Friday, 22 February, 2002, 22:08 GMT

Monsanto loses pollution battle

An Alabama court has found Monsanto liable for dumping thousands of tons of pollutants into waterways near the town of Anniston that has lead to thousands of cases of cancer and other ailments.

The verdict clears the way for over a dozen plaintiffs to seek monetary compensation for the thousands of tons of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) dumped into creeks over the course of five decades.

Monsanto was found guilty of a number of counts, including negligence. The company produced PCBs at its Anniston plant from 1935 to 1971. Damages have to be determined in the case. It remains the responsibility of Circuit Court Judge Joel Laird how to proceed with other cases pending against Monsanto and the other defendants in the case, which include Monsanto's chemical-producing arm called Solutia - spun off from the company in 1997 - and pharmaceutical firm Pharmacia, which has an 85% stake in Monsanto.

The companies have said they have spent about $40 million to clean up PCB contamination in and around Anniston, a town of approximately 26,000 people. Late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ruled General Electric (GE) must dredge portions of the Hudson River in upstate New York due to PCB contamination it introduced into 40-mile stretch of the river north of the state capital, Albany.

Monsanto had argued it had acted responsibly by halting production of PCBs in Anniston six years before the federal government moved to ban them. Lawyers for the plaintiffs countered by portraying the company as reckless for failing to inform residents about the possible harm that could be caused by contact with PCBs.

The pollutant is believed to responsible for a range of ailments, including reproductive disorders, cancers and liver disease.