Archives for category: Lawsuits

groundwater pollution

From the AP:

Jurors in the longest state trial in New Hampshire’s history will return to the courtroom this week after a nearly two-week hiatus to hear closing arguments in the state’s groundwater contamination case against Exxon Mobil Corp.

Lawyers for the state want jurors to hold Exxon Mobil liable to the tune of $240 million to monitor and clean up wells and public water systems contaminated by the gasoline additive MTBE, or methyl tertiary butyl ether.

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil counter that MTBE was used to comply with federal Clean Air Act requirements to reduce smog. They also blame any lingering contamination on third parties not named in the state’s decade-old lawsuit.

* * *

The jury will be asked to determine whether MTBE is a defective product and whether Exxon Mobil failed to warn its distributors and vendors about the characteristics and care needed in handling gasoline containing it.

MTBE, experts on both sides agreed, travels farther and faster in groundwater and contaminates larger volumes of water than gasoline without the additive.

If jurors find Exxon Mobil is liable for damages, they must then determine what was the oil giant’s market share of all gasoline sold in New Hampshire between 1988 and 2005. The state contends it was 30 percent; Exxon Mobil says it’s closer to 6 percent.

The state banned MTBE in 2007.

Lawyers for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil claim state environmental officials knew or should have known about the contaminating qualities of MTBE. * * *

Exxon Mobil is the sole remaining defendant of the 26 the state sued in 2003. Citgo was a co-defendant when the trial began, but it began settlement negotiations with the state on day two and withdrew from the trial. Citgo ultimately settled for $16 million – bringing the total the state has collected in MTBE settlement money to $136 million.

Read the entire article here.  Image from here.

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From the Madison Capital Times:

When Republicans passed their far-reaching tort reform bill last year, they did away with the effects of a 2005 state Supreme Court ruling that made six paint manufacturers potentially responsible for a Milwaukee boy’s lead poisoning. Now, in a move that raises constitutional questions, Republicans want to apply the new court standards to cases already in court.

The proposal, Senate Bill 373, would invalidate so-called “risk contribution” theory by requiring plaintiffs in 173 pending cases to identify the producer of the paint that poisoned their children. The risk contribution theory, adopted by the high court, allowed the family of Steven Thomas to sue the paint companies even though the family couldn’t identify which company produced the paint that poisoned him.

The theory was not new. It was adopted by the state’s high court in 1984 in Collins vs. Eli Lilly, a case that dealt with the miscarriage-prevention drug diethylstilbestrol, which was linked to vaginal cancer.

In the Thomas case, the Supreme Court ruling did not decide it. It only allowed the lawsuit to proceed. If the companies lost, they would share a degree of liability for producing the paint.

Peter Earle represented Thomas and is the attorney for the 173 children in the current cases. On Thursday Earle said at a state Senate judiciary committee hearing that he’d never seen litigation that changed the rules in pending court cases, and for the benefit of specific litigants.

“It’s obnoxious. It’s onerous. It’s something that I would expect to happen in North Korea, not the United States of America,” he said.

The bill, introduced only last week, is moving at breakneck speed, getting a hastily scheduled public hearing on Thursday. Introduced by Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the proposal also apparently has the blessing of Republican leadership. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“When a court does something that’s as outrageous as (the Thomas ruling), when they retroactively tell businesses that were producing paint in 1900 or 1910 that not only can you be liable for damages … but you have to be liable for any paint produced by any paint company in the United States in 1900, obviously you can’t operate commerce with that type of decision made,” Grothman said at the hearing.

Business interests were also enraged by the Thomas decision when it came out in 2005. In fact, they launched a successful electoral crusade to tilt the liberal court toward the conservative side. In 2008 the author of the Thomas decision, former Justice Louis Butler, lost his bid for reelection after business interests spent millions to back Michael Gableman, an obscure, conservative circuit court judge.

