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Monday, 7 January, 2002, 18:10 GMT
US drugs giant faces lawsuit
Smoke billowing from chimney
PCBs were banned in the 1970s due to health risks
The American drugs company Monsanto is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit from the inhabitants of a small town who accuse the firm of contaminating local rivers and poisoning the town's inhabitants.

More than 3,500 members of Anniston, Alabama, a poor rural town about 40 miles (65 kilometres) east of Birmingham, claim that local rivers were polluted with the now banned industrial coolants PCBs and that state regulators helped cover up the damage.

"They lied, and they got away with lying for 25 or 30 years," Anniston resident David Baker told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Baker claims his brother Terry, who died in 1971 aged 16, was found to have a brain tumour, lung cancer and hardening of the cardiac arteries.

He says he has himself suffered from skin lesions and cysts as a result of pollution caused by PCBs.

Health problems

The company, now called Solutia, said it made PCBs in Anniston from 1927 until 1971, a few years before the US government banned production of the chemicals in the late 1970s because of possible health risks.

Tom Bistline, a lawyer for the company, claims there is no proof that the chemicals released are responsible for any health problems experienced by the town's population.

"There's a study here and a study there, but there's nothing consistent," he told the AP.


Many of the Monsanto cases involve illnesses that might only develop over time, excluding them from any litigation

But lawyers for the townspeople claim to have once-secret internal memos, showing that the company was aware of the dangers in manufacturing PCBs as early as the 1960s, but chose to do nothing.

Residents are especially angry that that neither the company nor state environmental regulators made the effort to warn them of the dangers.

Previous trouble

Solutia has already faced a deluge of litigation from residents, and was forced to spend $40m on clean up operations around their plant in Anniston.

A trial in Birmingham last year involving similar claims was only halted when Solutia agreed to a $40m settlement with 1,600 Anniston residents.

The company also paid out $43.7m to settle a suit brought by 4,000 to 5,000 property owners along a downstream creek and lake where PCBs were detected.

And the pollution scandal is not the first to hit the company, which has angered environmentalists by developing and growing genetically modified crops.

Setback

The town's case will be hampered by an Alabama Supreme Court decision last September that ruled out individuals' ability to sue companies for health problems when they have no actual illnesses.

Many of the Monsanto cases involve illnesses that might only develop over time, excluding them from any litigation.

Testimonies are due to begin on Wednesday after jury selection in what is expected to be a highly controversial - and emotive - trial.

See also:

14 Feb 01 | Europe
Europe approves new GM rules
06 Jun 00 | Americas
GM firm sues Canadian farmer
22 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Monsanto's caterers ban GM foods
14 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
US court challenge to Monsanto
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