A California federal judge has given the green light to a $550 million class settlement that Long Beach and other local governments reached with Bayer AG’s Monsanto Co. and subsidiaries of Pfizer and Eastman Chemical to resolve allegations that the localities face increased costs due to Monsanto’s contamination of waterways.
U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin granted preliminary approval to the proposed nationwide deal that would resolve allegations that Monsanto’s manufacture and supply of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, contaminated the cities’ water, necessitating costly treatment to remove the chemicals.
The judge said the deal is a “fair and reasonable outcome” for the class members, as it provides money that wouldn’t have been guaranteed had the localities chosen to litigate their claims.
Along with Long Beach, the cities of Chula Vista, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Berkeley, California, Spokane and Tacoma, Washington, and Portland, Oregon; the counties of Los Angeles and Baltimore; the Port of Portland, Oregon; and the mayor and City Council of Baltimore filed the operative settlement in June.
Judge Olguin appointed the localities as class representatives for the more than 2,500 settlement class members affected by water impaired by PCBs.
Under the deal, three funds will be created to compensate the three main identified harms: $42.8 million for the need to monitor PCBs in stormwater, $250 million for the need to comply with the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System and $150 million for sediment remediation.
A fourth fund of $107 million will also be created to compensate for “special needs and costs of class members.”
Monsanto also agreed to pay for all costs and expenses needed to implement the settlement, including the administration process.
The class counsel — Baron & Budd PC, Gomez Trial Attorneys and Gordon Wolf & Carney — agreed to request no more than $98 million in attorney fees, which Monsanto will pay separate from the settlement.
The plaintiffs collectively filed the operative class complaint in the Central District of California, seeking relief from the costs of testing and monitoring water sources, removing PCBs from sediment areas, reducing PCB levels in stormwater and complying with any regulations that require additional measures.
The chemicals were used in everything from paint and ink to hydraulic fluids and industrial equipment until PCBs were outlawed by Congress in 1979.
PCBs have been proven to cause cancer, weaken the immune system, decrease resistance to viruses and infections, and hurt the reproductive, nervous, neurological and endocrine systems, while studies in animals showed that even the smallest level of PCBs will affect the immune system.
Along with Monsanto, the plaintiffs named as defendants Eastman Chemical Co. subsidiary Solutia and Pfizer Inc. subsidiary Pharmacia.
Other localities, including Los Angeles County, the city of Los Angeles and Oakland, have lodged similar public nuisance suits against Monsanto.