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Is Monsanto Responsible For 700 Cases Of Cancer? A Jury Could Decide

(via Flickr/s_falkow)

A Missouri appeals court has ruled that a jury should decide whether Monsanto's chemical production division is responsible for cancers allegedly caused by the widespread use of certain toxic chemicals in everyday products.

Over the course of several decades, Monsanto manufactured 99 percent of the polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB's, found in the world. High concentrations of the chemicals can cause non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and other forms of cancer.

The decision today came in one of 11 cases filed in Missouri and California by cancer patients and their relatives. None of them worked with the chemicals or lived near contaminated sites. Instead, says plaintiff's attorney Steve Jensen, all of them were exposed through everyday products like road paint.

Monsanto, Jensen said, knew that PCB's were toxic as early as 1938. And PCB's are designed to be stable, which means they stick around in the environment longer than most chemicals.

"They should have never been used in products like carbonless copy paper where it was inevitable that the use of those products themselves, that had the PCBs in them, would result in tons of PCBs being released into the environment every year," he said.

A St. Louis County judge had agreed that the plaintiffs did not show enough of a connection between Monsanto's production of the chemicals and their injuries, and ruled for Pfizer, which now owns what the case calls "Old Monsanto," without a full hearing.

Jensen says getting the case in front of a jury will send a clear message to chemical producers.

"You’ve got to pay attention to how you’re going to market that chemical, how you’re going to prevent it from becoming an environmental contaminant, and what kind of harm it’s capable of causing," he said, adding that the courts in California and Missouri handling his other cases were waiting for today's ruling to proceed.

Representatives with Pfizer did not immediately return calls for comment.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Copyright 2013 St. Louis Public Radio

Lippmann returned to her native St. Louis after spending two years covering state government in Lansing, Michigan. She earned her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University and followed (though not directly) in Maria Altman's footsteps in Springfield, also earning her graduate degree in public affairs reporting. She's also done reporting stints in Detroit, Michigan and Austin, Texas. Rachel likes to fill her free time with good books, good friends, good food, and good baseball.