Stacy Mullen-Deland (center) gives an account of health issues faced by her children as Jill Savery (left) and attorney Sean Gamble listen during a press conference in downtown Seattle on Jan. 3, 2018. Mullen-Deland and 35 others sued Monsanto and the state on Tuesday, alleging a toxic environment at Sky Valley in Monroe has made them sick. (David Rzegocki)

Stacy Mullen-Deland (center) gives an account of health issues faced by her children as Jill Savery (left) and attorney Sean Gamble listen during a press conference in downtown Seattle on Jan. 3, 2018. Mullen-Deland and 35 others sued Monsanto and the state on Tuesday, alleging a toxic environment at Sky Valley in Monroe has made them sick. (David Rzegocki)

Jury: Monsanto must pay $857M over PCBs in Monroe school

Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and staff have sued over harmful chemicals at the Sky Valley Education Center.

 

MONROE — A King County jury awarded $857 million to women who claimed exposure to harmful chemicals manufactured by Monsanto at the Sky Valley Education Center, the latest resolution in extensive litigation that has cost the chemical giant upward of $1.7 billion.

The verdict, first reported by Law360 and Reuters, comes in the form of $784 million in punitive damages and $73 million in compensatory damages to seven plaintiffs, following a two-month trial in King County Superior Court.

Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and staff have sued Bayer Pharmaceuticals — which acquired Monsanto in 2018 — over polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, that leaked from light fixtures at the Monroe school. They claim brain injuries and other health issues stemming from the exposure that officials allowed to fester, a Seattle Times investigation found.

Banned in 1979 by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the manmade chemicals were used in fluorescent light ballasts. Monsanto produced the PCBs, also known as Aroclors.

When Sky Valley was built in 1950, some 95% of the light ballasts had PCBs, according to court documents. For years, teachers and students noticed brown, oily liquid leaking from the light fixtures. Staff would put trash cans underneath and tell pupils to stay away.

Lawsuits across the country have claimed Monsanto covered up the risks of chemical exposure, including cancer and other illnesses.

In 1955, for example, a Monsanto scientist reportedly urged his superiors to approve testing of PCBs.

“We know Aroclors are toxic,” the scientist wrote, according to court filings.

It took until 1977 for the company to stop producing PCBs, under intense regulatory pressure.

Jill Savery, one of the plaintiffs in this case, told reporters in 2018 that she felt Sky Valley was “poisoning” her and her children. One of her daughters passed out at school. And her oldest daughter started carrying a mask because she was so sensitive to scents and chemicals. That wasn’t a problem before she spent time in the Sky Valley buildings, Savery said.

All seven plaintiffs reported nervous system dysfunction related to learning or teaching in the Sky Valley Education Center.

“No one who heard this evidence would ever change places with any of these people in exchange for all the money the jury awarded,” Henry Jones, a lawyer for the plaintiffs from the Friedman Rubin law firm, said in an email Monday.

In a statement, Monsanto said it will appeal the verdict.

“The objective evidence in this case, including blood, air and other tests, demonstrates that plaintiffs were not exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs, and PCBs could not have caused their alleged injuries,” the company said Monday.

Time after time, juries in recent years have found Monsanto liable for injuries reported by students and staff who studied in or worked at the school.

In 2021, three Monroe teachers were awarded $185 million. Last year, a jury handed down a $275 million verdict involving 10 students and parents.

And last month, yet another jury found Monsanto owed $165 million to a group of school employees.

The total payouts from Monsanto come to a staggering $1.74 billion, according to Law360.

Nineteen other cases still await trial in King County Superior Court, Jones said.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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