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Monsanto hit by PCB verdict

A jury has ordered Bayer subsidiary Monsanto to pay $73 million in compensatory damages and $784 million in punitive damages to seven former students and two parent volunteers at Sky Valley Education Centre in Monroe, Washington State, for health damage caused by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) it supplied.

The PCBs were used in fire safety fluid that leaked from light fixtures at the school seven to 18 years ago, causing the plaintiffs neurological, endocrine system and other concerns, the suit alleged. The jury found that the materials were not safe and did not contain adequate warnings.

Monsanto described the amount awarded as “constitutionally excessive” and will move to have the verdict overturned or reduced. The Supreme Court has said that punitive damages should generally be capped at nine times compensatory damages but this is 11 times more.

The company had ceased producing the materials in question in 1977, which was two years before the EPA banned the manufacture of PCBs, due to their carcinogenicity. It also claimed that the school district had been advised repeatedly that the lighting systems needed to be replaced and that the evidence, including blood, air and other tests, demonstrates that plaintiffs were not exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs, which could not have caused their alleged injuries.

In 2020, Monsanto paid Washington State $95 million for damages from PCBs caused to its natural resources. Other settlements have subsequently been reached with Oregon, for nearly $700 million, as well as Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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