A jury in Etowah County, Alabama, says a property owner in Anniston, Ala., deserves nearly $200,000 for property damage and mental anguish stemming from PCB contamination in the area caused by Monsanto.
The jury determined the first of 900 plaintiffs in Abernathy vs. Monsanto should be awarded $99,925 to clean up the three properties owned by the plaintiff and $100,000 for mental anguish. The jury did not award any amount for the plaintiff's claim of reduction in value of the properties.
Back in February 2002, an Alabama Circuit ruled that Monsanto Co.'s facility in Anniston, Ala., polluted the town and that Monsanto, Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia should be held liable for damages. Monsanto, which spun off its chemical business into a company called Solutia Inc. in 1997 and merged with Pharmacia, a multinational drug company, in 2000, produced polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Anniston for several decades, from 1935 to 1971.
Solutia acknowledges that the PCB production caused contamination in the area, but claims it has acted fairly in dealing with local residents and regulators about the situation. In October 2002, in a consent decree with EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice, Solutia and Pharmacia agreed to conduct emergency cleanups of area residences that are the worst contaminated (something the companies were doing already), and agreed to hire EPA-approved contractors to conduct a Remedial Investigation/Feasibility Study (RI/FS).
The RI/FS will comprehensively study any areas of contamination, including, but not limited to, PCB contamination and evaluate what risks environmental pollutants that are found may pose to public health and the environment. The RI/FS will determine the cleanup options and suggest a strategy for restoring this community. The cleanup will be strictly reviewed and overseen by EPA, as is the immediate cleanup of residences where high levels of PCBs already have been found.
Also, EPA, rather than Solutia and Pharmacia, will perform a human health risk assessment a thorough, comprehensive study and evaluation of risks to human health caused by PCBs. PCBs are considered a probable carcinogen and are linked to neurological and developmental problems.
Jeffry N. Quinn, senior vice president and general counsel for Solutia Inc., says the company will appeal the verdict. Solutia considers the $99,925 cleanup award to be inappropriate since the company has already agreed to clean up properties in the community that require it.
"The company also does not consider the mental anguish award to be appropriate," said Quinn. "Solutia understands that the community needs peace of mind with respect to PCBs, and we believe that the cleanup is the best way to provide that peace of mind. The plaintiffs' attorney in this case, however, has prevented Solutia from gaining access to clean up his clients' properties that were identified by EPA as needing immediate cleanup, and he is objecting to the consent decree.
"[The] verdict is just one more step in the litigation process and is not the final word," Quinn pointed out. "Each of the plaintiffs must present evidence of his or her alleged damages. By law, any award should be based on each individual's specific circumstances. Solutia cannot appeal, however, until a final judgment has been entered."
According to Quinn, Solutia has already spent $53 million on PCB cleanup in and around Anniston. "We believe that the best and quickest way to achieve the cleanup is the consent decree," he added.