Watch CBS News

Maryland Sues Monsanto Over Chemicals' 'Long-Lasting Harm' On Environment

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh on Tuesday announced the state is suing agrochemical giant Monsanto over the toll his office believes the company's chemicals have taken on Maryland's environment.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Baltimore City Circuit Court alleges that Monsanto knew for decades that its chemicals, known as polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, were harmful to people, wildlife and the environment. Yet instead of doing something about it, the lawsuit says, the company ramped up production.

The complaint calls for the company to pay monetary damages and cover clean-up costs linked to the chemicals.

"Monsanto not only continued to manufacture and sell PCBs but increased production even when the harm to the environment was undeniable," Frosh said in a statement. "Monsanto's toxic legacy lives on. Until today, Marylanders have borne the cost of cleaning up these poisons. It is time for Monsanto to take full responsibility."

In response, Monsanto parent company Bayer released a statement saying the lawsuit has no merit:

"We are reviewing this lawsuit and will respond to the complaint in greater detail at the appropriate time; however, we believe it is without merit. Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago, and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into Maryland's lands or waters, and therefore should not be held liable for the contamination alleged by the state. Where it has been determined that those cleanups are necessary, federal, and state authorities employ an effective system to identify dischargers and allocate clean-up responsibilities. Litigation of the sort brought by the state risks undermining these efforts."

Baltimore and other cities across the country have sued the company on similar grounds.

Banned in 1979, PCBs are man-made chemical compounds that were used in various products, from hydraulic fluid to paint to tape, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Because they aren't biodegradable and they can travel easily, the EPA said, PCBs can be found around the world, including in some fish and those who eat them.

The EPA has concluded that PCBs are probable human carcinogens, or cancer-causing substances. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have found evidence suggesting a link between exposure to PCBs and cases of cancer. Exposure to PCBs can also cause skin conditions, lung and nose irritation, depression and fatigue, the CDC found.

The lawsuit states that Monsanto was the only U.S. company that manufactured PCBs for widespread use between 1935 and 1977. Even though their use was later banned, they "continue to pollute Maryland's natural resources and waterways, including the Susquehanna River, Baltimore Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay," in addition to the state's fish and wildlife, the suit says.

Citing internal company documents, Frosh's office said Monsanto kept producing, promoting and selling PCBs despite knowing of the harms they cause because the company was concerned about missing out on profits.

"This is an important and necessary step to hold Monsanto accountable so the state can continue to make progress in preventing toxic pollution and recovering from decades of damage," Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.