Environment Judge OKs DuPont's pollution settlement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- A pollution case involving a former zinc-smelter site in West Virginia has been resolved with DuPont agreeing to pay $70 million plus fund a medical monitoring program for area residents.

DuPont and lawyers representing 8,500 current and former residents living near the site in Spelter presented the settlement to Harrison County Circuit Judge Thomas A. Bedell for his approval in November. On Tuesday, Bedell approved the agreement, saying it passed the fairness test and would end court battles in his court, the state Supreme Court and federal court.

"There have been many battles fought by the parties and both sides have had victories," Bedell wrote. "However, winning a battle or a skirmish does not end the war," the judge wrote. "The potential for lengthy future conflict still looms on the horizon, and, without this settlement, this war is not over."

Bedell said he only received two objections to the settlement from the 8,500 class-action medical monitoring class members, and the 2,800 property class members.

The case centered on a zinc smelter that operated for 90 years in north-central West Virginia, producing 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, covering nearly half the 112-acre site. Dust loaded with heavy metals and other toxins often blew into homes in Spelter and other small communities around the site.

The plant closed in 2001, and DuPont worked with state regulators to demolish buildings and cap the ground with plastic and soil.

Tuesday's settlement ends the dispute over a 2007 jury verdict that found DuPont liable for creating the waste pile, and that it had deliberately downplayed and lied about possible health threats. Jurors awarded $380 million in punitive damages -- an amount the state Supreme Court later cut to $196 million.

The high court also sent the case back to Bedell, who presided over the jury trial, to conduct a trial over DuPont's claim that the residents failed to their lawsuit within legal time limits. The trial was scheduled for March 2011.

Published: Thu, Jan 6, 2011


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