East St. Louis files suit against Monsanto, claiming pollution

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

East St. Louis is alleging the old Monsanto plant in Sauget polluted its town, and it’s seeking what could potentially be billions of dollars in fines.

The city is suing Monsanto Company, Solutia, Inc. and Pharmacia LLC in federal court, accusing the companies of polluting its land with chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that are toxic and dangerous to people and the environment.

Solutia and Pharmacia are successors to the original Monsanto organization. Solutia now operates Monsanto’s chemical products business, and Pharmacia operates its pharmaceuticals business.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2021 in St. Clair County Circuit Court but has moved to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. It is scheduled for jury trial next year.

East St. Louis is arguing the Monsanto plant violated its municipal littering and nuisance ordinances, which are punishable by a fine of up to $750 per day.

The Monsanto plant manufactured PCBs from 1936 to 1977, incinerated the chemicals there after 1977 and deposited PCB waste in toxic dumps in Sauget from the 1940s to the 1980s, according to the lawsuit.

This month, lawyers for Monsanto, Solutia and Pharmacia estimated in court documents that the cost of East St. Louis’ fines could be over $2.7 billion, which they argue is excessive.

They say in court documents that East St. Louis got the idea for the lawsuit from outside lawyers who offered to help sample city-owned properties to test for trace levels of PCBs.

“The City never, in the decades since the Ordinances’ enactment, interpreted the Ordinances to have this application, applied the Ordinances in this manner to similarly situated parties, or otherwise provided notice to Defendants that the Ordinances could or would be applied in this manner,” the companies stated in a court filing.

They are asking Judge David W. Dugan to allow them to file a counterclaim against the city for alleged government overreach and unconstitutional action. As of Wednesday, Dugan had not made a decision about the possible counterclaim.

East St. Louis says in court documents that it became aware of “highly elevated PCB levels” in the community in December 2020 when it received test results from soil samples.

The city’s lead attorney is C.J. Baricevic, who is also a St. Clair County Board member. He declined to answer questions from the Belleville News-Democrat about the PCB levels detected in East St. Louis.

Court documents include inconsistent numbers.

East St. Louis’ complaint from April 23, 2021, stated the highest concentration of PCBs found in the city was 75,300 parts per billion and the average was 3,416 parts per billion. The complaint compared those numbers to a 2007 study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which estimated the average concentration of PCBs in rural soils was about 3 parts per billion.

In a court filing from Jan. 27, the city stated the highest concentration found in East St. Louis was 22,686 parts per billion and the average was 1,431 parts per billion.

PCBs were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications, including in electrical, heat transfer and hydraulic equipment and paints, plastics and rubber products, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. They have been shown to cause cancer and other serious health effects in animals and are probable carcinogens for humans.

Their manufacture has been banned since the 1970s, but the chemicals linger in the environment.

East St. Louis accuses Monsanto of hiding what it knew about the toxic effects of PCBs.

“Despite its early knowledge of the dangers associated with PCBs, Monsanto embarked on a decades-long campaign of disinformation and deception in order to prolong the manufacture, incineration, and disposal of PCBs in East St. Louis and thereby preserve the considerable profits PCBs generated for the company,” the city states in its lawsuit.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office is also suing Monsanto and its successor companies, alleging pollution from the Sauget plant and deceit surrounding the dangers of PCBs in a separate federal lawsuit out of the Northern Illinois District Court.

In addition to damages and civil penalties, the Attorney General is asking a judge to make the companies pay for a public health monitoring program to detect and treat health conditions associated with exposure to PCBs and other hazardous substances that came from the Sauget plant.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Source link

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *