Monsanto sued again as 77 come forward to claim company’s dioxin caused cancer

October 22, 2007

Alison Knezevich/The Charleston Gazette/October 6, 2007

WINFIELD — More than 70 people with cancer have sued Monsanto Co., alleging they are sick from the company’s now-defunct Nitro chemical plant.

In 77 lawsuits filed this week in Putnam Circuit Court, the Nitro-area residents allege that St. Louis-based Monsanto and more than a dozen related companies were negligent in their release of dioxin, a toxic chemical byproduct.

The plaintiffs seek a total of $300 million in punitive damages. Each of the lawsuits also seeks $5 million in compensatory damages to pay for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment.

Everyone who sued has some type of cancer, including prostate, respiratory multiple myeloma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, according to their complaints.

Charleston lawyer Stuart Calwell, who filed the suits, said Friday he would seek class-action certification for the lawsuits.

Monsanto owned the plant from 1934 to 2000. The allegations center on the plant’s production of the agricultural herbicide 2,4,5-T, which it made between 1949 and 1970.

During that period, about 3,000 pounds of dioxin “was released to the atmosphere, causing the Plaintiffs and everyone else in the area to breathe contaminated air in concentrations high enough to create the risk of one additional cancer in every one thousand persons living in the area,” the lawsuit states.

The federal government once used 2,4,5-T to make Agent Orange, a defoliant sprayed on jungles in the Vietnam War. A defoliant strips trees of their leaves.

Monsanto has been involved in a number of buyouts and spinoffs. The suit names more than a dozen of its related companies, including Pharmacia Corp. and Solutia Inc., as defendants.

The paperwork filed this week is only one part of the litigation Calwell has against Monsanto. In 2004, he filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Nitro residents who say their homes were contaminated by dioxin. That case is still pending in Putnam Circuit Court.

He is now preparing more cases against Monsanto on behalf of people with diabetes and nervous system injuries, he said.

Monsanto spokesman Glynn Young said he could not comment in detail on the pending litigation.

“We believe that the suits are without merit and we believe that we will ultimately prevail,” Young said. “You need to have facts and not just allegations. [Calwell] is going to have to show evidence and proof.”

In 1985, Calwell lost a class-action suit against the company. In that case, seven workers claimed their exposure to dioxin and other chemicals at the Nitro plant caused medical problems including bladder cancer and nervous disorders.

“Science has now caught up, and it’s fairly well accepted that dioxin is a proven carcinogen,” Calwell said. “So hopefully the outcome will be different this time.”

Monsanto is an agricultural biotechnology company whose products include seeds and herbicides.

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