Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Monroe School District superintendent Fredrika Smith hosts a press conference outside the Sky Valley Education Center with assistant superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko to announce seven spaces in the school were shut down Wednesday, March 1, 2016.
Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Monroe School District superintendent Fredrika Smith hosts a press conference outside the Sky Valley Education Center with assistant superintendent Dr. Justin Blasko to announce seven spaces in the school were shut down Wednesday, March 1, 2016.

Monsanto is asking to be dismissed as a defendant in a complaint filed against the company for chemical exposure families and educators who spent time in the Sky Valley Education Center say caused serious health problems. 

The multinational agriculture corporation argues the complaint for damages was not concise enough, didn't make a clear connection between an individual and an injury, and a manufacturing defect wasn't proven, according to court documents.

“The complaint does not and cannot allege any deviation from Monsanto's design specifications or performance standards,” according to court documents.

Seattle-based Friedman Rubin law firm filed the lawsuit against Monsanto and its affiliated companies for three dozen plaintiffs in January. The Monroe School District, Snohomish County Health District and State of Washington were also named in the case.

Cancers, Hashimoto's Disease, thyroid disorders, changes in skin pigmentation and peeling, nausea, dizziness and headaches have been reported by more than 100 students, teachers and parents, according to the complaint. Endocrine, autoimmune and neurological disorders, early puberty and miscarriages were also reported.

Monsanto's dismissal request states none of the illnesses listed were tied to anyone or any cause in particular. Photos of the afflictions were included, but did not identify the affected parties.

“Despite the excessive length of the Complaint, nowhere does any individual Plaintiff specify his/her alleged injury, the duration and location of the ‘time’ each Plaintiff allegedly spent at Sky Valley, the pathway by which each Plaintiff was allegedly exposed to PCBs, or the levels of PCBs to which any individual Plaintiff was allegedly exposed,” according to court documents.

The building was first used as Monroe High School in the 1950s. It then became Monroe Junior High and later Monroe Middle School. The SVEC — an alternative K-12 education program where parents can attend classes with their younger kids — moved into the building in 2011.

The EPA estimates about 400 million pounds of the chemicals had entered the environment by 1975, according to the complaint. PCBs decompose slowly and are very damaging, even in low concentrations.

Children are most susceptible to the toxins, according to the original complaint. The chemicals can be inhaled, ingested and absorbed by touch. They can be found in electrical transformers, carried by dust and permeate furniture and other materials.

Monsanto was the only commercial producer of the chemical from the 1930s and up to the late 1970s. The complaint states the company manufactured and sold the product despite knowing how dangerous it was. Profits played a role in Monsanto’s decision not to properly promote risks to the public, the complaint states, which is one reason why it remained in the school district's buildings for so long.

This case is not unique to Monroe.

As many as 14 million children in roughly 20,000 schools nationwide may be exposed to PCBs, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study referenced in the complaint.

Monsanto argues the inclusion of historical information muddied the clarity of the complaint. The document was called “an incomprehensible, confusing and verbose legal brief, replete with the hyperbolic language of a press release.” It was more than 300 pages long.

Monsanto also asserts the case is not legitimate because it was not proven a manufacturing defect had occurred, which is “when a product departs from its intended design and is more dangerous than consumers expect the product to be,” according to Cornell Law School's nonprofit Legal Information Institute.

The school district has not yet filed anything in response to the lawsuit. The school district's attorney Patricia Buchanan wrote in a letter to attorney Friedman Rubin Sean Gamble in January the complaints “are not well founded.”

Concerns about air quality and the health of families and teachers have been aggressively addressed since they were first brought up in the 2013-14 school year.

“The school district has been transparent in its efforts to ensure that SVEC is a safe place for students, parents, and District employees,” she wrote.

Buchanan goes on to list the various steps taken by the school district, including collaborating with the health district and removing contaminated materials. Staff also changed cleaning procedures, and companies were hired to regularly test classrooms. The school district acted as soon as the first health concerns were reported.

Nearly $1.2 million in renovations were completed at the school in summer 2016. The health district had issued other remediation requirements in April 2016, including age restrictions and access for pregnant mothers in specified areas.

Seven spaces in the center were shut down last March following December 2016 test results that came back strikingly high. The school district expected those results were false positives. If the EPA believed the data was actually of concern, no one of any age would be allowed in the areas, “the numbers are so likely not accurate,” said Monroe School District superintendent Fredrika Smith at the time.

She also said the first concerns raised were largely related to respiratory functions, such as sneezing, and itchy and watering eyes, “much like a severe cold.” Gamble said that was a false statement, and she had known for a year the reports were far more severe.

Parent Jill Savery, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said the school district's response wasn't enough. She believes the efforts were closer to stall tactics, and used as a way to “calm the masses.” She feels angry with administrators, whom she believes were not more compassionate about her concerns and didn't have the health of their students in mind.

Buchanan did not respond to a request for comment on Monsanto's filing.