Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto, the manufacturers of Roundup, for allegedly producing and selling toxic chemicals called “polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)” while being aware of, but concealing, their toxic effects. The lawsuit seeks compensation for damage to Ohio natural resources as a result of their use.
The company manufactured and sold PCBs from 1929 to 1977 for use in products like lubricants, paints, inks, and electrical equipment. Ohio is now one of three states that have filed lawsuits concerning Monsanto’s production of PCBs and their effects on the environment. Washington and Oregon are the other two.
PCBs Still Present in the Environment
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals that vary in consistency from thin, light-colored liquids to yellow or black waxy solids. They were used in a variety of industrial and commercial applications including pigments, electrical and hydraulic equipment, and as plasticizers in paints, plastics, and rubber products.
Manufacturing of PCBs was banned in 1979, but the chemicals may still be present in products made before the ban. These may include transformers and capacitors, voltage regulators, old electrical devices, fluorescent light ballasts, cable insulation, thermal insulation materials, adhesives and tapes, oil-based paints, caulking, and floor finish. The most common trade name for commercial PCB mixtures was “Arochlor,” which was manufactured by Monsanto.
PCBs do not break down quickly in the environment. Instead, they can continue to cycle between the air, water, and soil, and may be carried long distances. Scientists have found that they are present all over the world, and that they can accumulate in leaves and aboveground parts of plants and food crops. They may also show up in fish, where they could endanger human health.
In the Ohio lawsuit, the prosecutors claim that Monsanto should have to pay for clean-up projects aimed at decontaminating rivers, lakes, and other waterways that are polluted with PCBs, and should be held responsible for the damage they caused.
PCBs Present Hazards to Human Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that PCBs can affect human health in a number of ways. Those exposed to high levels may develop acne and skin rashes, nose and lung irritation, depression, and fatigue. Animal studies have also indicated that PCBs may disrupt hormonal activity, affect immune function and behavior, and impair reproduction. Both the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have stated that PCBs are probably carcinogenic to humans.
Humans may be exposed to PCBs by inhaling contaminated air, eating contaminated foods, or through skin contact with old electrical devices that contain PCBs. People near waste sites or processing facilities may be exposed through skin contact with contaminated soil or by breathing PCB vapors.
“Ohioans deserve to enjoy their natural resources without contamination from these toxic chemicals, and we believe Monsanto should be held responsible for the damage it caused,” Attorney General Mike DeWine said in a news release. “Our goal in taking this action is to protect Ohio, its citizens, and its natural resources.”