A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Monsanto Company knowingly contaminated Vermont public schools with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of long-banned chemicals found in the schools’ lighting ballasts, transformers, caulking and bricks.
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The 25-page complaint says that rather than alert the public to the myriad dangers of PCBs, Monsanto “actively worked to convince the public otherwise” so the company could continue to manufacture and sell the man-made chemicals, which were ultimately banned by the federal government in 1979.
According to the lawsuit, company documents show that Monsanto knew as early as the 1930s, more than 40 years before PCBs were outlawed, that the chemicals were toxic and harmful to human health, not to mention capable of escaping their intended applications and becoming a “global contaminant.”
“Recent air testing in Vermont’s public school system revealed high concentrations of PCBs throughout the majority of the schools tested,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of their high level of exposure to PCBs in the schools, students and school staff have significantly increased risk of a negative health diagnosis compared to the general population.”
The case was filed by a Vermont mother months after the state began a first-in-the-nation program to rid school buildings of PCBs. The testing was reportedly triggered by the discovery of PCBs at the former Burlington High School, where test results showed PCB concentrations of 165 times the amounts near the largest PCB Superfund site. The Burlington test results prompted the state legislature in 2021 to task environmental authorities to develop a program to “pinpoint” the contamination in all schools built or renovated after 1980, according to media reports.
The suit explains that PCBs have no taste or smell and can range in consistency from an oil to a waxy solid. Before their ban, PCBs were marketed for and used in many industrial and commercial applications, including electrical and heating equipment and paints, plastics and rubbers.
According to the complaint, decades of studies show that exposure to PCBs can harm the nervous, immune, reproductive, neurological and endocrine systems. Further, PCBs are classified as human carcinogens by the World Health Organization and probable human carcinogens by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the case adds.
Although Congress banned the commercial manufacture and distribution of PCBs in 1979, the chemicals have a long half-life and degrade slowly as they continue to leach into the surrounding environment, the lawsuit relays.
“This characteristic of PCBs to persist over long periods of time has caused many to refer [to] them as a ‘forever chemical,’” the filing says.
Even in the face of mounting evidence of the dangers of PCBs, Monsanto continue to manufacture and sell the chemicals, and when public concern began to grow, the company “assembled an internal team tasked with deflecting criticisms of PCBs and the company itself,” the lawsuit states.
The case says that although Vermont officials have yet to finish air testing in all public schools in the state, completed tests already reflect the age-old concern that PCBs have globally contaminated the facilities. Per the suit, testing at the following schools in Vermont has revealed high levels of PCBs:
Alburgh Community Education Center;
Bellows Free Academy Middle/Rs (Fairfax);
Berkshire Elementary School;
Bethel Elementary and White River Middle School;
Brighton Elementary School;
Brownington Central School;
Burlington High School;
Charlotte Central School;
Green Mountain Union High School;
Marlboro Elementary School;
Newport City Elementary School;
North Country Union High School;
Oak Grove School;
Poultney Elementary School;
Soar Leaming Center;
Twin Valley Elementary;
Twin Valley Elementary School;
Twinfield Union School; and
Waterford Elementary School.
The lawsuit contends that in light of the test results for PCBs in Vermont public schools, medical monitoring is necessary for those potentially exposed to the chemicals.
The case looks to represent all individuals who attended or worked at any of the Vermont schools listed on this page.
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