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Hartford City, School Board, Sue Monsanto Over School PCBs

Ryan Caron King
Clark Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut.

Hartford’s school board and city officials filed suit on Friday against Monsanto, seeking the multinational corporation's payment to remove toxic PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, from Clark Elementary School.

“Our families and taxpayers should not have to bear the costs for this project,” said Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra in a statement. “By shifting the costs to Monsanto who is ultimately responsible for selling the PCBs, we are not burdening our taxpayers or families who have already had to deal with the inconvenience.”

The school found PCBs during a sprinkler installation last year. After further testing, officials learned that PCBs were present throughout the building, in some cases several hundred times the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Board of Education did not vote on pursuing the lawsuit. But board Chairman Richard Wareing said “all the members of the Board of Education are comfortable that this is the right thing to do.”

For at least three decades, between 1950 and 1979, PCBs were commonly used in a variety of construction materials, such as caulk, paint, adhesives, and light fixtures. Exposure is tied to various health problems, as reported by WNPR.

Monsanto was the sole manufacturer of PCBs in the U.S. until the chemical was banned in 1979. The company has argued that PCBs were produced in other countries, and that it would be impossible to link specific PCBs to Monsanto. It also claimed that the manufacturers of the building materials are responsible for any problems associated with PCB exposure.

Hartford is seeking damages in excess of $75,000. School officials indicated that if the costs to clean PCBs from Clark exceed several million dollars, the school would have to be rebuilt.

The Hartford suit also names Pharmacia and Solutia, Inc. as defendants. The companies are spinoffs of the original Monsanto. Both companies have deferred to Monsanto for comment on PCB-related lawsuits. Charla Lord, a Monsanto spokesman, said the allegations in the lawsuit "are without merit." 

"Responsibility today pertaining to building materials that were used decades ago is a complicated matter that depends on the particular circumstances and the applicable law," Lord wrote in an email. 

Monsanto remains the target of at least one other lawsuit concerning PCBs in schools. A class action case from the Massachusetts towns of Lexington, Princeton, and Westport seeks payment from Monsanto for PCB cleanup costs in schools there.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.
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