Grothman said Thursday that the pending lead paint cases were “filed at the last minute” to beat last year’s Feb. 1 enactment of the state’s “tort reform” bill, but Earle said he filed his cases before the law was even proposed, some as early as 2006.

Grothman didn’t restrict his comments to the bill. He questioned the notion, which has been well-documented over decades, that paint in the home can cause lead poisoning.

“Quite frankly, it’s scandalous that lawyers are leading people to believe that the lead paint in these houses is responsible for the increases in the (lead) levels in their blood,” he said.

Earle cited state health department statistics showing that Wisconsin is far above the national average in lead poisoning, and that the bulk of poisoning cases are concentrated in inner-city Milwaukee.

Earle, who showed up with several of the children he is representing who suffer from lead poisoning, said he was offended by Grothman’s comment.

“These children are born into socioeconomic situations that have every single burden that society can impose upon them imposed upon them,” he said. “And then what lead poisoning does is attacks the very gift that God gave them — their cognitive capacity, their ability to try to stand up and persevere over that.”

Earle also charged that the bill is an inside job, designed specifically to circumvent litigation in the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the cases are being litigated.

He said the parties were arguing the case on Jan. 9 and word that the bill had been drafted prompted the paint industry attorneys to cut arguments short. Two hours later, he said, Grothman sent out an email instructing the Legislative Reference Bureau to ready the bill.

“I believe it was put in the hopper so the six lead paint manufacturers had it in their back pocket, depending on how they saw the litigation in Chicago going,” Earle charged.

Grothman didn’t deny that the bill was designed to help the paint industry by eradicating the effects of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling.

Questioned by state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, about the origin of anonymous memos in the bill’s drafting documents that were incorporated in the bill, Grothman said he didn’t know where they came from.

“I’ve never seen it before,” Erpenbach said about the insertion of an anonymous memo in the drafting documents.

Critics say the bill could go much further than just protecting the paint industry.

“If you don’t like the court decision, why didn’t you just come in with a bill, a simple bill, that in effect repeals the court decision, rather than come up with a bill that may have serious, unintended results?” asked state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison. “Because this affects not only the paint case; it affects other cases.”

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From Chron.com (AP):

Arline MacCormackfirst heard about DES from her mother when she was 17. Three decades later, MacCormack believes that the drug her mother took to prevent miscarriages caused her to develop breast cancer at age 44.

MacCormack, of Newton, is one of 53 women from around the country who are suing drug companies who made and promoted DES for millions of pregnant women from about 1938 to the early 1970s. In 1971, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told doctors to stop prescribing DES for their pregnant patients after a study found that taking DES during pregnancy appeared to increase the risk of developing a rare vaginal cancer years later for DES daughters in their teens and 20s.

DES, or diethylstilbestrol (dahy-eth-uhl-stil-bes’-trawl), is a synthetic estrogen that was prescribed to millions of women in the United States, Europe and other countries to prevent miscarriages, premature birth and other problems.

The case in Boston is being closely watched by DES daughters around the country. Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the 1970s alleging links between DES and cervical and vaginal cancer, as well as infertility problems. Many of those cases were settled before trial. The Boston case is believed to be the first major litigation alleging a link between DES and breast cancer in DES daughters over the age of 40.

MacCormack, now 50, said she was stunned when she was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago after having mammograms every six months since she turned 40 because she had had several benign cysts removed over the years.

“The characteristics of my cancer were for women over 60 typically. It wasn’t the type of cancer a 40-year-old or a 44-year-old woman gets,” said MacCormack.

“When I read the research that’s been done, I found I had more chance of getting it because my mom took DES,” she said.

The women’s lawyers say their case is supported by a recent study that suggests that breast cancer risk is nearly doubled in DES daughters over the age of 40. The average woman has about a 1 in 50 chance of developing breast cancer by 55. The study, led by Dr. Robert Hoover, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, found that the chance for DES daughters is 1 in 25.

