An aerial view of Lake Michigan and North Point Marina in Winthrop Harbor. | Photo: Visit Lake County

Multiple cities and villages in Lake County have filed a lawsuit against Monsanto and other chemical companies over the contamination of Lake Michigan with PCBs.

The lawsuit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court by Seeger Weiss LLP, a Chicago-based law firm.

The firm is representing nine cities and villages in northeastern Illinois – Evanston, Lake Forest, North Chicago, Zion, Beach Park, Glencoe, Lake Bluff, Winnetka, and Winthrop Harbor.

The municipalities allege that Monsanto intentionally misled the public for decades about the environmental and health hazards of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), resulting in widespread contamination.

The complaint names the defendants as Monsanto Co., Solutia Inc., and Pharmacia LLC.

Due to PCB pollution in Lake Michigan, communities are now required by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to decrease the amount of PCBs discharged into the lake through stormwater by an estimated 99.6%.

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The lawsuit seeks to shift the significant costs associated with eliminating PCBs from the affected cities and villages to the defendants. It is unclear yet the exact costs.

“Because of Monsanto’s deception, Lake Michigan is contaminated with PCBs, forcing nearby communities to spend significant resources to reduce runoff of PCBs,” said Matt Pawa of Seeger Weiss, who is representing the affected communities.

“We look forward to holding Monsanto and other chemical companies accountable and assisting municipalities affected by their misconduct,” Pawa said.

PCBs are highly toxic, man-made chemical compounds known to accumulate and cause serious health effects in humans and animals.

The chemicals are especially dangerous to children and adolescents, who are more susceptible to PCBs’ neurodevelopmental impacts than adults.

The 38-page complaint filed in court alleges Monsanto knew that its commercial PCB formulations were highly toxic and would produce the contamination and human health risks that have occurred.

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“Yet Monsanto intentionally misled the public about these key facts, maintaining that its PCB formulations were safe, were not environmentally hazardous, and did not require any special precautions in use or disposal,” the complaint said.

Bayer AG, the company that acquired Monsanto in 2018, said in a statement to Lake and McHenry County Scanner that they believe the case is “meritless.”

“Monsanto believes the case is meritless as the Company voluntarily ceased its lawful manufacturing of PCBs more than 45 years ago, and never manufactured, used or disposed PCBs in or near the municipalities named in this suit,” the statement said.

“Under applicable law a manufacturer is not responsible for the downstream risks of a product that it lawfully introduced into the stream of commerce and over which it has had no control for more than four decades,” the company said in the statement.

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“Where it has been determined that cleanups are necessary, federal and state authorities employ an effective system to identify dischargers and site owners and allocate clean-up responsibilities to them,” the company added.

The US Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of PCBs in 1979.

Contamination from them continues to be a “major issue” today, according to the plaintiffs’ law firm.