Jury rules Monsanto polluted town

GADSDEN, Ala. – A jury March 1 determined that Monsanto Co. polluted an Alabama town with PCBs, setting the stage for more trials on claims that the contamination harmed the residents’ property and health.

Monsanto, its spinoff Solutia Inc., and Pharmacia Corp., which merged with Monsanto in 2000, were found liable for the claims, including negligence.

Jurors did not say how much money the plaintiffs should receive. Circuit Judge Joel Laird said it likely would be a month or more before that amount is set.

Some 3,500 Anniston residents and business owners originally sued the companies, claiming Monsanto knowingly contaminated their community for decades with PCBs, chemicals used as an insulating fluid in electrical capacitors and transformers.

In the case decided Friday, 16 residents and one business claimed the contamination from a Monsanto plant had damaged their property and caused emotional distress.

“They did everything they could ... to cover up the PCB problem and avoid cleaning up the mess,” said attorney Donald Stewart. “No one could find out the extent or nature of the contamination and what it had done to this community.”

Monsanto made PCBs in Anniston for about 40 years. The St. Louis-based food and biotechnology company spun off its chemical business in 1997, forming Solutia.

Allegations of PCB contamination in Anniston have dogged the companies for years.

A federal trial over PCB contamination in Anniston ended in a $40 million settlement last year, and Solutia, in another case, agreed to pay $43.7 million to as many as 5,000 property owners along Choccolocco Creek and Lake Logan Martin, where PCBs were found.

In a series of cases that have yet to be set for trial, a Montgomery law firm says it has about 13,000 clients suing over PCB contamination in Anniston.