Monsanto, the giant biochemical manufacturer, knowingly polluted streams, rivers, estuaries and wetlands in Maine for years with PCBs before the carcinogenic chemical compound was banned by federal law in the 1970s, the state said in a lawsuit filed Friday.

The suit, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, accuses Monsanto of selling hundreds of thousands of pounds of commercial PCB mixtures, formally known as polychlorinated biphenyls, in Maine from 1960 to the mid-1970s.

The manufacturer knew the PCBs were harmful, yet sold the compound that’s used in paints, household products, dust suppressants and insulating fluids inside electrical devices such as capacitors and transformers, according to the lawsuit.

Old mill buildings poke through the trees in Lewiston on the banks of the Androscoggin River in 2022. Excessive levels of PCBs – or polychlorinated biphenyls – have been found in the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot rivers, the Maine lawsuit says. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We have evidence that Monsanto knew that its PCBs products were causing long-lasting harm and chose to continue to make money off poisoning Maine’s people and environment,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said in announcing the lawsuit.

Maine accuses Monsanto of damaging more than 400 miles of rivers and streams and 1.8 million ocean acres with the chemicals. Excessive PCB levels have been found in the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Penobscot rivers and other waterways. That includes all estuaries and marine waters “capable of supporting American lobster,” the Maine lawsuit says.

As a result, Maine has been forced to issue “stringent PCB-specific fish and shellfish consumption advisories,” the complaint says.


The state accuses Monsanto of acknowledging internally that there was “little probability that any action that can be taken will prevent the growing incrimination” of PCBs leading to contamination of fish used for food, the killing of shrimp and the possible extinction of some fish-eating birds.”

The state is seeking compensation for the damage caused by PCBs and to clean and monitor the areas impaired by them.

Monsanto faces legal action in numerous other states.

In an emailed statement, Monsanto said Maine’s lawsuit is “meritless” because it did not manufacture or dispose of PCBs in Maine. Products with PCBs that could be the source of impairment in the state were manufactured and disposed of by third parties, Monsanto said.

Under applicable law, a manufacturer of component parts is not responsible for third-party uses of a product that it lawfully introduced and over which it has had no control for nearly five decades, the company said. Monsanto stopped producing PCBs nearly five decades ago, conducted hundreds of studies about their safety and warned its customers based on the state-of-the science at the time, it said.

In its 2023 annual report, Bayer said its Monsanto subsidiary has been named in lawsuits brought by several jurisdictions in the United States “claiming that Monsanto, Pharmacia and Solutia, collectively as a manufacturer of PCBs, should be responsible for a variety of damages due to PCBs in the environment, including bodies of water, regardless of how PCBs came to be located there.” Maine has named the three companies in its lawsuit.


Pharmacia, established in 2000 in a merger with Monsanto, is a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., which said in an email it is not liable in this case. A new Monsanto successor to the former Monsanto indemnified Pharmacia for liabilities primarily related to the former Monsanto’s chemical businesses, Pfizer said.

Solutia Inc. is a subsidiary of Eastman Chemical Co. Amanda Allman, a spokesperson for Eastman, said Solutia has not been served with Maine’s lawsuit and cannot comment.

“However, Solutia has been served with similar lawsuits in other jurisdictions” and referred the legal cases to Monsanto, which takes responsibility for defending and indemnifying Solutia, she said.

Bayer said in its annual report that as of Jan. 31, 2024, nine trials had been completed involving 65 plaintiffs. Twenty plaintiffs were unsuccessful, with juries deciding in favor of Monsanto, or a mistrial was declared after the jury was unable to reach a decision, the company said. The other 45 plaintiffs were awarded about $300 million in compensatory damages “and a multiple thereof in punitive damages,” Bayer said.

“The undisputed evidence in these cases does not, in Bayer’s opinion, support the conclusions that plaintiffs were exposed to unsafe levels of PCBs or that any exposure could have caused their claimed injuries,” the company said. “Each of the adverse verdicts are in different stages of post-trial motions and appeal due to numerous significant trial errors.”

Bayer warned investors it “may incur considerable financial disadvantages from pending lawsuits and/or potential future cases if, for example, we are ordered to pay compensatory and possibly punitive damages or if we assume payment obligations under out-of-court settlements.”

The company said it may be forced to issue debt, sell shares of company stock, or divest assets, “possibly on unfavorable terms,” to comply with legal settlements. “The materialization of any of these risks may also adversely affect our reputation and our commercial success,” Bayer said.

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