The City of San Diego and San Diego Unified Port District want chemical agricultural giant Monsanto to pay for its role in polluting San Diego's bay and tidelands with polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs.
On March 16, the municipal agencies sued Monsanto for concealing the hazards associated with PCBs, despite being aware of the health risks associated with ingesting and inhaling the chemical compounds since the 1930s.
According to the lawsuit, the risks did not deter Monsanto from trying to protect profits and prolong the use of PCB compounds such as Aroclor, as shown in a report from an ad hoc committee that Monsanto formed in 1969. The following is an excerpt from the internal Monsanto report:
"There is little probability that any action that can be taken will prevent the growing incrimination of specific polychlorinated biphenyls as nearly global environmental contaminants leading to contamination of human food (particularly fish), the killing of some marine species (shrimp), and the possible extinction of several species of fish eating birds.
“Secondly, the committee believes that there is no practical course of action that can so effectively police the uses of these products as to prevent environmental contamination. There are, however a number of actions which must be undertaken to prolong the manufacture, sale and use of these particular Aroclors as well as to protect the continued use of other members of the Aroclor series."
The use of the chemical compounds increased and eventually were involved in the manufacture of household products as well as in shipbuilding and electrical components.
In 2012, the San Diego Regional Water Control Board found the city and port responsible for pollution of San Diego Bay, namely in what has become known as the Shipyards Sediment Site. In 2014, the City of San Diego agreed to pay $949,634 in fines for permitting the dumping of hazardous chemicals into the bay. The city also allocated $6.45 million to clean the Shipyards Sediment Site. The fine and the remediation amount resulted in several lawsuits brought by the port and city against shipbuilding giants BAE and NASSCO.
Attorneys from the city and the port lay some of the blame on Monsanto and see the lawsuit as a viable means of recovering costs.
From the March 16 complaint: "PCBs manufactured by Monsanto have been found in Bay sediments and water and have been identified in tissues of fish, lobsters, and other marine life in the Bay. PCB contamination in and around the Bay affects all San Diegans and visitors who enjoy the Bay, who reasonably would be disturbed by the presence of a hazardous, banned substance in the sediment, water, and wildlife.
"PCBs were not only a substantial factor in causing the City and Port District to incur damages, but a primary driving force behind the need to clean up and abate Bay sediments. In addition, fish consumption warnings are posted at locations in and around Bay tidelands warning the public that fish within the Bay may contain contaminants and directing consumption limitations."
The complaint seeks to recoup the costs to not only remove PCBs from the Bay but also pay for the loss of natural resources.