San Diego Bay. (Image: WikiMedia Commons)

San Diego Bay. (Image: WikiMedia Commons)

The City of San Diego and the San Diego Unified Port District have sued agro-chemical giant Monsanto for polluting the city’s bay and tidelands with toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Originally a common ingredient in household flame retardants, PCBs were banned by the 1979 Toxic Substances Control Act. The Environmental Protection Agency has categorized the chemical as “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic” due to its inability to break down once absorbed into the body. High exposure to PCBs can lead to endocrine disruption, weakened immune systems, cancer and death.

The San Diego lawsuit is based on the fact that, despite an awareness of PCBs’ toxic nature, Monsanto prioritized its profits above the health of humans and wildlife. The following is an excerpt from an internal report commissioned by Monsanto in 1969, courtesy of the San Diego Reader:

“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.”

Monsanto continued to manufacture household products as well as shipbuilding and electrical components containing PCBs, leading to their accumulation in the sediments of the San Diego Bay. In their March 16 complaint against the company, San Diego’s municipal bodies state that Monsanto-manufactured PCBs have been identified in the water as well as the tissues of marine life in the Bay. “PCB contamination in and around the Bay affects all San Diegans,” they write, “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.”

The suit is part of San Diego’s attempt to recoup the costs it incurred from a 2012 ruling by the city’s Regional Water Control Board that the city and port are responsible for permitting the dumping of hazardous chemicals into the Bay.

Warnings have been posted around the area that fish, lobsters and other creatures within the Bay may be contaminated and should not be consumed.

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