By Aviva Shen
A new lawsuit over harmful levels of the coolant polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) in Massachusetts school buildings is forcing biotech firm Monsanto Company to revisit its unsavory past.
Before Monsanto became the agricultural giant it is today, the company’s major product used to be PCBs, which it routinely dumped in rivers and open pits while deliberately attempting to hide the damage. The company managed to survive the many lawsuits from poisoned communities and distance itself from its toxic past — largely thanks to the help of Mitt Romney.
But now the town of Lexington is trying to hold the company accountable for the PCBs used in school construction between 1950 and 1976, when PCBs were banned by Congress. The lawsuit, which seeks to represent all Massachusetts schools, claims Monsanto should have warned manufacturers of the health and environmental dangers posed by exposure to PCBs. The chemical has been definitively linked to cancer and serious neurological and hormonal disorders.
Monsanto’s corporate affairs director fired back that the company is not responsible for the outdated building: “It is our understanding that the school in question was built over 50 years ago, was poorly maintained, and was scheduled for demolition years ago since it had outlived its useful life.”
Many of the schools in Massachusetts have also “outlived” themselves, partly due to the same man who helped Monsanto outlive its disastrous PCB scandal. As governor, Romney slashedstate funds for local aid in 2003 and 2004, forcing towns to cut corners and enact freezes on education spending. As almost half of all municipal revenue goes toward education, Romney’s austerity budgets dealt a serious blow to local schools.
Later, Romney took credit for then Treasurer Tim Cahill’s plan to refinance school building assistance, which was meant to clear the more than 400 pending school construction projects in the state. Soon after the refinancing plan was passed, however, Romney froze state contributions to local school construction projects, leaving cities and towns to scramble for funds and suspend some of their backlogged projects.
Lexington’s lawsuit states that more than half of the state’s 1,900 schools were built between 1950 and the 1970s, making them likely to contain harmfully elevated levels of PCBs.