products, were banned in the United States after studies showed they could cause liver damage and other health problems. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency consider PCBs a probable carcinogen.
Solutia contends that studies show no long-term human health risks from exposure to the chemical.
Monsanto made PCBs in Anniston for about 40 years. The St. Louis-based food and biotechnology company spun off its chemical business in 1997, forming Solutia.
According to The Associated Press, allegations of PCB contamination in Anniston have dogged the companies for years. A federal trial over PCB contamination in Anniston ended in a $40 million settlement last year, and Solutia, in another case,
agreed to pay $43.7 million to as many as 5,000 property owners along Choccolocco Creek and Lake Logan Martin, where PCBs were found.
In a series of cases that have yet to be set for trial, a Montgomery law firm says it has about 13,000 clients suing over PCB contamination in Anniston. And apart from the lawsuits, the company said it has spent $40 million cleaning up contamination around
The trial was held in Gadsden, about 20 miles from the plant, because of pretrial publicity in Anniston.
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