CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — Jurors are set to hear closing arguments Friday in the first phase of a class-action lawsuit against DuPont, accused of deliberately creating a 112-acre waste site that 10 West Virginia residents say threatens their health.
Property owners in the small town of Spelter are suing Delaware-based DuPont and New York-based T.L. Diamond & Co. in Harrison County Circuit Court over claims the companies dumped arsenic, cadmium and lead on the site of a former zinc-smelting plant.
Over 90 years, the plant produced more than 4 billion pounds of slab zinc and 400 million pounds of zinc dust, materials used in rust-proofing products, paint pigments and battery anodes.
The plaintiffs argue the companies knew their waste products were dangerous and acted with negligence, while DuPont and Diamond deny wrongdoing.
Diamond ran the plant from 1975 to 2001, when regulators recommended the site be declared an imminent and substantial threat to public health. DuPont — which has been involved with the property since 1899 when it bought the land for a gunpowder mill — reassumed ownership when the zinc plant closed.
The lawsuit demands long-term medical monitoring, property damages and punitive damages for thousands of people in and around Spelter.
Plaintiffs' attorney Mike Papantonio, of Pensacola, Fla., argues a range of health problems could develop from exposure to the toxins, some of which take decades to manifest. They include: neurological impairment; lung, skin, kidney and stomach cancers; damage to the heart, liver, kidneys, bladder and other internal organs; hypertension; diabetes; and decreased fertility.
The trial before Judge Thomas Bedell began Sept. 10.
After closing arguments, the 15-member jury will decide whether the companies caused the contamination or committed any wrongdoing.
If they acquit DuPont and Diamond, the trial ends. If they determine the companies are responsible, a second phase will determine whether the plaintiffs deserve routine medical screenings and, if so, how much DuPont and Diamond should pay for that program.
According to an August filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, DuPont already has set aside $15 million to deal with the lawsuit.
A third phase of the trial would address property damage claims, while the final phase would address whether punitive damages should be awarded.