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Burlington School District plans to sue Monsanto over PCBs as it seeks to fund a new high school

A man at a podium in front of a high school
Burlington School District, Courtesy
Tom Flanagan, superintendent of the Burlington School District, announced plans to sue Monsanto on Thursday.

The Burlington School District plans to sue the major chemical manufacturer Monsanto. District officials announced the intended suit at a press conference Thursday.

In 2020, high levels of PCBs, a toxic chemical manufactured by Monsanto, were found in Burlington High School and Burlington Technical Center. Officials closed the buildings, and students have been taking classes in a former Macy's store ever since.

“We promise taxpayers we will aggressively seek compensation from the corporation that caused this problem,” said Burlington superintendent Tom Flanagan.

Monsanto made and marketed polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, until the chemicals were banned in 1970s. PCBs are toxic, and known to cause cancer and other health problems. In 2021, teachers in Washington State won millions in a PCB-related suit against Monsanto.

Flanagan said the suit will seek damages related to the closures of Burlington’s high school and technical center, the relocation to the former Macy’s, and the cost of building a new high school.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said the city supports the suit against Monsanto.

“[These expenses] should be paid for by the corporation that created these chemicals and promoted their use,” he said.

There’s a $165 million bond on the ballot in November that would fund construction of a new high school and technical center. School district officials said money from the suit would be used to pay down that bond.

The district is working with Langrock Sperry & Wool of Vermont, and national law firms Seeger Weiss LLP and Grant & Eisenhofer. Flanagan said the district won’t have to pay for the litigation unless the suit is successful.

Separately, former Burlington educators are also suing Monsanto. They allege the high levels of PCBs caused them health issues. They filed their suit last week.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

Anna is a reporter and co-hosts Vermont Public's daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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