The lawsuit alleges that 14 drug manufacturers — including Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.— withheld from doctors and the FDA reports that showed DES did not prevent miscarriages and raised serious questions about the safety of the drug.

“This drug, DES, was the biggest human experiment of quackery in the history of medicine,” said Aaron Levine, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who filed the Boston lawsuit and represents another 18 DES daughters making similar claims.

Representatives and lawyers for Eli Lilly and Bristol-Myers Squibb declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In court and in public documents, the companies argue that a firm link between DES and breast cancer has not been established and that the DES daughters who are suing them have not shown that DES caused their cancers.

“We believe these claims are without merit and are prepared to defend against them vigorously,” Eli Lilly said in its most recent annual report.

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Image from Flickr.

From Charleston Gazette:

Jury selection in the class-action lawsuit against Monsanto will begin next week after no settlement was reached during about eight hours of mediation Tuesday, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney confirmed.

Residents allege in a class-action case, filed in 2004, that Monsanto unsafely burned dioxin wastes and spread contaminated soot and dust across Nitro, polluting homes with unsafe levels of the chemical.

The lawsuit set to begin next week will seek medical monitoring for at least 5,000 – and perhaps as many as 80,000 – current and former Nitro residents.

Before Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding recused himself from hearing the case after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, he ruled that residents could not sue collectively to seek remediation of homes they allege are contaminated with dioxin.

On Tuesday, several hundred plaintiffs gathered at the Marriott hotel in Charleston for a court-ordered mediation. Circuit Judges Booker Stephens of McDowell County and Alan D. Moats of Taylor County attempted to resolve the case to avoid trial.

A mediation held in October also failed to produce a settlement.

Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said he plans to call 18 experts to testify during the trial.

“This is an extraordinarily important case,” Calwell said. “[Plaintiffs] want their town back. What they’re interested in is having a safe home to live in — I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

Monsanto’s lead attorney, Charles Love of Charleston, would not comment on the upcoming trial.

For more than 50 years, the former Monsanto plant churned out herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals. The plant’s production of Agent Orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.

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Image from USNews.

Roger Magnusson, Lawrence O. Gostin, and David Studdert recently posted their paper, “Can Law Improve Prevention and Treatment of Cancer?” on SSRN:

The December 2011 issue of Public Health (the Journal of the Royal Society for Public Health) contains a symposium entitled: Legislate, Regulate, Litigate? Legal approaches to the prevention and treatment of cancer. This symposium explores the possibilities for using law and regulation – both internationally and at the national level – as the policy instrument for preventing and improving the treatment of cancer and other leading non-communicable diseases (NCDs). In this editorial, we argue that there is an urgent need for more legal scholarship on cancer and other leading NCDs, as well as greater dialogue between lawyers, public health practitioners and policy-makers about priorities for law reform, and feasible legal strategies for reducing the prevalence of leading risk factors. The editorial discusses two important challenges that frequently stand in the way of a more effective use of law in this area. The first is the tendency to dismiss risk factors for NCDs as purely a matter of individual ‘personal responsibility’; the second is the fact that effective regulatory responses to risks for cancer and NCDs will in many cases provoke conflict with the tobacco, alcohol and food industries. After briefly identifying some of the strategies that law can deploy in the prevention of NCDs, we briefly introduce each of the ten papers that make up the symposium.

You can download the paper for free here.

From The Los Angeles Wave:

While attorneys fight in the courtroom against the County of Los Angeles and several other entities, many residents who lived in and around the shuttered Ujima Village complex are left to wonder whether their health problems are the result of toxic contamination.

Formerly the Athens Tank Farm between the 1920s and 1960s, the site was acquired from ExxonMobil and transformed into an apartment housing complex in 1972, with financing from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The site was later sold by HUD to the Los Angeles County Housing Authority and the Community Development Commissioners (the five sitting Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors at the time) for $1.

