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.