Portland will get part of PCB settlement with Monsanto
The city of Portland will receive a still-to-be-determined portion of a $550 million settlement from Monsanto and other companies for discharging harmful PCB contaminants into the Portland Harbor.
The settlement with Portland and 11 other jurisdictions was announced Wednesday, June 24. It concludes a long-running class action lawsuit prepared by the private lawsuits of Gomez Trial Lawyers and Baron & Budd on behalf of more than 2,500 government jurisdictions.
All the suits claim Monsanto, the exclusive manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls from 1935 to 1979, knew the product was hazardous and hid the risks from the public.
"Monsanto was aware it was manufacturing harmful toxic chemicals and it continued to do so for many years," Mayor Ted Wheeler said in the announcement. "Today, we are holding Monsanto accountable for its reckless actions that caused harm to our community. The impacts to PCBs on our community are not quantifiable, but this settlement is one way to address decades worth of harm."
According to the announcement, Portland intends to focus settlement funds towards Black, Indigenous and communities of color that have been disproportionately burdened by both the contamination and the need for environmental cleanup. The city will continue to engage with community groups to inform this work.
PCBs were widely used in electrical and other industrial processes, and have been shown to be highly persistent in the environment and a likely cause of cancer in humans and animals. They have been found in Portland waterways, including the harbor Superfund site that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes was polluted by city sewers, among other sources.
"Although Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs were toxic and knew that they were widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms, Monsanto concealed these facts and continued producing PCBs until Congress enacted the Toxic Substances Control Act ("TSCA"), which banned the manufacture and most uses of PCBs as of January 1, 1979," said the suit, which sought unspecified compensatory damages, punitive damages, litigation costs and attorney's fees.
But Scott S. Partridge, Monsanto's vice president for global strategy, dismissed the suit as a money-making ploy by the two firms at the time.
"This self-serving claim was instigated by trial lawyers in search of a windfall who aggressively shopped their services to Portland government officials. By joining this speculative legal scrum, city officials have signed on to an open ended commitment of Portland taxpayer resources that will drag on for years and, in the end, may only serve to uncover the fact that the city itself is responsible for discharging the PCBs," Partridge said.
Partridge also specifically denied Monsanto polluted Portland's waterways with PCBs, saying, "There is no evidence that Monsanto discharged any PCBs into Portland harbors and any PCBs that may be present there were introduced by unidentified third parties. The contrived legal theory is grossly out of step with governing authorities, has been rejected by other courts around the country and should ultimately be rejected by the Portland court."
The other companies are Pharmacia LLC, and Solutia Inc.
Portland will know the exact portion of the $550 million settlement money it stands to receive after the proposed class action is approved by the Court. This process may take several months.
Readers can find a previous Portland Tribune story about the case here.
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