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After 15 months of testimony, including more than 7,000 exhibits and 10 days of deliberations, a Commonwealth Court jury in Philadelphia returned a $90 million verdict Wednesday against the Monsanto Co. of St. Louis for its role in causing PCB contamination that forced the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to abandon a building in Harrisburg. The 30-year-old, 12-story building, damaged in a June 1994 fire, was torn down in 1998 after state tests revealed dangerous levels of asbestos and PCBs, both known carcinogens. A new building — with a price tag estimated at $193 million — is scheduled to open this fall. “The biggest point for the jury was that the state officials correctly concluded that people were more important than money, that they were not going to subject people to [the asbestos and PCB],” said Pittsburgh sole practitioner Thomas W. Henderson, who represented the state along with Kenneth McClain of the Missouri law firm of Humphrey Farrington & McClain. Monsanto defense attorney Thomas M. Goutman of Philadelphia’s White & Williams countered, “I think the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of evidence that showed that the building we are being asked to rebuild from the ground up was a firetrap in violation of the fire code.” He said an appeal is planned. During the lengthy trial before Judge Charles P. Mirarchi Jr. — only the third jury case in the history of the primarily appellate court — Monsanto argued that the suit was designed to finance the construction of a new building to replace a dilapidated old one. It maintained that the levels of PCBs present were not a health risk, and that the state incurred unnecessary expenses in relocating the 1,800 workers. “As a result of the state’s refusal to put in sprinklers as demanded by the fire chief, a fire occurred that resulted in the spread of PCBs. For 2 1/2 years [after the fire], the state certified that the building was safe; the state’s Department of Health, which did not join in the suit, certified the building as safe,” Goutman said after the verdict. The asbestos in the building was the subject of a suit filed in 1990 against U.S. Mineral Products Co. of Stanhope, N.J. The state sought to recover $20 million spent removing the hazardous materials sold by the company. The suit was delayed due to the 1994 fire; it later settled. In February 1996, following the fire, the state filed a second suit against U.S. Mineral, charging that the asbestos fireproofing also contained PCBs. In March 1997, six other PCB manufacturers, including Monsanto, were added to the suit. The jury found two of the PCB manufacturers, Courtaulds Aerospace Inc. of Glenside, Calif., and U.S. Mineral, not liable for the presence of PCBs. Previously dismissed from the suit were Phillips Electronic North America Corporation of New York, ChemRex Inc. of Shakopee, Minn., and Advance Transformer Co. of Chicago. CertainTeed Corp. of Valley Forge, Penn., settled with the state prior to verdict. According to plaintiffs’ attorney Henderson, Monsanto made no settlement offers. “The state elected to sue a deep pocket to pay for a new building, but the damage resulted only from their own mistakes and their refusal to obey the laws of Harrisburg,” Goutman said after the trial. Henderson said, “This was a bitterly hard-fought case. We are pleased that the jury realized that the state acted appropriately in deciding they were not going to risk people’s lives.” “Our office is very pleased with the outcome,” a spokesman for Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher said Wednesday. “We believe the jury’s verdict supports the commonwealth officials who said this building had to be torn down. The jury found that the building is highly contaminated with PCBs, hence the high verdict.”

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