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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Federal judge denies Monsanto’s request to dismiss Spokane River PCB lawsuit

The entrance to the Monsanto Company headquarters in St. Louis, is shown in this Tuesday, June 28, 2005 file photo. (JAMES A. FINLEY / AP)
From staff reports

Spokane’s lawsuit against Monsanto regarding pollution in the Spokane River can go forward, a federal judge ruled.

The city sued international agrochemical giant Monsanto Co. in 2015, alleging the company knew for decades that chemicals it made and sold were harmful to humans, animals and the environment. Spokane, and a handful of other cities, want Monsanto to help pay to clean up contamination caused by the polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) it manufactured.

Monsanto asked a judge to dismiss that lawsuit based on eight claims, including that too much time had passed for the city to file the lawsuit.

In a ruling filed in Spokane on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza denied all but one of those claims, clearing the way for the lawsuit to move ahead.

Rick Eichstaedt, executive director of the Center for Justice and its Spokane Riverkeeper program, praised Mendoza’s decision. He pointed to the city’s extensive investment in stormwater tanks and other measures to restrict runoff into the Spokane River and said the lawsuit fit with those efforts.

“We’re spending millions of dollars to try to get clean-up on this river,” Eichstaedt said. “Meanwhile, Monsanto made millions of dollars off selling this stuff, when they knew there was an impact.”

Monsanto said Mendoza’s ruling ignores the dismissal of cases similar to Spokane’s filed by other cities.

“We disagree with the majority of the court’s opinion, which is in conflict with prior decisions in Washington state and California on these very issues. We intend to vigorously defend the case,” said Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy at Monsanto.

Cases brought by the California cities of San Diego, Oakland and Berkeley were tossed by a federal judge in September. The city of Seattle has also sued Monsanto alleging the company’s products were responsible for pollution in the Duwamish River. That case is scheduled to go to trial in April 2018.

Monsanto was the sole producer of PCBs between 1935 and 1979, when the U.S. banned the manufacture of the compounds because of their link to cancer and other health problems. The chemical was used in a wide variety of industrial, commercial and household products.

The city alleges those PCBs leached from their original uses into wastewater and stormwater systems and ended up contaminating water and fish in the Spokane River. Elevated levels of PCBs violate both state and tribal water quality standards.

“Publications and internal communications in the 1960s and 1970s demonstrate Monsanto’s awareness that PCBs were widely contaminating the environment around the world,” Mendoza’s order said.