Baltimore County is going to ask a federal judge to force agriculture chemical company Monsanto to pay for the cleanup of environmental toxins submerged in the county’s water bodies.

The County Council on Monday night approved the county’s contract with three law firms to represent the county in a lawsuit to be filed against the company. The lawsuit would allege that the company contaminated the county’s environment and waters with polychlorinated biphenyls, according to the county.

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Polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs, are a class of chemicals that have been linked to cancers and harm to immune, reproductive, nervous and endocrine systems in humans and animals, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. PCBs were sold widely to industrial and manufacturing customers, as well as the federal government, for uses that included paints, inks, and electrical equipment until they were banned in 1979.

PCBs have impaired multiple water bodies in the county, including Bird River, Gunpowder River, Seneca Creek, Middle River, Back River, Baltimore Harbor, Bear Creek, Stansbury Pond, Gwynns Falls, Jones Falls and Lake Roland, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. The county alleges Monsanto was responsible for the PCB production and was “long aware” of its harmful nature.

The county alleges residents “have and will” experience a “health impact” from PCB exposure by eating PCB-contaminated fish and shellfish. County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said she was never told to warn her constituents to avoid eating the fish or crabs from the waterways they live on.

County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers told the council last week that the cleanup will be costly, but she didn’t provide a dollar figure. The county needs to make sure it will receive a monetary award if the court decides to award damages to Baltimore city and the other regions suing Monsanto, Rodgers said.

A spokesman for Bayer, which completed its takeover of Monsanto last year, said the company has no knowledge of what the county might be considering. Even so, Chris Loder said, the former company voluntarily stopped producing PCBs more than 40 years ago. Remediation is a “complex issue” that is best dealt with by regulatory agencies who have the ability to consider all the competing issues at stake, he said.

Lawyers from the firms Baron & Budd in Dallas, Grant & Eisenhofer in Wilmington, Delaware, and Towson-based Gordon, Wolf and Carney will represent the county. The firms are fronting the litigation costs, and the county would pay them only if a judge awards damages. The county charter requires council approval for any contracts related to “services for a term in excess of two years or involving the expenditure of more than $25,000 per year.”

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