Vermont School Districts Sue Monsanto Over PCB Contamination in Educational Buildings

Picture Source: AP

Dozens of school districts in Vermont have filed a lawsuit against chemical giant Monsanto over toxic contamination in educational buildings caused by polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), now-banned industrial chemicals. Last year, Vermont became the first state to mandate older schools to test their indoor air for PCBs. Over 90 school districts are seeking to recover costs and damages as the law requires schools with high contamination levels to reduce exposure. The removal of PCBs is expected to be expensive, with some districts potentially needing to demolish and replace buildings, resulting in significant financial implications.

The PCB contamination in the school buildings originated from caulking and glazing compounds, sealants, adhesives, and other construction materials. In response to the lawsuit, Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, has stated that the case has no merit and that third-party companies, not Monsanto, produced the PCB-laden materials likely used in the schools. The company is seeking an emergency hearing, preservation of evidence, and participation in environmental testing and PCB-source identification. Monsanto argues that it has not manufactured these products for over 45 years.

PCBs were used in building materials and electrical equipment, including transformers and fluorescent lighting ballasts, until they were banned in 1979 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to health concerns. A 2019 Associated Press investigation revealed that millions of fluorescent light ballasts containing PCBs are likely still present in schools and day care centers across the country. Exposure to PCBs can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact and has been linked to various health issues.

PCB contamination led to the relocation of an entire high school in Vermont, which now operates in a former department store. In Washington state, three teachers were awarded $185 million in a lawsuit against Monsanto over exposure to PCBs in fluorescent lights at their school, claiming they suffered brain damage.

The Vermont attorney general also recently sued Monsanto over PCB contamination in the state’s schools and natural resources, alleging that the chemicals have accumulated to dangerous levels in sediment, wildlife, and fish. Monsanto maintains that the lawsuit has no merit, echoing the same reasons given in response to the school districts’ case.

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