N.H. sues Monsanto over PCB contamination

New Hampshire filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the agrochemical giant Monsanto over what it says has been widespread PCB pollution in the state.

The state alleges Monsanto and two companies that used to be part of Monsanto, Solutia Inc. and Pharmacia LLC, are responsible for contamination of public property as well as water and other natural resources. It also alleges in the complaint filed in Merrimack Superior Court that the PCB contamination is much more widespread than previously thought and that the companies knew of the dangers but failed to warn the public.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic industrial chemicals that have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the globe for decades. PCBs were used in many industrial and commercial applications, including in paint, coolants, sealants and hydraulic fluids. Monsanto, based in St. Louis, produced them from 1935 until 1977, two years before they were banned by Congress.

“Those who harm public resources must be held accountable. That is why we are taking this action today,” Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald said in a statement Tuesday.

Citing internal documents, the state says companies continued selling PCB mixtures even though they knew the compounds would lead “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.”

The state did not say when the contamination in New Hampshire occurred or when the companies failed to warn the public. It did not specify what remedies it was seeking.

“As an environmental engineer I spent many years cleaning up PCB contamination, and I know firsthand the costs these efforts can place on individuals and communities,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said in a statement.