Students and their parents at a school near Seattle have been awarded $275 million in a case regarding toxic exposure to chemicals from a large pharmaceutical company.
The lawsuit against Bayer Pharmaceuticals, the parent company of Monsanto, involved ten students and parents in the Monroe School District, who claimed they suffered neurological injuries due to ongoing chemical exposure.
Over 200 people from the Sky Valley Education Center in Snohomish County have sued Monsanto over alleged contamination at the school, according to a Monday report by the Seattle Times.
The lawsuits claim that the school district knew as early as 2014 that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found on campus. Despite clean-up efforts, the toxins were allegedly found as recently as 2019.
Some students and staff at the school reported that they were showing signs of cognitive problems, developing skin cysts, and that some girls as young as six were hitting puberty, according to a January report from the Seattle Times. One staff member reportedly developed uterine cancer and was unable to return to her job.
PCBs have been banned since 1979, but high levels continue to be found in some locations, including at Sky Valley. The chemicals have been connected with some forms of cancer and other health conditions.
A letter was sent from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Justin Blasko, superintendent of the Monroe Public School District, in 2020. The letter was a follow-up to a 2019 inspection and urged a more aggressive response to concerns about toxin levels at the Sky Valley location.
The communication noted that “as of the date of this letter, SVEC has not yet developed any submittals for EPA approval that address these issues.”
The EPA recommended the campus “address these concerns with more urgency than has yet been demonstrated.”
In addition to the new $275 million verdict, the Associated Press reported that three previous related lawsuits have awarded $268 million to 14 plaintiffs. One additional lawsuit is ongoing, with more than a dozen legal cases pending.
A statement from Bayer stated that the company disagreed with the verdict and intends to appeal the outcome of the latest case.
“We respectfully disagree with the divided jury verdict reached in this 13-plaintiff case and plan to pursue post-trial motions and appeals based on multiple errors and the lack of proof at trial,” Bayer said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“The undisputed evidence in this case does not support the conclusions that plaintiffs were exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs at the Sky Valley Education Center or that these exposures are responsible for their alleged health issues” it added.
The Washington case is one of many Bayer is facing in the U.S. According to the report, Bayer set aside 694 million euros for an expected settlement with the State of Oregon over PCB in wastewater.