US: 77 multi-million dollar suits filed against Monsanto

A Charleston attorney has filed more than 70 cancer lawsuits against Monsanto and related companies over its old plant in Nitro.

Each of the 77 suits filed by Stuart Calwell seeks $5 million in compensatory damages, and the plaintiffs seek $300 million total in punitive damages. That totals $685 million in total damages. Calwell also seeks to have the cases certified as a class-action lawsuit.

"We think the lawsuits have great merit," Calwell said Thursday. "The complaints speak for themselves."

The complaints, filed Oct. 1 in Putnam Circuit Court, list Monsanto Company, Pharmacia Corporation, Akzo Nobel Inc, Flexsys America, Solutia Inc., Apogee Coal Company and related companies as defendants.

In each complaint, the "plaintiffs allege the same series of occurrences involving the negligent and otherwise unlawful release of dioxin from properties owned and/or controlled by the defendants caused or significantly contributed to their cancers," the complaints state.

Calwell's complaints detail the history of Nitro, the Old Monsanto plant there, the Monsanto Company and the other defendant companies which are successors.

"During the years that Monsanto was operating its trichlorophenol plant, it adopted an unlawful practice of disposing of dioxin waste materials by a continuous process of open 'pit' burning," the complaints state. "This practice was largely denied by Monsanto whose representatives characterized the practice as an 'incineration process' when asked by regulatory authorities.

"Further, the manufacturing process itself was dusty and Monsanto's dust control was haphazard."

The complaints say more than 3,000 pounds of a dioxin was released into the Nitro air because of this. Sampling showed levels of 2,200 parts per trillion, while U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards require a level less than 4 parts per trillion.

Monsanto owned and operated the plant from 1934 to 2000, according to the complaints. The Nitro plant was operated by Monsanto until 1995 when the plant merged with Akzo Nobel, a Dutch company, and began operating as Flexsys America Inc. In 1997, Monsanto renamed a subsidiary as Solutia Inc. and the Nitro was distributed to Solutia. The plant closed in 2004.

The suits cite a 1949 incident in which a safety disc failed at the plant, exposing workers to a chemical cloud that caused 226 people to become ill.

The dioxin in question - known as 2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacidic acid or 2,4,5-T - was used by the military as part of the herbicide "Agent Orange" in Vietnam. The complaints say production of the dioxin "continued 7 days a week 365 days a year from 1949 to approximately 1971 at the Monsanto Nitro plant."

The complaints maintain the defendants knew or should have known the Nitro plant site was contaminated and dangerous. The defendants acted carelessly, negligently, recklessly and/or deliberately, the suits say.

The plaintiffs each seek compensatory damages of $5 million each to compensate them for past, present and future medical bills and pain and suffering as well as mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life. Collectively, they seek $300 million in punitive damages. They also seek to have the cases certified as a class action.

"The proposed class is made up of persons with one or more dioxin related cancers and who live or lived in the class defined area ... for at least two years during the period 1949 to the present and/or have attended school in the class defined area for at least two years and/or who have been employed in a building in the class defined area for two years or more," the complaints state, adding that there are 12,503 residences in the area.

Earlier this year, nine families filed similar suits in Kanawha Circuit Court. Those suits say the former Monsanto Company is responsible for personal injury and wrongful death by exposure to the dioxins/furans produced at the plant.

Calwell also has another pair of possible class-action lawsuits about property damage stemming from dioxin exposure in Nitro against Mansanto that are pending in Putnam Circuit Court. Those were filed in December 2004, and are up for class certification later this month, he said.

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