PCBs “No More Toxic Than Table Salt,” Ex-Monsanto Official Testifies

Plaintiffs in a Seattle school district have been battling the Monsanto Corporation in court over the alleged harm caused by exposure to PCBs, a class of chemicals that was banned in 1977 due to associations with health risks to humans and wildlife, as well as its allegedly deleterious effects on the environment. PCBs were added to products such as fluorescent ceiling lights because of their fire-retardant properties.

This latest PCB lawsuit pits a former maintenance worker, two former students of Sky Valley Education Center, and a younger sibling of one of the students against Monsanto, which was the only company that manufactured PCBs in the USA for over 40 years. The attorney for the plaintiffs said both students, who attended the school beginning in 2011, should receive at least $12 million in damages because of their exposure to PCBs in light fixtures.

That exposure, the lawsuit alleges, has caused the children to develop depression, anxiety and other health issues. The sibling of one of the students frequently attended the school and began experiencing headaches, anxiety and severe depression after being exposed to the light fixtures.

In closing arguments on May 25, an attorney representing the four plaintiffs told a jury that former Monsanto official, Robert Kaley II, said that PCB compounds are “no more toxic than table salt on an acute basis,” Law360.com reported.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, who represents approximately 160 plaintiffs with similar PCB injury claims, countered Kaley’s statement by noting that numerous internal documents presented at trial have shown that Monsanto knew about the compounds’ dangers as early as the 1960s.

The school’s maintenance worker began working for the school in 2015 when he was in his 40s. The lawsuit alleges that part of his work responsibilities included the cleanup of materials that contained PCBs, thus exposing him to the toxic chemicals. During the trial, the attorney claimed that over time, the maintenance worker’s personality changed. He became more depressed and experienced fits of rage.

The plaintiffs’ legal representation showed the jury journal articles from the 1930s that discussed injury to the skin caused by PCB exposure. Beginning in the 1940s, Monsanto adopted safety measures for employees who worked with equipment made with PCBs, the lawyer said, adding that a 1956 Monsanto memo revealed, “inhalation of [PCB] vapors is usually followed by systemic poisoning.”

Several municipalities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles have also recently sued Monsanto Corporation over cleanup costs associated with PCBs.

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