© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Logo of Bayer AG is pictured at the annual results news conference of the German drugmaker in Leverkusen, Germany February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/File Photo
By Clark Mindock
(Reuters) – A U.S. jury has ordered Bayer (OTC:)’s Monsanto (NYSE:) to pay $165 million to employees of a school northeast of Seattle who claimed chemicals made by the company called polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, leaked from light fixtures and got them sick.
The Washington state court jury found the company liable for selling products containing PCBs used in the Sky Valley Education Center in Monroe, Washington, that were not safe, and did not include adequate warnings. The award included nearly $50 million in compensatory damages, and $115 million in punitive damages.
The verdict in favor of six teachers and a custodian who said exposure to the PCBs gave them cancer, brain injuries and other issues marks the latest trial loss for the company, which is now facing nearly $870 million in verdicts from alleged PCBs exposure at the Sky Valley center, said an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The company is appealing those verdicts.
Monsanto said in a statement that it will contest Monday’s verdict, and that blood, air and other tests show the school employees were not exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs.
PCBs are chemicals once widely used to insulate electrical equipment and in other common products like carbon copy paper, caulking, floor finish and paint. The U.S. government outlawed the chemicals in 1979 after discovering links to cancer.
Employees, students and others have claimed in numerous lawsuits against the company that exposure to PCBs at the Sky Valley center caused their cancers, thyroid conditions and other health problems.
The company said on Monday it stopped producing PCBs in 1977. It also said the school had been warned repeatedly since the 1990s that its light fixtures needed to be retrofitted, but those warnings were ignored.
The lawsuit named Monsanto spinoff Pharmacia as the defendant in the case, though Monsanto is expected to be required to cover the damages due to legal agreements between the companies governing liabilities from historic chemicals production, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs and financial reports.