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School board to sue Monsanto over contamination that closed Vermont high school

Students have been attending classes at a former Macy’s department store.

Students enter Downtown Burlington High School through a giant storefront arch, Monday, March 22, 2021, in Burlington, Vt. The building, a former Macy's store, replaced the existing Burlington High School after it was closed in August 2020 following the discovery PCB's. Charles Krupa / AP, File

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The school board in Vermont’s largest city plans to sue the manufacturer of chemicals that forced the closure of Burlington High School, officials said.

Burlington School District officials on Thursday announced plans to sue agro-chemical giant Monsanto after PCBs were found in the existing building and soil during renovations, forcing the closure of the school, which also housed the Burlington Technical Center.

In a statement, Bayer, which now owns Monsanto, said Monsanto “voluntarily stopped producing PCBs 45 years ago and its conduct has been appropriate at all times.”

“Until the company terminated their production, PCBs were lawfully used in a number of commercial products that were manufactured by other companies,” the statement said. “We will assess and respond to a complaint if one is filed.”


School officials now are planning to demolish the existing building and build a new school and technical center in the same area. Burlington voters will cast ballots next month on a proposed $165 million bond, but the city estimates the total cost of the improvements could be $190 million.

Burlington Board Chair Clare Wool said the lawsuit could mean long-term financial compensation for the district, but to move forward with the plans for the new school they still need to have the bond approved.

“Even though we plan to pursue this course of environmental lawsuit zealously and aggressively, we are viewing this as a long-term strategy and are anticipating that this work could consume a number of years,” Wool said in a statement.

The city did not say when it planned to file its lawsuit. Students have been attending classes at a former Macy’s department store.

Over the years, a number of state and local governments have sued Monsanto, which was purchased by Bayer in 2018, over PCB contamination. In one example, last winter the state of New Hampshire reached a $25 million settlement with Monsanto over what the state said was widespread PCB pollution in waterways and other state-owned property.

PCBs are toxic industrial chemicals, now banned, that have accumulated in plants, fish, birds and people 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.


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