Oakland sues Monsanto over PCB runoff

The city of Oakland is suing the Monsanto Company for financial assistance in mitigating the amount of dangerous pollutants present in storm drain runoff to San Francisco Bay.

The suit filed today in U.S District Court in San Francisco seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the continuing presence in Oakland runoff of polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, synthetic organic chemicals produced by Monsanto and widely used until they were banned in 1979.

Among other things, the chemicals were sued in power transformers, electrical equipment, paints, caulks and other building materials, according to the city attorney’s office. San Francisco Bay is already polluted with the chemicals, and the amount of PCBs allowed to be present in runoff is regulated by the state.

Because of that, Oakland has already financed mitigating PCB runoff from the city, and stricter state regulations enacted this year will only make that expense steeper, according to the city. The costs for Alameda County could reach $1 billion.

“The company that is responsible for this vast contamination should bear the burden of cleaning up our environment, not the taxpayers of Oakland and California,” City Attorney Barbara Parker said in a statement.

The city alleges that Monsanto knew about the products’ adverse effects to human health for decades but hid its findings before the Environmental Protection Agency banned PCBs in 1979. The company found the chemicals were a “global contaminant” and present in the air and oceans as of the late 1960s.

The adverse health effects have only become more clear since the ban, as the EPA found in 1996 that PCBs are likely a carcinogen in humans.

They can also have adverse effects on human immune, reproductive, endocrine and nervous systems, according to the compliant.

Several cities have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, including San Jose in July.