Monsanto/Bayer PCB Lawsuits

As the sole manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for decades, Monsanto and its parent company Bayer now face numerous lawsuits over the toxic effects these substances have had on humans, wildlife, and the environment.

Despite being the exclusive manufacturer of PCB until 1977, Monsanto and its parent company Bayer have vowed to mount a vigorous defense to most claims.

McEldrew Purtell is monitoring these nationwide Monsanto PCB lawsuits and evaluating claims from both individuals and municipalities for potential future litigation. Because of their prevalence, you and your family may have been exposed to Monsanto products containing PCB.

What Are PCBs?

Polychlorinated biphenyls are human-made organic chemicals known as chlorinated hydrocarbons, as they’re composed of carbon, chlorine, and hydrogen. They’re considered one of the most important organic industrial compounds in existence.

The number of chlorine atoms bonded to hydrocarbon molecules determines the specific properties a particular chlorinated hydrocarbon will possess. No matter the specific chemical composition of a particular PCB, all PCBs share several key characteristics.

For those seeking a list of what is PCB chemical properties, PCBs:

  • Have no taste or smell
  • Are nonflammable and chemically stable
  • Have a high boiling point
  • Possess good electrical insulating characteristics

Polychlorinated biphenyls can either be a light-colored liquid with an oily consistency or a solid, wax-like substance with a yellow or black color.

Because of their properties, PCBs manufactured by Monsanto were distributed to other manufacturers like GE and Westinghouse for use in other products. These other products included:

  • Fluorescent light fixtures and ballast
  • Electrical capacitors and transformers
  • Industrial coolants and lubricants
  • Paints and caulking

These human-made hydrocarbon chemicals are also toxic. The toxicity of a particular PCB depends on its specific chemical makeup.

PCBs don’t easily degrade, but they can contaminate surrounding materials like water, earth, and air when they do. 

Health Effects From PCB Exposure

Part of the reason PCBs were banned by Congress in 1978 was the growing body of scientific evidence that identified adverse health effects on humans and animals from long-term exposure to PCBs.

In the 1970s, Monsanto and others began noting some of the symptoms of PCB exposure, which can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Acne and skin rashes
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal pain

In animals, PCBs have been demonstrated to cause cancer and affect the nervous, endocrine, immune, and reproductive systems. Studies have suggested that PCBs can have similar effects on human beings, including both carcinogenic and non-carcinogenic symptoms.

How People Become Exposed to PCBs

Monsanto manufactured no direct-to-consumer products that contained PCB — rather, they made over two hundred varieties of PCB chemicals and sold them to other manufacturers. These third-party users would then incorporate a PCB Monsanto made into a particular consumer product.

During the decades when Monsanto was manufacturing PCBs, millions of pounds were distributed every year. Even electric appliances like television sets and refrigerators manufactured as late as the 1970s included components made with Monsanto’s PCBs. About 1.5 billion pounds of PCB chemicals were thought to have been made in total.

Rural communities with dirt roads were also exposed to PCBs, as these communities would spray PCB products on the roads to help reduce dust and dirt clouds.

Additionally, tens of thousands of schools were constructed during the period when PCBs were widely used.

When used in building applications, PCBs can degrade and become airborne. Schoolchildren who attended schools built during this era were therefore exposed to PCBs at levels considered unsafe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Exposure and PCB contamination of the local environment also occurred due to accidental leaks and spills; improper disposal of PCB products has also caused these chemicals to seep into the soil and groundwater.

Now, with the dangers of PCBs well-known, any product that potentially contains PCBs must be disposed of in a special landfill to reduce the environmental impact.

Monsanto Lawsuits and Litigation

Numerous lawsuits are now pending against Bayer for Monsanto’s manufacture and distribution of PCBs. These can be grouped into three general categories:

  • Oregon, Vermont, and other municipalities are suing Bayer, alleging Monsanto PCBs contaminated the municipality’s water and soil
  • Some school districts claim that their students and staff were and continue to be exposed to PCB materials used in the schools’ construction
  • Individuals who developed cancer or other health complications are suing to recover their medical expenses and other compensation

In each case, the plaintiffs are bringing their suits under the product liability law.

Claims of Plaintiffs in Monsanto Litigation

By manufacturing a product and then offering it for sale to others, a company warrants to the purchaser that its product is safe for its intended uses. If the product has dangerous properties that aren’t immediately apparent, the manufacturer must disclose them to the user or consumer.

The product’s manufacturer can’t bury its head in the sand when it comes to its product’s toxicity. The law imposes a duty on manufacturers to conduct reasonable testing and evaluation of their products before selling them so any hidden or unanticipated dangers can be discovered and disclosed.

The plaintiffs who have brought suit against Bayer/Monsanto allege that the company violated these legal duties.

By creating a dangerous and toxic product, Monsanto had the legal duty to warn others about the harmful effects of PCB exposure. Plaintiffs allege that it took Monsanto decades to publicly acknowledge the harmful effects of PCBs on humans and the environment, allowing generations to be exposed to these harsh chemical compounds.

How the Company Is Responding to Bayer-Monsanto Lawsuits

Bayer Global, the parent company of Monsanto, has announced that it intends to contest many of the PCB lawsuits being brought against it.

Spokespersons have said that the company will only settle cases where reasonable offers are made. This indicates that Bayer intends not to settle cases unless the risk of loss at trial and its potential financial exposure exceed the amount sought in a settlement.

Bayer has announced that it intends to raise several defenses, including the following:

No Control Over Third-Party Use

First, the company claims that once it sold its PCB products to other manufacturers, it had no legal obligation or control over the use to which that other manufacturer put the PCB.

Some of the environmental contamination highlighted in certain lawsuits wasn’t caused by Monsanto directly but by other companies that used Monsanto’s products. Bayer thus claims that it and Monsanto cannot be held responsible for the actions of these third parties.

Contributory Negligence

In the case of lawsuits brought by school districts, Bayer claims that school districts may be partly responsible for any PCB exposure tied to building materials. Bayer notes that a number of advisories were issued throughout the years telling schools about how best to address PCB-containing materials that were degrading and no longer useful.

Lack of Causation

Regarding claims made by individuals who allege that PCB has caused cancer or other health effects, Bayer intends to downplay any evidence of causation.

The company hopes to avoid liability for any of the plaintiff’s medical or other costs if it can’t be shown with some degree of certainty that the plaintiff’s health situation was caused primarily by PCB exposure.


Finally, in cases the company does settle or lose at trial, it intends to enforce indemnification agreements to recover its costs.

As the dangers of PCBs became known, Monsanto continued to sell its PCB products for a time but made purchasers sign indemnification agreements. As part of these agreements, the purchasers agreed to hold Monsanto/Bayer harmless and indemnify the company in the event of later litigation.

The Future of Monsanto PCB Litigation

McEldrew Purtell will continue to closely monitor those pending lawsuits against Bayer in jurisdictions like Maryland, Delaware, Washington, Oregon, and elsewhere. 

One particular development worth paying attention to is whether Bayer follows through with its threat to defend most of these PCB claims vigorously or becomes more open to settlement talks as cases are decided against the company, especially as other plaintiffs from around the country file suit.

Those in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the United States who believe they may have a claim are encouraged to speak with an attorney at McEldrew Purtell about their rights and what can be done to protect them.