Employee Sues Missouri Utility Over Hazardous Materials

September 24, 2013

An employee of Joplin-based Empire District Electric Co. alleges in a lawsuit that the utility exposed its employees to asbestos and other hazardous materials at a plant in southeast Kansas.

The lawsuit, filed last week in Jasper County Circuit Court by Les Rider, of Diamond, Mo., seeks class-action status for employees who worked at the utility’s Riverton plant in Kansas. Rider alleges that he and other employees were exposed to the hazardous materials during the plant’s conversion from coal to natural gas, The Joplin Globe reported.

Rider, who has worked for Empire since December 2006, was transferred to the Riverton plant in 2011 and transferred out of the plant the same year. He currently works at the company’s call center.

The lawsuit alleges that a manager ordered Rider and other employees to dispose of various scrap materials in a way that would make the materials “disappear” so that company personnel who conducted environmental oversight would not find them.

Rider said he was told to unwind asbestos-insulated wire from spools to permit disposal of the wire and the spools in separate trash bins. Employees also were told to drill into electrical items that contained polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, and to clean coal-fired boilers caked with coal ash without being given proper training or proper protective clothing to handle the materials, he contends. The practice meant “hazardous contaminants infiltrated Empire’s employees, their personal effects, clothing, and the food and water they ingested,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit does not specify any injuries or health problems suffered by any employees, including Rider. It seeks compensatory damages to establish a medical monitoring program for employees.

Amy Bass, spokeswoman for Empire, told The Globe the company does not comment on pending litigation.

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