CHARLESTON -- A mountain of lawsuits against Monsanto and related companies have been removed to federal court.
This summer and fall, 161 lawsuits were filed in Putnam Circuit Court alleging Monsanto and related companies are responsible for causing cancer.
The complaints say Monsanto and its successor companies caused cancer by exposing the plaintiffs to dioxins/furans contamination of the air and property in and around Nitro. The cases mention the "negligent and otherwise unlawful release of dioxin from defendants' waste disposal practices on properties ... located in and about Nitro, West Virginia."
Earlier this month, Monsanto and the other defendant companies -- with the help of Charles M. Love III and attorneys at Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love -- removed the cases to federal court.
These individual cases, filed by Stuart Calwell and members of The Calwell Firm of Charleston, are not part of an ongoing class action involving thousands of current and former Nitro residents alleging Monsanto polluted the area with dioxin. The class action case specifies no specific damages, and the class-action plaintiffs seek medical monitoring.
The plaintiffs in the new cases are residents and former residents of Nitro or one or more of several surrounding communities of the now defunct chemical plant located near Nitro. They lived, worked or attended school in Nitro. Some of the plaintiffs are deceased, and those suits are filed by family members.
Monsanto owned and operated the plant from 1934 to 2000. From 1949 to 1970, the company produced an herbicide that was heavily contaminated with dibenzo dioxins and dibenzo furans. The complaints say the company disposed of the dioxin-contaminated waste in a way which caused dioxins to escape into the air.
The plaintiffs say their property and soil was contaminated.
"During the years that Old Monsanto was operating it's trichlorophenol plant, it adopted an unlawful practice of disposing of dioxin waste materials by a continuous process of open 'pit' burning," the complaints state. "This practice was largely denied by Old Monsanto whose representatives characterized the practice as an 'incineration process' when asked by regulatory authorities.
"Old Monsanto and its successors ... failed to adequately control the dioxin contaminated soils and other dioxin contaminated waste materials both on and off the plant site. Dioxins/furans continued to be re-deposited and re-distributed from the plant site and the off-site dumps so as to continue the process of air and property contamination."
The complaints say the defendants knew of the dangers.
The defendants "should have known of the highly toxic properties of dioxin and that dioxin was and is a known promoter of cancer and that dioxin was and is a known human carcinogen," the complaints state. The defendants "knew that the area around the Monsanto plant was populated with permanent residents who would likely live out their lives in the area contaminated."
The complaints also detail the history of Monsanto and the company's knowledge regarding dioxin. The Nitro plant produced herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals, including Agent Orange.
Dioxin has been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, endometriosis, infertility and suppressed immune functions.
The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages for medical bills past and future, lost wages, pain and suffering, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. They also seek punitive damages for the "willful, wanton and reckless" actions of the defendants "evidencing a callous disregard for the health and wellbeing of the residents of the Nitro area."