A jury recently awarded millions to four plaintiffs in Monroe, Washington. They sued agrochemical giant Monsanto and others over harm caused by exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Nearly 40 families sued in 2018 after PCBs were found in local classrooms.
School Contamination Leads to Lawsuits
Several families began lawsuits in 2018, naming Monsanto, the state of Washington, and Monroe School District. At issue was the presence of environmental toxins, known as PCBs, in classrooms at the Sky Valley Education Center.
The families and their attorneys cited documented contamination from 2016 onward, although they also reported that the chemicals were likely present earlier.
The government banned PCBs in the 1970s, but they persist in many materials. Monsanto was the only company that made PCBs. The families claimed that Monsanto knew of the risks of PCBs but promoted them anyway.
They also claimed the state and the school district were negligent because they knew of the PCBs and their risks but failed to act. PCBs were found in materials like caulking and light ballasts. They deteriorated over time, releasing PCBs into the air of the classrooms.
PCBs and Health Concerns
The families suing listed numerous health complaints from exposure to PCBs: breathing difficulties, skin rashes, nausea, sore throat, autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, endocrine disorders, liver damage, and even developmental delays in children.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that PCBs can cause several health problems, including an increased risk of cancer. They also affect the immune system, nervous system, and reproductive system.
Recent Wins for Victims
Three years after filing, four plaintiffs received significant jury awards. These victims suffered significant brain injuries attributed to PCB exposure. Three victims received damages in the amounts of $18 million, $17 million, and $15 million. The jury also awarded each $45 million in punitive damages.
A fourth plaintiff received $150,000 for loss of consortium due to the disrupted relationship with a partner harmed by the PCBs. Another case begins soon and will address the harm caused to several children who attended the school. Monsanto and the other defendants may see another 20 or even more cases due to the exposures over the next few years.
German company Bayer now owns Monsanto and responded to the recent verdicts. The company says it disagrees with the verdict and will continue to fight against the charges, including mounting appeals in court. The company claims that the levels of PCBs in the school were too low to have caused the damage described by the plaintiffs. How these four cases will end remains to be seen, but it could affect all the ongoing and future lawsuits.
Chemical exposure can cause serious harm to human health. Often these substances linger in materials in buildings and outdoors, impacting health for decades to come. If you or your family suffered from exposure to toxins, contact a lawyer to find out what you can do about it.