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Local agency is the 10th public entity in the West to sue the company for PCB contamination. Monsanto says the lawsuit 'lacks merit and conflicts with the ongoing Portland Harbor case.'

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The Port of Portland is suing Monsanto Co. for PCB contamination in the Willamette River's Portland Harbor Superfund site. It could cost an estimated $1.4 billion to clean up the harbor.The Port of Portland is suing Monsanto Co. and companies Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia LLC for PCB contamination of the Willamette River, the Columbia River and McBride Slough.

Attorneys representing the port filed the 29-page lawsuit Wednesday, Jan. 4, in U.S. District Court. It's the 10th public entity in the West to sue the company for PCB contamination. Between March 2015 and January 2016, similar lawsuits have been filed by the San Diego Unified Port District and the cities of San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Spokane and Seattle.

The port is asking the court for unspecified damages. It could cost an estimated $1.4 billion to clean up the contamination in the Portland Harbor, a federal Superfund site along the Willamette River between the Fremont Bridge and into North Portland.

Monsanto official Scott S. Partridge, the company's vice president for global strategy, said the port's lawsuit "lacks merit and conflicts with the ongoing Portland Harbor case."

"The port's case targets a product manufacturer for selling four to eight decades ago a lawful and useful chemical that was used by the U.S. government, the state of Oregon and local cities, and incorporated by industries into many products to make them safer," Partridge said in a statement. "PCBs have not been produced in the U.S. for four decades, and the port is now pursuing an experimental case on grounds never recognized in Oregon history and which threatens to delay and derail years of Portland Harbor Superfund allocation proceedings involving the responsible parties who actually discharged PCBs. Most of the prior cases filed by the same out-of-state contingency fee lawyers have been dismissed, and Monsanto believes this port case similarly lacks merit and conflicts with the ongoing Portland Harbor case."

In March 2016, a Monsanto spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that the previous lawsuits focused on a product that was legal at the time it was manufactured and sold. Monsanto had no control over how the product was used or discharged, according to the spokeswoman.

'Hold them accountable'

Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs for more than 40 years (1935-79). PCBs were banned by the federal government in 1979. They are associated with extensive human health impacts, including cancer and damage to immune, reproductive and endocrine systems.

PCBs were used in industrial and commercial businesses and are found in paint and caulk, in electric transformers and capacitors, in wire and cable coatings, and in coolants, sealants and lubricants.

Port attorneys claim to have evidence that Monsanto became aware of how toxic and dangerous PCBs were during the time they manufactured their PCB containing products, and that they concealed that information.

"Any decision to conceal facts about human health should have consequences," said Curtis Robinhold, Port of Portland deputy executive director. "Monsanto reaped huge profits from the manufacture and sale of PCBs, and it is entirely appropriate for those faced with the cost of cleaning up this contamination to hold them accountable."

"It's time Monsanto do the right thing and contribute to the clean-up of their own toxic chemicals," said John Fiske, an attorney hired to help with the case.

PCBs are the primary contaminant driving cleanup in the Lower Willamette River and the Portland Harbor Superfund site. The Port has invested millions of dollars studying the legacy contamination in and along the Willamette River and Portland Harbor. However, the impact of PCB contamination is broader than the Superfund site, including McBride Slough at Portland International Airport.

According to the lawsuit, PCBs have been found in sediments, water and fish in the Columbia River, the McBride Slough and the Willamette River.

"The contamination has persisted in Portland waters originating from multiple sources and industries and entering Portland waters through stormwater, other runoff and from historic industrial in-water or near-water activities," according to the lawsuit.

The port has spent money to investigate, monitor, analyze and remediate PCB contamination in Portland Harbor sediments and soils, attorneys wrote in the complaint. The port is expected to spend "significant sums in the future" for more investigation and mitigation of the PCB contamination.

The port is represented by the national law firm of Baron & Budd, P.C. and Gomez Trial Attorneys, which also represent the cities of Portland, Seattle, Spokane, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Long Beach, San Diego and the state of Washington.

See related story: Judge sides with City Council on Superfund spending

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