Jurors Hear Opening Arguments in W. Va. Pollution Suit

September 14, 2007

DuPont’s lawyers say the company is a good corporate neighbor but lawyers for 10 West Virginia property owners suing the chemical giant claim it puts profits ahead of community safety.

Jurors heard these dueling portrayals Wednesday during opening arguments in the trial of a class-action lawsuit that targets DuPont and New York-based T.L. Diamond & Co., The Exponent-Telegram of Clarksburg reported.

Several other defendants named in the lawsuit have been dismissed.

The property owners claim the companies put their health at lifelong risk by dumping heavy metals on a 112-acre site in the heart of Spelter for 90 years.

Their lawsuit, which could benefit thousands of people in Spelter and neighboring communities, also claims the companies ruined their homes and property values. It demands long-term medical monitoring, property damages and punitive damages.

Before it closed in 2001, the smelter plant produced more than 4 billion pounds of slab zinc and 400 million pounds of zinc dust, materials used in rustproofing products, paint pigments and battery anodes. Plaintiffs say the waste site is now tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead.

“When you hear the whole story … I believe you’re going to find DuPont is the party that did everything right here,” DuPont lawyer David Thomas said.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys Farrest Taylor and Mike Papantonio said DuPont knew as early as 1919 that pollution from the smelter was sickening cattle and horses and killing plants, The Exponent-Telegram reported. A study conducted in 1919 found an area of contamination that mirrored what tests conducted by plaintiffs’ experts discovered recently, Taylor said.

Thomas and DuPont lawyer Jeffrey Hall said another company that owned the plant at the time commissioned the 1919 study. Thomas said DuPont only learned of the study’s existence recently during the litigation, the newspaper reported.

Recent tests conducted by plaintiffs’ experts found high levels of cadmium, arsenic and lead, which could lead to lung, liver and bladder cancer and kidney disease, the plaintiffs’ lawyers said.

Hall criticized the experts’ methodology, saying they examined attics, the tops of refrigerators and other areas where people would rarely, if ever, spend time.

“That is not good science,” Hall said.

DuPont has been involved with the property since 1899, when it bought the land for a gunpowder mill. The company later sold the property and then bought it again in 2001.

Papantonio said workers cleaning up the site after DuPont reacquired it wore special suits, respirators and two pairs of gloves.

“DuPont didn’t warn area residents to tell their children to put on respirators and dress up like spacemen when they go out to play in the community,” he said.

Information from: The Exponent Telegram, http://www.cpubco.com

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