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Maryland becomes the latest state to sue Monsanto over pervasive contamination by PCBs

Maryland has filed a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto, becoming the latest state seeking compensation to clean up toxic industrial chemical pollutants that for decades have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the state and the world.

The action concerns chemicals known as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, which Monsanto produced and sold as components in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids from 1935 until 1977. PCBs were used widely as non-flammable insulators and lubricants until Congress banned their production in 1979.

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Other plaintiffs filing similar complaints against Monsanto over PCB pollution already have received settlements. German pharmaceutical company Bayer, which bought Monsanto in 2018 for more than $60 billion, last year agreed to pay $820 million to hundreds of local governments, the states of Washington and New Mexico, and the District of Columbia.

Attorney General Brian Frosh said Maryland is seeking similar restitution. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, does not specify an amount the state is seeking, but asks the court to award damages, including possible punitive damages, based on the proof to be presented in court.

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“Until today, Marylanders have borne the cost of cleaning up these poisons,” he said in a statement. “It is time for Monsanto to take full responsibility.”

In a statement, Bayer said it believes the complaint lacks merit.

“Monsanto voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 40 years ago, and never manufactured, used, or disposed of PCBs into Maryland’s lands or waters,” the company said.

Maryland’s case, like the others, alleges that Monsanto knew the harms of PCBs — research has shown the chemicals cause cancer in animals and also affect the immune, nervous and reproductive systems — and yet continued to profit from their sale for decades.

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Delaware filed a similar suit in September.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies many Chesapeake Bay waterways as PCB-impaired, including the Patapsco and Back rivers in Baltimore, as well as Lake Roland; the Magothy, Severn and South rivers in Anne Arundel County; and tributaries of the Potomac River throughout Southern Maryland.

Research is ongoing to determine the specific sources of PCBs in the Back and Patapsco rivers and to explore ways to remove the contamination.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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