Burlington to sue Monsanto over BHS PCB contamination

Published: Oct. 13, 2022 at 12:17 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2022 at 3:10 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington School District is suing PCB manufacturer Monsanto for contamination that shut down their high school two years ago. It’s the second Burlington lawsuit announced this week that, if successful, could help pay the nearly $200-million price tag for a new school that would otherwise be mostly borne by taxpayers.

The district is working with several law firms to begin litigation to cover the forced abandonment of BHS, the move to Macy’s, and the building of a new high school. “Today’s announcement to make the producer of toxic chemicals pay for the harm it has inflicted on our community is consistent with our other efforts to minimize the impacts on taxpayers for costs they should not have to bear,” said BSD Superintendent Tom Flanagan.

PCBs are toxic industrial chemicals, now banned, that were used in a number of construction materials, including many Vermont schools that were built or renovated before 1980.

The announcement comes as Burlington voters are receiving ballots that include the city’s $165 million school bond to pay for a new replacement high school. If approved on Election Day, the target date for moving into the new school is set for August 2025. However, officials say they are realistic it could be years before any litigation is settled.

“We do not expect this to be an uncontested and quickly-resolved matter. Even though we plan to pursue this course of environmental justice zealously and aggressively, we are viewing this as a long-term strategy and we are anticipating that this work could consume a number of years,” said Burlington School Board Chair Clare Wool.

The district hopes that any monetary award will allow them to significantly reduce what they need to borrow and reduce the costs for taxpayers. They are working with lawyer Matt Pawa who has represented New Hampshire and the city of Los Angeles in recent PCB litigation.

Monsanto’s owner, Bayer, said in a statement that they will assess and respond to the complaint if one is filed. “Monsanto company voluntarily stopped producing PCBs 45 years ago and its conduct has been appropriate at all times. Until the company terminated their production, PCBs were lawfully used in a number of commercial products that were manufactured by other companies.”

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