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Defense Rests In Marathon Dioxin Trial

August 6, 1987

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) _ One of the longest jury trials in U.S. history wound further toward an end Thursday as the defense rested in a civil suit against Monsanto Co. stemming from less than a teaspoonful of spilled dioxin.

But it will be several days, maybe even weeks, before jurors who began hearing the case more than three years ago begin their deliberations.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Richard Goldenhersh on Wednesday released the jurors until some time next week.

The case pits Monsanto against 65 people who say they were sickened when a tiny amount of dioxin spilled during a railroad tank-car accident in the small Missouri town of Sturgeon on Jan. 10, 1979.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue their clients were exposed to the world’s ″most toxic manmade chemical,″ leaving them with headaches, joint pains and other illnesses.

Dioxin was produced as an unwanted byproduct in the manufacture of herbicides and disinfectants. Although federal officials have said frequent exposure to dioxin at levels as low as 1 part per billion could pose a health risk, its effect on humans is still being debated by scientists.

The 65 plaintiffs say they should be paid for the rest of their lives for the suffering and medical care they had after the spill.

The case also seeks punitive damages from Monsanto, based in St. Louis. Plaintiffs’ attorneys have indicated they will seek damages well into the millions.

Monsanto attorneys say the dioxin level was too low to make anyone sick.

The dioxin was spilled when a tank car containing 19,000 gallons of wood preservative ruptured. The wood preservative contained less than a teaspoon of dioxin.

More than 3,000 exhibits have been presented in the case and more than 100 witnesses have taken the stand since the trial began Feb. 22, 1984. The length of the case was due in part to complex medical testimony and scientific data that was gone over repeatedly.

The last piece of evidence was presented Wednesday.

″I think it has to be winding down,″ Monsanto spokesman Mark Schannon said Thursday. ″Whether it’s one month, two months or three months, I have no idea. No one had imagined it would last three years.″

Goldenhersh also would not speculate on how long the trial will continue. The case is being heard in Illinois because the spilled chemical was manufactured at an Illinois Monsanto plant.

The last witness, Dr. James Webster of Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, testified 106 days. Webster has been cited for civil contempt for refusing to answer questions to the satisfaction of Rex Carr, attorney for the plaintiffs, but Monsanto has appealed that order.

Attorneys for both sides were back in the courtroom Thursday for arguments on motions Monsanto filed.

Carr said he’s anxious to get on with closing arguments and jury instructions.

″I could argue this case tomorrow,″ he said. ″I don’t need a rest. I’ve never been in favor of taking any time off.″

Monsanto lawyers favor a two-week break to allow both sides to prepare their arguments. David Snively, Monsanto’s in-house counsel, said such breaks are common practice during lengthy trials.

Even with the end approaching, no celebrations were being held in either law office.

″It’s just like every other day,″ Snively said. ″We have so many other things to take care of.″

Said Carr, ″I want the trial to be over with, but it’s not time to be celebrating.″

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