Federal Court to Hear West Virginia Families’ Claims Against DuPont

September 30, 2010

A federal court will hear the complaints of 14 West Virginia families who blame illnesses ranging from cancer to rashes on long-term exposure to toxic waste piled up at a former DuPont zinc-smelting plant.

Lead plaintiffs Rebecca Morlock and Waunona Crouser have already won a class-action lawsuit over the plant in Spelter. Now, they and others are seeking damages for dozens of maladies they attribute to arsenic, cadmium, lead and other toxins.

The cases were filed in Harrison County Circuit Court in June. Wilmington, Del.,-based DuPont Co. got them transferred to U.S. District Court in Clarksburg last week. DuPont argued the court has jurisdiction because the cases involve parties from different states and the amount in dispute is sure to exceed $75,000.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, medical testing and treatment, lost wages and emotional distress. All are representing themselves.

Although some of their complaints have yet to show up in the federal court docket, DuPont spokesman Dan Turner said all are being transferred.

He declined to comment on the substance of the allegations.

Among the complaints are: ovarian and uterine cancer; bipolar disorder and mental distress; kidney problems; migraine headaches; seizure-like activity; skin lesions; low IQ scores; numbness and tingling of extremities; and thyroid, vascular and connective tissue diseases.

The smelter in north-central West Virginia produced more than 4 billion pounds of slab zinc and 400 million pounds of zinc dust for use in rustproofing products, paint pigments and battery anodes. By 1971, a toxic waste pile stood 100 feet tall and covered nearly half of the 112-acre site. Dust often blew into homes.

The plant closed in 2001, and DuPont worked with state regulators to demolish factory buildings and cap the site.

But in 2007, a jury ruled DuPont was negligent in creating the waste pile, and that it had deliberately downplayed and lied to its neighbors about possible health threats. It awarded $380 million in punitive damages — an amount the state Supreme Court later cut to $196 million.

The high court affirmed that thousands of residents were entitled to a $130 million, 40-year medical monitoring program and a $55.5 million cleanup fund for private properties. But a jury has yet to decide whether the underlying claims were filed in time to permit those remaining damages.

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