Monsanto was ordered to pay $857 million for toxic PCB exposure

Monsanto was ordered Monday to pay $857 million to a group of seven former students and parent volunteers at a Washington state school who claimed the company’s chemicals made them sick.

The verdict, which was reported by Bloomberg, AFP, Reuters and other news outlets, comes as Monsanto faces thousands of lawsuits over its weed-killing chemical Roundup. Last month the company was ordered to pay $332 million to a man who said Roundup caused his cancer.

In the latest case, the former students and parent volunteers claimed that exposure to Monsanto’s polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, from fluorescent lights caused a wide range of health problems, including brain damage and autoimmune disorders. PCBs, which were banned from production in 1979 due to their toxicity, were often used in caulking, light fixtures and other parts of buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s, according to Massachusetts’ Bureau of Climate and Environmental Health.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs, Henry Jones, told CBS News: “Nobody who heard this evidence would ever trade places with any of these people in exchange for all the money the jury awarded.”

The jury ordered the company to pay a total of $73 million in compensatory damages and $784 million in punitive damages to the five former students and two parent volunteers at the Sky Valley Education Center, located north of Seattle, according to AFP.

In a statement to CBS MoneyWatch, Monsanto said it disagreed with the ruling and plans to appeal “to reduce the constitutionally excessive damages awarded.”

“The objective evidence in this case, including blood, air and other tests, shows that plaintiffs were not exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs and PCBs could not have caused their alleged injuries,” said a spokesman for Monsanto in an emailed statement.

The company, now owned by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, noted that it recently won a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois with similar claims.

Still, Monsanto faces additional lawsuits over PCBs, including one from the state of Vermont which alleged that the chemical company knew its PCB formulations were toxic and could cause harm to humans.

Vermont’s Burlington School District have also sued Monsanto over PCBs, claiming the company should pay for the construction of a new high school after it had to abandon the city’s high school because of PCB levels that exceeded state limits.

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