PCBs & Chemical Safety: Chemical Safety Bill Could Help Protect Monsanto Against Legal Claims

Yesterday a jury in St. Louis, MO awarded $17.5 million in damages to three plaintiffs and assessed $29 million more in punitive damages against Monsanto and three other companies in a suit here alleging negligence in the production of PCBs.

Despite this verdict on behalf of injured plaintiffs, chemical safety in America is on precarious ground. A new version of the Toxic Substances Control Act has passed both the House and Senate. While the new bill would be, by most measures,  a major improvement over the 40 year old existing TSCA, there is one glaring exception. PCBs. Polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs are used to make everything from fluorescent lighting, to plastics, caulking and oil-based paints. Until it stopped production in 1977, Monsanto was the source of 99% of the polychlorinated biphenyls  used by U.S. industry.

PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer, as well as a variety of other adverse health effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, and endocrine system. These problems may not affect Monsanto however. The New York Times notes:

Facing hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, the giant biotechnology company Monsanto last year received a legislative gift from the House of Representatives, a one-paragraph addition to a sweeping chemical safety bill that could help shield it from legal liability for a toxic chemical only it made.

Monsanto insists it did not ask for the addition. House aides deny it is a gift at all. But the provision would benefit the only manufacturer in the United States of now-banned polychlorinated biphenyls, chemicals known as PCBs, a mainstay of Monsanto sales for decades. The PCB provision is one of several sticking points that negotiators must finesse before Congress can pass a law to revamp the way thousands of chemicals are regulated in the United States.

Source: Chemical Safety Bill Could Help Protect Monsanto Against Legal Claims – The New York Times

J&J Must Pay $72 Million Over Talc Tied to Woman’s Cancer

From Bloomberg Business News:

Johnson & Johnson must pay $72 million to the family of a woman who blamed her fatal ovarian cancer on the company’s talcum powder in the first state-court case over the claims to go to trial.

Jurors in St. Louis on Monday concluded J&J should pay $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in a punishment award to the family of Jackie Fox, who died of ovarian cancer last year after using

Johnson’s baby powder and another talc-based product for years.
It’s the first time a jury has ordered J&J, the world’s largest maker of health-care products, to pay damages over claims that it knew decades ago that its talc-based products could cause cancer and failed to warn consumers.

The case is Fox v. Johnson & Johnson, Cause No. 1422-CC09012-01, Division 10, Missouri Circuit Court, 22nd Judicial District (St. Louis).

via J&J Must Pay $72 Million Over Talc Tied to Woman’s Cancer – Bloomberg Business.

Chicago Residents Sue Over Alleged Lead Risk From Water-Main Work

The Wall Street Journal reports three residents filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago on Thursday, alleging that water main replacement projects over the past several years have exposed people across the city to higher levels of lead in drinking water.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges that Chicago “has known for years that the work it is undertaking to replace water mains and meters is causing elevated and unsafe lead levels in the water traveling through lead service pipes that pour directly into residents’ homes.”

The lawsuit alleges that the city’s replacement of water mains has increased lead contamination, because the process typically only partially replaced lead service lines, which run between the mains and residences. Studies have shown that replacing part of a lead line can cause the metal to leach into water systems. This can come from disturbing the coating inside old pipes or through chemical reactions from the addition of other metals, like copper, in new sections of pipe.

Chicago has more lead service lines than any other U.S. city, with roughly 80% of properties in the city receiving water via lead pipes, according to the lawsuit. It also says that since Jan. 1, 2009, the city has undertaken more than 1,600 water main and sewer replacement projects.

The Chicago plaintiffs are seeking to recover the costs of testing to detect lead poisoning in them and their children. They also want the city to fully replace their service lines.

Source: Chicago Residents Sue Over Alleged Lead Risk From Water-Main Work – WSJ

Chicago’s Lead Water Risk

flint-waterWhile the lead contamination in Flint has captured the nation, it has also raised questions about the safety of drinking water in other cities across the United States. Here in Chicago, the Chicago Tribune reports, 80% of properties in Chicago are hooked up to water service lines made of lead. Any home built before 1986 (the year lead pipes were banned) could have lead water service pipes. The Trib reports:

In a peer-reviewed study, researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found alarming levels of the brain-damaging metal can flow out of household faucets for years after construction work disrupts service lines that connect buildings to the city’s water system.

The study also found the city’s testing protocols — based on federal rules — are likely to miss high concentrations of lead in drinking water.

Yet when city officials notify homeowners about new water mains being installed, the letters do not mention potential lead hazards. Residents are advised merely to flush all faucets and hose taps for several minutes after the work is completed to remove any “particulates,” a solution EPA scientists and independent experts say is grossly inadequate.

While city officials claim the water is safe to drink and that Chicago complies with the 1991 Lead and Copper rule, accurate and comprehensive testing in the city is lacking.

[T]he federal rule requires only 50 homes be tested every three years in Chicago, a city of 2.7 million people with more lead service lines than any other U.S. municipality.

Moreover, the rules require utilities to check only the first liter of water drawn in the morning. The EPA study found that although the first liter often is lead-free, high levels of the toxic metal can flow through taps for several minutes afterward, depending in part on the length of the service line between the home and street.

Studies have shown that exposure to even small amounts of lead can permanently damage the developing brains of children, lowering IQ and increasing the risk of learning disabilities, aggression and criminal behavior later in life.

While Chicago water may be safe to drink, for now, the EPA warns that the only way to ensure safety is the total and complete removal of all lead service lines. A project like that would be a tremendous undertaking for a city already crippled by debt and budget issues.