Seattle Scoffs at $650M PCB Class-Action Settlement for Bayer

By | September 2, 2020

Seattle scoffed at the $650 million Bayer AG agreed to pay to settle class-action claims by about 2,500 cities, counties and ports over pollution from polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, saying it plans to opt out of the deal.

According to a filing by Seattle last week in federal court in Los Angeles objecting to the proposal, the $550 million that would be available to the class of 2,500 government entities doesn’t even cover the projected $600 million it will cost the city to “abate the nuisance” from PCBs manufactured decades ago by Monsanto Co., which Bayer acquired in 2018.

“The city considers the proposed settlement to be a gift to Monsanto and its new parent company, Bayer,” Seattle said. “The proposed settlement, in the city’s view, is a Trojan Horse for many of the class members, providing them a pittance to monitor their stormwater for PCBs and blocking them from getting funds they will need if PCBs are found.”

Bayer in June said it would pay about $12 billion to settle litigation it inherited when it acquired Monsanto two years ago, with the bulk of the money earmarked to resolve lawsuits alleging that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer. The settlement of 125,000 Roundup cases has also run into problems with plaintiffs’ lawyers and the federal judge overseeing the cases airing concerns about Bayer’s handling of the settlement process.

Though Seattle plans to opt out, the city said it is objecting to the proposed settlement because it’s concerned that the terms of the deal will prevent it from pursuing its own claims.

“The city of Seattle makes a very narrow objection to the class release language,” said Scott Summy, an attorney representing the cities that agreed to settle. “The court will sort out if a small change is even needed. Seattle claims that it is potentially opting out and, if so, the release language doesn’t apply to it.”

More than a dozen cities including Seattle, San Diego, Portland, Oregon, and Oakland, California, have sued Monsanto — the exclusive maker of PCBs, which were used to cool heavy-duty electrical equipment for more than 40 years before being banned in the 1970s. The non-biodegradable chemicals sometimes fouled manufacturing areas and the pollutants ended up in the soil. The PCBs would also run into major water bodies when it rained, killing fish and making the water a health hazard.

“It is not uncommon to receive a few number of objections to a class agreement especially when there is a large class as there is here with over 2,500 municipal entities,” Bayer said in a statement. “We remain confident that this settlement is a fair resolution, and parties on both sides continue to strongly support the motion seeking the court’s approval.”

The case is City of Long Beach v. Monsanto Co., 16-CV-03493, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles).

(Updates with Bayer statement in eighth paragraph.)

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