As of today, parties involved in suits related to polychlorinated biphenyl ("PCB") contamination that occurred over decades in Anniston, Alabama reached a global settlement of $700 million. The settled claims include those in the Alabama federal district court case, Tolbert v. Monsanto Co., et al., CV 01-1407-S, and the state court case, Abernathy v. Monsanto Co., et al., CV-2001-832. Solutia and Monsanto Company have agreed to pay damages and fund community improvement programs after extended negotiations with the attorneys representing the more than 20,000 current and former Anniston residents in those two suits.
PCBs were invented by Monsanto at their chemical plant in Anniston, AL in the 1930s. The chemical was extraordinarily profitable in the 20th century. They were used as insulators in electric transformers and mixed into a variety of products, including paint and newsprint. PCBs were produced in Anniston and one other U.S. facility from the 1930s to the mid 1970s.
The unfortunate truth is that PCBs are highly toxic to humans and the environment. The inventor, Monsanto, found that PCBs caused skin and liver disorders in the 1930s and, also, concluded in 1969 that PCBs were a global contaminant that would lead to contamination to the food chain, marine life, and fish eating birds.
During the four decades that PCBs were produced at the Anniston plant, Monsanto routinely dumped excess PCBs and acid containing PCBs into the plant’s sewer system, which flowed directly into open ditches and creeks that carried PCBs into surrounding rivers and lakes. Monsanto also dumped into crude, unlined landfills located on the plant’s property in Anniston.
Despite knowledge of the chemical’s dangerous effects, the company’s actions took place without corrective action and resulted in continued contamination of surrounding land and waterways covering miles. Today, PCB contamination is found in waterways up to 40 miles from the Anniston plant.
Lead trial counsel, Robert Roden, stated that internal company documents dating back to the 1930’s revealed that the company was aware of the damage and health hazards of PCBs for decades and failed to warn the Anniston residents. The individuals in the Anniston area, as a result, were exposed to PCBs through the air, waterways, and food chain. The plaintiffs were able to prove that the company hid data from the government departments of environmental management and discovered documents that altered the medical research findings of the hazards of PCBs.
"Today is a positive turning point in the history of Anniston. After almost a century of contamination, the people of Anniston are now best able to truly work with the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal government entities and responsible parties to clean up polluted land, have access to specialized medical treatment that addresses exposure to toxins, and rebuild for healthy businesses, educational systems and residences," said David Shelby, managing partner of plaintiffs' law firm Shelby Roden.