CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — The second phase of a class-action lawsuit against DuPont has gone to the jury, which must decide whether thousands of West Virginia residents deserve medical monitoring because of exposure to contamination from a waste site.
Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday and were scheduled to begin deliberations Wednesday.
The lawsuit filed by 10 residents argues that routine health screenings are needed because residents in and around the small town of Spelter inhaled and ingested arsenic, cadmium and lead from the 112-acre site at a former zinc-smelting plant.
Spelter residents won the first phase of their case Oct. 1, when jurors found DuPont liable for and negligent in creating the waste site. The 11-member jury also found that Delaware-based DuPont created a public and private nuisance and that its pollution trespassed onto private property.
DuPont already has set aside $15 million to deal with the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are proposing a 40-year medical monitoring plan that would offer voluntary testing for lung, skin, stomach, bladder and kidney cancer, as well as for kidney function, cognitive problems and lead poisoning. Lead is not a carcinogen but can cause such problems as spontaneous abortions, low birth weight, memory and learning problems, bone fragility and cardiovascular disease.
DuPont's lawyers questioned whether health screenings would prevent illnesses associated with the chemicals. They also argued that exposure to radiation from CT scans for lung cancer could outweigh the benefits.
Mike Papantonio, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said DuPont values the bottom line more than residents' health.
Regardless of how the medical monitoring phase ends, a third phase of the lawsuit will address property damage claims. The final phase will address whether DuPont's conduct merits punitive damages.
The property owners sued DuPont and New York-based T.L. Diamond & Co. in 2004 over claims the companies deliberately dumped dangerous heavy metals on the industrial site in the heart of their town.
T.L. Diamond ran the plant from 1975 to 2001, when regulators recommended the site be declared an imminent and substantial threat to public health.
DuPont has been involved with the property since 1899 when it bought the land for a gunpowder mill. The company reassumed ownership when the zinc plant closed.
While Diamond is a defendant, the company isn't actively participating in the trial. The judge in the case ruled previously that DuPont is responsible for Diamond's conduct because of the 2001 sales agreement.