- Associated Press - Monday, August 3, 2015

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The city of Spokane is suing the international agrochemical giant Monsanto, which it blames for pollution in the Spokane River.

The lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Spokane, alleges that the company sold chemicals that it knew for decades were a danger to people and the environment, The Spokesman-Review reported (http://is.gd/Xx27RW ).

The suit doesn’t specify the damages being sought. But Marlene Feist, the city’s utilities spokeswoman, noted the city will spend $300 million in the coming years to keep polychlorinated biphenyls and other pollutants from entering the river.

“Monsanto knew that PCBs would contaminate water supplies, would degrade marine habitats, would kill fish species, and would endanger birds and animals,” the complaint says. “In addition, Monsanto knew PCBs are associated with serious illnesses and cancers in humans and that humans may be exposed to PCBs” through eating or touching fish.

Monsanto was the sole producer of PCBs between 1935 and 1979, when Congress banned them. The chemicals, developed by Monsanto as a coolant in electrical transformers and capacitors, were used in many products, including paint, hydraulic fluids, sealants and ink. According to the lawsuit, Monsanto learned by the 1930s that the chemicals were toxic, but it continued making them and concealed the danger from government officials.

Monsanto said in a written statement that a previous incarnation of the company produced the PCBs, which it said “served an important fire protection and safety purpose.” The former Monsanto was spun off into three companies, all of which are named as defendants in the lawsuit: Monsanto, which handles its agricultural products business; Solutia, which operates its chemical products business; and Pharmacia, which took over pharmaceuticals and is now owned by Pfizer Inc.

“PCBs sold at the time were a lawful and useful product that was then incorporated by third parties into other useful products,” Charla Lord, a company spokeswoman, wrote. “If improper disposal or other improper uses created the necessity for clean-up costs, then these other third parties would bear responsibility for these costs.”

Other cities have similarly sought damages from Monsanto over PCB pollution, including San Diego and San Jose, California, and Westport, Massachusetts.

The Spokane River has elevated levels of PCBs, which have been found in its water, sediments, fish and wildlife. The PCBs enter the river, in part, through the city’s storm water discharges. Spokane faces a 2017 federal deadline to stop pollution from entering the river. It has adopted a clean water plan and is adding more levels of treatment at its water treatment plant.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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