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A jury on Friday found that Monsanto Co. polluted the town of Anniston, Ala., with PCBs — a verdict that could expose the chemical giant to millions of dollars in damages. The amount will be determined later. Thousands of more claims are pending. The verdict was the first from a jury over the PCB contamination in Anniston, but the situation has dogged Monsanto for years. The company reached a $40 million settlement in a federal case last year, and has spent tens of millions trying to clean up contamination in and around the town. Monsanto operated a plant that produced PCBs in the east Alabama town for about four decades up until the early 1970s, when the chemical was banned as a suspected cancer-causing agent. PCBs were used mainly as an insulating fluid in electrical transformers. The St. Louis-based company, its spinoff Solutia and Pharmacia Corp. were found liable Friday for negligence and other claims of 16 individuals and one business. “It’s been a long time coming for someone to say Monsanto is guilty,” said David Baker, a community activist who blames the companies for the death of his brother two decades ago. His case has not yet been heard by a jury. “As a child growing up in that area, the odor was so foul from the plant we had to go inside the house,” he said. “People can’t garden anymore. Children can’t play in their yards.” Calhoun County Circuit Judge Joel Laird said he had not decided when or how damages against the companies would be set. The judge said he would review the verdict before meeting with the jury again today. Chief executive John C. Hunter said Solutia was “extremely disappointed” with the verdict. “As we’ve said from the beginning, regardless of the result in this case, we’re committed to doing what’s fair to deal properly with the impacts of previous PCB production at our plant,” Hunter said. Some 3,500 Anniston residents and business owners originally sued the companies, claiming Monsanto knowingly contaminated their community. Their claims will be taken up in groups, in a succession of trials. Also, a Montgomery, Ala., law firm says it has about 15,000 clients suing in federal court. In Friday’s case, the plaintiffs claimed the contamination from Monsanto’s Anniston plant had damaged their property and caused emotional distress. Company documents were cited at trial in an attempt to show a cover-up by Monsanto officials after harm from PCBs was indicated. Besides last year’s federal settlement, Solutia agreed in another case to pay $43.7 million to as many as 5,000 Anniston-area property owners along Choccolocco Creek and Lake Logan Martin, where PCBs were found. The trial was held in Gadsden, Ala., about 20 miles from the plant, because of pretrial publicity in Anniston. In the area around the Anniston plant, many homes and buildings are empty. “Most of the properties out here have negative value because it’s contaminated,” said Gene Tomlin, who operates Anniston Quality Meats near the chemical plant and was a plaintiff in Friday’s trial. “We have pecan trees on our property and we don’t allow the employees to eat the pecans.” His business partner, Jimmy Curvin, said it likely will be years before they see any money. “We’re hoping we get enough money to relocate and get us out of this hole,” he said. Copyright 2002 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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