Monsanto Company has agreed to pay Oregon $698 million to compensate for decades of contamination with chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The settlement comes after years of work by the state Department of Justice and other state agencies, including DEQ.
The settlement, billed as the largest environmental damage recovery in Oregon history, was announced Thursday by Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum. It includes terms that require the money to be used for environmental remediation projects connected to harm caused by PCB contamination. This could include brownfield remediation or redevelopment, environmental
damage assessment or restoration, improvements to air and water quality, cleanup of contaminated sites, remediation of impaired waterbodies, or restoration and protection of wildlife habitat.
Funds also could be used to replenish and bolster DEQ’s Orphan Site Cleanup Fund, to provide resources for cleaning up contamination at sites where there is no longer a responsible party to pay for the work. And funds could be used to create an endowment fund to pay for habitat restoration work for decades into the future.
“This is a monumental achievement for Oregon and our communities affected by PCB contamination,” said Interim Director Leah Feldon. “We look forward to working with the Legislature and the Governor to ensure the money is spent on critically needed environmental cleanup and protection.”
The historic settlement holds Monsanto to account for polluting Oregon with PCBs for more than 90 years. Monsanto was the only manufacturer, seller, and distributor of PCBs. PCBs are toxic compounds formerly used in coolants, electrical equipment (such as fluorescent lighting fixtures), and devices, as well as hydraulic oils. They were also previously used in products, including paint, caulking, and copy paper.
“PCBs are still present throughout Oregon,” Rosenblum said, especially in our landfills and riverbeds, and they are exceedingly difficult to remove, because they ‘bioaccumulate’ in fish and wildlife. Cleaning up our state from this horrific environmental degradation will be as costly and time-consuming as it sounds, but this settlement means we now will have resources to help tackle this problem.”
Monsanto is owned by Bayer AG, a massive German pharmaceutical and biotechnology company.
Today’s settlement stems from a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Rosenblum against Monsanto in 2018. The original lawsuit can be found here. The state alleged Monsanto was aware as early as 1937 of the highly toxic nature of PCBs. Even with that knowledge, Oregon asserted, Monsanto continued to produce and promote the compounds for decades — until they were finally banned in 1977.
Interim director Feldon noted that special thanks go to several DEQ staff who played significant roles, especially Lori Pillsbury; Kevin Parrett; Paul Seidel; and Gene Foster.