The Port of Portland is suing agriculture giant Monsanto Corp. for widespread PCB contamination on port property, the Port announced Thursday.
The lawsuit doesn’t state a dollar amount, but wants the company to pay for its portion of the clean up in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
“The damages for the Port of Portland range anywhere between tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in total PCB clean-up costs,” said John Fiske, a California-based attorney representing the Port of Portland.
PCB — polychlorinated biphenyls — can cause cancer in people and affect their immune systems, according to the lawsuit. The chemicals don’t break down in nature and affect birds and fish.
"PCBs are toxic and dangerous to human health and need to be cleaned up," said Curtis Robinhold, the Port of Portland's deputy executive director.
“The Port’s case targets a product manufacturer for selling four to eight decades ago a lawful and useful chemical that was used by the U.S. government, the state of Oregon and local cities, and incorporated by industries into many products to make them safer," Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy at Monsanto, said in a statement Thursday.
The pollutant is in wire coating, caulk and sealants used at the Port, the Port’s lawsuit against Monsanto states. The chemicals end up in the rivers that triangulate Portland through storm water runoff.
“Portland Waters are contaminated with PCBs, which have been detected in water, sediment, fish and wildlife,” the suit states.
From 1935 to 1979, Monsanto was the sole manufacture of PCB’s in the United States.
“Although Monsanto knew for decades that PCBs were toxic and knew that they were widely contaminating all natural resources and living organisms, Monsanto concealed these facts and continued producing PCBs until Congress enacted the Toxic Substance Control Act, which banned the manufacture and most uses of PCBs as of January 1, 1979,” the Port’s lawsuit states.
The Port is the 10th public entity on the West Coast to file a lawsuit against Monsanto. The city of Portland filed a similar case against Monsanto in July 2016.
The company has filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit in the nine other suits it is facing. In some instances, Fiske said, judges have dismissed cases and asked plaintiffs to amend them with more information before refiling.
A judge in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington ruled in October that the city of Spokane's lawsuit against Monsanto can move forward.
The Port of Portland's Robinhold said he expects the litigation to last years.
“Monsanto reaped huge profits from the manufacture and sale of PCB's and it's entirely appropriate for those faced with the cost of cleaning up this contamination to hold them accountable," he said.