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US jury orders Monsanto to pay $857m over chemicals in school

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A United States jury has mandated chemical corporation Monsanto, now under the ownership of pharmaceutical giant Bayer, to disburse $857 million in response to claims made by seven individuals at a Washington state school.

The complainants allege illness stemming from chemicals emanating from light fixtures, specifically polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which the jury holds Monsanto accountable for selling. This verdict compounds existing legal challenges for Monsanto, particularly in light of losses related to its glyphosate-based weedkiller Roundup.

The jury’s decision includes a compensation award of $73 million and punitive damages amounting to $784 million. Attorney Felix Luna, representing the plaintiffs, contended that Monsanto engaged in a protracted effort to conceal the detrimental effects of PCBs, underscoring their enduring nature and neurotoxic properties. Luna argued that Monsanto failed to warn of the lasting impact of PCBs in the body and their potential to cause systemic poisoning.

Each of the seven plaintiffs was awarded varying amounts in compensation, with an additional $112 million granted in punitive damages to each individual. A spokesperson for Monsanto has announced the company’s intention to challenge the ruling through posttrial motions and appeals.

The statement asserted disagreement with the verdict, citing objective evidence, including blood, air, and other tests, indicating that the plaintiffs were not exposed to hazardous levels of PCBs and that PCBs could not have caused their reported injuries.

PCBs, which were once employed as coolants and lubricants, are associated with respiratory irritation and a potential link to certain cancers. Monsanto claims to have ceased the use of PCBs in 1977, two years prior to a federal ban on their production due to environmental concerns.

The company contends that the school district overseeing fixtures at the implicated educational institution had been alerted over several decades to the need for updates to comply with federal and state regulations.

A 2016 report by U.S. Senator Edward Markey highlighted the prevalence of PCBs in the nation’s schools, potentially exposing as many as 14 million students. Bayer, the German conglomerate responsible for Aspirin, acquired Monsanto in 2018 in a $63-billion deal that has since been mired in legal challenges.

Apart from inheriting Monsanto’s legal issues related to Roundup, Bayer faces a barrage of lawsuits in the U.S. alleging a cancer link, a claim the company vehemently disputes. Of the 160,000 cases against Bayer concerning the weedkiller, 113,000 have been settled or dismissed, with the company allocating $16 billion to address the associated legal risks.

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