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April 10, 2009 - PCB Trial: Defense Calls Witnesses to Dispute Plaintiffs' Experts

The battle of the experts began in a courtroom in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday.

Defense attorneys started their case in a PCB (polychlorinated biphenyls ) trial by presenting experts who say the plaintiff's experts had it all wrong.

Plaintiffs' attorneys beginning March 31 put more than 20 witnesses on the stand who told jurors that PCBs cause diabetes and osteoarthritis and explained how PCBs get into the body, among other things. They are trying to prove links between PCB exposure and those diseases.

The first defense witness said that polychlorinated biphenyls do not cause osteoarthritis.

"There is nothing whatsoever... that establishes any link between (PCBs) and the development of osteoarthritis," said UAB rheumatologist Dr. Walter Chatham.

The plaintiffs on Tuesday offered an expert who said studies show PCBs can cause the disease.

A witness Thursday said that studies showing a connection between PCBs and diabetes are weak.

Another defense witness testified that it's impossible to say how long PCBs have been in claimant's bloodstreams. A plaintiff's expert had said the PCBs have been there for decades -- important testimony since four of the five claimants haven't lived in Anniston for 30 or more years.

The former Monsanto Co. made PCBs at its plant on Alabama 202 from 1929 until 1971. PCBs from the plant settled in the yards of many homes near the plant. The chemical also flowed through drainage ditches to Snow Creek and Choccolocco Creek.

This trial is the first of 47 cases filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court against Pharmacia, which in 2000 merged with Monsanto.

More than 3,000 claimants make up all 47 suits. Attorneys say these claimants were left out of two cases settled in 2003. About 21,600 claimants split $600 million in that case. Another $100 million went to research and a health clinic, among other efforts.

Before the plaintiffs rested their case Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from a former Monsanto employee who defended the company's decision not to tell Anniston residents it polluted the city.

Lawyers showed part of a video deposition taken in 1998 of 30-year Monsanto employee William Papageorge. Papageorge is no longer with Monsanto, but worked at the company during the decades it released millions of pounds of PCBs into Anniston's air, water and dirt.

On the video, a lawyer asked Papageorge whether any Monsanto official ever warned the public about the dangers of PCBs.

"Why would they?" he asked.

Papageorge said he and other officials decided "there was no rational reason" for informing the public about the PCBs or their effects. During that time, the company tested fish in Snow Creek and Choccolocco Creek and found high levels of PCBs, but opted against telling the people who routinely ate fish from the creeks.

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