West Virginia continues to win the game of exposing human beings to extremely hazardous conditions in exchange for working-class pay, then telling them to deal with it when they get sick. The latest example of this behavior doesn’t even have to do with coal, but with Monsanto and Agent Orange.
For 30 years, the Monsanto plant in a town called Nitro (named after the chemicals produced there! For real!) produced a defoliant ingredient that would later be used in Agent Orange. But the herbicides made in Nitro were contaminated with dioxin, which meant that Nitro residents were exposed to the toxic chemical beginning in the late 1940s. Dioxin has been connected to every bad health impact imaginable—for adults, problems like cancer and immune suppression, and for kids, problems like birth defects and learning disabilities. And now, because of the way West Virginia law works, the most that the citizens of Nitro can ask from the company is that it covers the cost of medical testing fees.
Monsanto is going on trial for polluting Nitro, but judges threw out the part of the case having to do with property remediation. That means the jury won’t even be able to consider whether the company should pay for cleaning up the town. The lawyers fighting Monsanto are taking the issue to the state’s Supreme Court, but the moral of the story seems to be: If you have to make a deal with Monsanto or any other corporation ever, don’t do it in West Virginia.