Bayer must pay nearly $900 million to students who suffered brain damage in latest PCB lawsuit
12/29/2023 // Cassie B. // Views

Bayer has been ordered by a jury to pay $857 million to a group of former students and parent volunteers at a school in the Seattle area who suffered from ailments such as brain damage as a result of their exposure to toxic PCBs, a court has ordered.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were found to exceed safe levels at the Sky Valley Education Center. Five students and two parents who volunteered there participated in the suit after suffering from health problems linked to these chemicals in the school’s fluorescent light fixtures.

After a two-month trial in the King County Superior Court, the jury reached the verdict, which includes $784 million in punitive damages and $73 million in compensatory damages.

It is the eighth time that a jury in Washington has found Bayer must be held liable for children becoming ill due to exposure at the school, with a total of more than $1.5 billion being awarded so far in damages in such cases.

In 2021, a group of three teachers were awarded a sum of $185 million, while a $275 million verdict was handed down last year to a group of 10 students and parents. Another jury determined Monsanto owed a group of employees of the school $165 million last month. There are an additional 19 cases awaiting trial in King County Superior Court.

When the school was constructed in 1950, around 95 percent of its light ballasts contained PCBs. Students and teachers observed a brown and oily liquid coming from the light fixtures for many years, and staff reportedly instructed children to stay away and placed trash cans there to collect the liquid.

One of the plaintiffs said she believed the school was “poisoning” her and her children. One of her daughters reportedly passed out while at school, while another had to start using a mask because she had become so sensitive to chemicals and scents after starting school there.

All of the seven plaintiffs in this case have experienced nervous system dysfunction in connection with time spent teaching or learning at the school. Some also experienced endocrine system problems and other health concerns. They all spent time there between 7 and 18 years ago.

Not surprisingly, Bayer is appealing the decision. The German pharmaceutical giant purchased Monsanto, who manufactured the chemicals, for $63 billion in 2018 and has been dealing with a slew of lawsuits related to the company’s toxic herbicides.

Monsanto knew PCBs were toxic and covered up the risks

Monsanto knew that the chemical was toxic and covered up the risks of exposure, which include cancer and other illnesses, for many years. Internal communications show that Monsanto was aware that their PCBs, also known as “aroclors,” were toxic as far back as 1955, but they did not stop producing them until 1977, when they were faced with strong regulatory pressure.

The chemicals were widely used at the time for insulating electrical equipment. They were also found in paint, floor finishing products, caulking and carbon copy paper. Known as “forever chemicals,” they break down very slowly in the environment and can seep from caulk and paint into the air. They were banned by the federal government in 1979 on account of their links to cancer.

Monsanto and Bayer are also facing legal scrutiny over PCBs found in Vermont schools. The state’s legislature has ordered a search for PCBs in all schools in the state that were constructed before the toxic chemicals were banned. Several schools have already closed down parts of their property in response to the findings.

Burlington High School shut down in 2020 after high levels of PCBs were found there, and students have been learning in makeshift classrooms at a former Macy’s department store situated nearby for the last three years.

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