Seattle follows the money, and goes after Monsanto as the cleanup bills pile up for the Duwamish River.
DISTURBING environmental stories across the country echo close to home as the details and human impacts of the PCB pollution in the Duwamish River are stirred up.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes announced the city is suing Monsanto to help pay for soaring cleanup costs. The city is seeking a measure of financial relief as it faces greater pressure from federal and state environmental requirements.
The city’s arguments in court will include two particularly sobering points: Monsanto has long known of the toxicity of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and the city of Seattle has suffered and will continue to suffer damages.
Other large cities in the West have already filed suit: San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, San Diego and Spokane. A litigation panel will decide if the multidistrict suits can be consolidated and, perhaps, heard in the northern district of California.
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Monsanto’s response is to roll its corporate eyes and seemingly suggest the fuss is so 1970s, when the company ended production of the chemical menace to humans and nature. Monsanto’s protective veneer is a mantle of corporate restructuring, but there has been a $700 million settlement with an Alabama community.
Seattle says Monsanto intentionally concealed the certainty of global contamination in order to maximize profits. PCBs were used to prevent electrical fires, in building supplies for fire prevention and in a variety of manufactured products.
The legacy and contemporary reality for Seattle is that fish and shellfish in the Lower Duwamish are contaminated with PCBs at levels that make them unfit for human consumption. Despite warnings, the city says the fish and shellfish remain a significant food source for many people.
PCBs are taken in via ingestion, inhalation and skin contact, the city points out. PCBs show up in breast milk. Exposure can start very early. PCBs damage the human body in a variety of ways and cause cancer.
The natural and human assault caused by PCBs and other pollutants are devastating. So is the financial tsunami to make even the most basic and belated cleanup attempts. Times reporter Lynda V. Mapes reports Seattle’s share of the entire Duwamish cleanup could run $342 million, not including another $27 million for a water-treatment plant to remove pollutants from only 1.25 percent of the 20,000 acres that drain into the Lower Duwamish.
The compounding impacts are numbing. Puget Sound already has other stormwater runoff issues, and the water moves toward the Pacific Ocean, with its own cumulative troubles.
Monsanto’s fingerprints are all over a discernible, definable environmental and economic travesty. The company needs to be held accountable. The City of Seattle has joined the fight.