One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies is set to pay Bay Area cities tens of millions of dollars after settling a class action lawsuit involving PCBs, a toxic chemical compound manufactured by Monsanto that seeped for decades into storm water, sediment and the area’s rivers, streams and lakes.
German-based Bayer, which acquired the now defunct Monsanto in 2018, will dole out $36.5 million in total to 13 Bay Area cities and Alameda County. The recipients include large cities — San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco — and smaller ones, including Antioch, Alameda, San Leandro and Vallejo.
The lawsuit, which stretches back to March 2015 in the U.S. District Court for Central California, centered around the chemical compound polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. Between the 1930s and 1970s, Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs, which were used in a variety of industrial and household uses.
Plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit contended the company knew of its toxicity, yet turned a blind eye. The chemical was later found to have polluted stormwater systems and its exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems, including liver and respiratory issues, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
“They knew that it was dangerous, but sold it anyway,” said Oakland’s Chief Assistant City Attorney Maria Bee in an interview on Tuesday. “Monsanto has been polluting and contaminating the Bay’s stormwater for decades. It is important that they are held accountable.”
San Jose City Attorney Nora Frimann described the settlement as “a novel application of the theory of public nuisance” against a manufacturer for stormwater contamination.
According to Baron and Budd, the law firm that oversaw the lawsuit, the settlement is the first time a product manufacturer will pay damages for stormwater contamination.
Monsanto stopped its manufacturing of PCBs in 1977. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the compound in 1979, then a treaty later prohibited its production worldwide in 2001.
The settlement also includes thousands of other cities, counties and port districts across the country, totaling $537.5 million in payouts. Dozens of other California cities and counties also received settlement money, ranging from millions of dollars to just a couple of thousand. The settlement funds will be utilized for the abatement of PCBs.
The following Bay Area governments received more than $500,000:
- Alameda – $1,402,294
- Alameda County – $1,098,046
- Antioch – $2,647,760
- Berkeley – $1,674,249
- Burlingame – $556,015
- Daly City – $1,314,500
- Fremont – $540,650
- Hayward – $515,528
- Oakland – $7,500,000
- San Francisco – $7,500,000
- San Jose – $4,547,238
- San Leandro – $1,910,514
- South San Francisco – $1,100,928
- Vallejo – $4,203,515
“We are pleased with the court’s decision to grant final approval of the class settlement that resolves most of the Company’s exposure to municipal government PCB water litigation,” Bayer wrote in a statement. “Under the proposed agreement, Bayer does not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, and the court’s final approval fully resolves the claims of class members.”
The settlement comes after Bayer agreed in 2020 to pay over $10 billion for Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, which plaintiffs claimed was linked to cancer.
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