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Climate and Environment

LA City Sues Monsanto Over Toxic Chemicals In Our Water, Aiming For A Big Settlement

A gray cylindrical structure rises from the middle of a reservoir on a gray, gloomy day. A raised aqueduct leads directly into the side of the structure.
The Los Angeles Aqueduct ends at the Los Angeles Reservoir in Sylmar, Calif. This shot dates from before the reservoir was covered with plastic “shade balls” to reduce evaporation and to prevent a carcinogenic chemical from forming when water in open-air reservoirs interacts with light.
(Mae Ryann
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The City of Los Angeles has become the latest government entity to sue agro-chemical giant Monsanto over toxic chemicals leaching into the city’s waterways.

For decades, Monsanto manufactured the chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls — commonly known as PCBs — for use in a wide variety of products. The federal government banned those chemicals in 1979 after research showed that PCBs caused cancer, liver damage and reproductive problems, among other problems.

Several city governments have sued Monsanto (now owned by Bayer AG, the pharmaceutical company) in order to get back money associated with PCB cleanup costs.

The city of L.A. will be the latest to sue, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced today.

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“[PCBs] continue to drain into many waters here in Los Angeles," he said in a press conference today, listing out L.A. Harbor, Dominguez Channel, Machado Lake, Echo Park Lake, Marina Del Rey, Ballona Creek and Santa Monica Bay as places where PCBs continue to leach into the water system.

In a statement provided to LAist, David Alvarez, senior associate at the communications firm CLS Strategies — which represents Bayer AG — said that Monsanto has "never manufactured, used or disposed of PCBs into Los Angeles’ waters," and so shouldn't be held liable for the PCB that's been detected in local waters:

Where it has been determined that those cleanups are necessary, federal, and state authorities employ an effective system to identify dischargers and allocate clean-up responsibilities. Litigation of the sort brought by the city risks undermining these efforts.

Feuer wouldn’t specify the amount of damages he was seeking but said the city has spent “millions and millions” on remediation and cleanup. The city attorney, who’s also running for mayor, said Los Angeles is not joining a similar suit filed against Monsanto by 13 local governments in 2019, including L.A. County and the city of Long Beach. Those plaintiffs represented more than 2,500 additional local government entities.

Bayer AG has agreed to settle that lawsuit — without admitting wrongdoing — but settlement attempts have been rejected multiple times in federal court over concerns that the plaintiffs were getting a raw deal.

Feuer said L.A. is going it alone in hopes of wringing an even bigger settlement amount out of Monsanto.

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