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Portland's Lawsuit Against Monsanto Proceeds, With Some Claims Dismissed

<p>The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River that is highly contaminated from more than a century of industrial pollution.</p>

Bonnie Stewart, OPB


The Portland Harbor Superfund Site is a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River that is highly contaminated from more than a century of industrial pollution.

The City of Portland and Port of Portland can proceed with lawsuits against Monsanto, but a judge has dismissed several of the city’s claims over chemical contamination of the city’s waterways.

Portland is one of eight West Coast cities, including Seattle and Spokane, with pending lawsuits against the agrochemical corporation. The suits focus on lasting contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, a now-banned group of chemicals widely used decades ago, often as coolants or lubricants in electrical equipment.

Monsanto has now lost attempts to dismiss such cases in Oregon, Washington and California.

“This is a sign of a continuing trend. If anything this litigation is going to continue to grow and strengthen in its evidence and legal rulings,” said John Fiske, outside counsel for the City of Portland and other entities suing Monsanto. “It seems like the more Monsanto fights, the better the cases get.”

In a Sept. 22 ruling, District Judge Michael Mosman said the City of Portland does having standing in a nuisance claim against Monsanto and its claim for damages under the Clean Water Act, stating “the City’s allegations that it suffered special damage not suffered by the public generally by being required to expend funds to investigate, monitor, analyze, and remediate PCB contamination were sufficient.”

Mosman dismissed several of the city’s claims against Monsanto for trespass, product liability and negligence, because the city had not “sufficiently alleged damage to the property it owns.”

The judge also granted Portland’s attorneys the opportunity to amend those dismissed claims. Fiske said he was confident the city could successfully amend its claims on those issues.

Monsanto, now an agricultural company, was the largest manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, between the 1930s and the 1970s. Those chemicals are now in stormwater and wastewater systems across the country.

A spokeswoman for Monsanto said the statute of limitations should factor into such cases.

“The last commercial sale of PCBs occurred in Oregon four decades ago,” spokeswoman Charla Lord said. “We continue to believe, for reasons including the statute of limitations and other issues of liability, that these speculative cases are without merit.”

Fiske said Monsanto has attempted to cite the statute of limitations in each case, each time unsuccessfully. In total, the many lawsuits filed against Monsanto over PCBs could be worth billions of dollars.

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Tony Schick