In 2004, after poor workmanship of the original construction led to deterioration of the units, the Housing Authority tried to solicit developers to purchase, rehabilitate and operate the site; but the selected developer “later backed out of the proposed transaction, identifying gasoline and crude oil in the soil, soil gas and groundwater below Ujima Village,” said a county document on the chronology of village, which was named after the Swahili word for “collective work and responsibility.”

Willie Mitchell, son of Cordia Mitchell, lived on and off at the village with his mother. He last resided there was the year before the county began removing residents from the area.

In 2007, 64-year-old Cordia died following a battle with leukemia. “The doctor told her she had to have picked up from somewhere or that she was born with it,” Mitchell, 46, said. “She stayed at home a lot, she didn’t really work, she did babysitting. … They said she had to be working somewhere like an oil refinery or somewhere there are a lot of chemicals. Leukemia is not in the family at all, neither side.”

Prior to his mother’s passing, “I noticed that a lot of people over there were dying. I just knew something was wrong,” Mitchell added. “I would leave and then come back home and it was a ghost town over there. They were moving people out. We didn’t understand what happened to her when she got sick and how this came about. I noticed people who lived there after so many … years, they would start getting sick. My mom lived there for over 12 years, she was diagnosed in 2005.”

Mitchell said he knows of neighborhood children who have developed irritable skin rashes, pneumonia, bronchitis and other respiratory problems, while elderly residents reported suffering from various forms of cancer.

There was also talk of birth defects. According to Mitchell, he grew up with two girls who were born with one kidney. “It’s not a coincidence, there is something really wrong going on over there that they are trying to cover up for whatever reason,” he contends. “We are tying to find answers.”

A non-smoker, Mitchell said he has bronchitis and experiences severe migraines and itching. Nervousness, he said, may be due to lingering grief over his mother’s death.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m going to scratch my skin off,” he said, “and it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes before I can even soothe it.”

Don Brown, 57, lived at Ujima for approximately five years. He is currently undergoing chemotherapy for stage four cancer of the liver, which has spread to his intestines.

“When I first realized that something wasn’t right was when my neighbor caught pneumonia — a little boy who was about five caught pneumonia. I caught pneumonia twice,” he said. “My neighbor who was on the back side of my apartment, he caught pneumonia and he died. His neighbor, she caught pneumonia. And then a lot of the kids started having respiratory problems.

“We would get information from the mailbox,” he added. “You would go and get the mail and hear Miss So-and-So passed or so-and-so is real sick. You have over 29 people who have died, you have a lot of people like myself who have cancer and a lot of the kids who lived there have respiratory problems. There are a number of women in there who have had miscarriages. There is a real problem here.”

Brown said he learned of his cancer during a routine check-up. The doctor, he said, was astonished by what she found. “For my age and the health that I am, the cancer is rare and she hadn’t seen it before, and where it was … in the backside of my liver. She said it was real unusual.”

At several community outreach meetings, Brown said he and other residents were never warned about the possible health risks that could be associated with the toxic remnants left behind by Exxon Mobil after the former tank farm was acquired by HUD.

When residents began to question county officials about contamination on the site and possible health risks, “it was hushed,” Brown said. “They said there was nothing around us — yet 20 feet from my door, they were drilling holes. You have people dying. No one came over to Ujima Village to rescue us, they just had us there with a bunch of lies. They left us there to fend for ourselves.”

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From the Associated Press:

A $35 million settlement between Massey Energy and some 600 southern West Virginiaresidents who blamed the mining company for poisoning their wells with coal slurry finally has court approval.

Ohio County Circuit Judge James Mazzone signed an order declaring the deal reached July 27 “fair, just and reasonable under the circumstances.” Mazzone headed a three-judge Mass Litigation Panel that had been set to try the 7-year-old case against Massey and its Rawl Sales & Processing subsidiary.

Both companies were absorbed in June by Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources. Under the deal, they admit no wrongdoing.

The order signed Wednesday directs Alpha Appalachia Holdings Inc. to pay up within 30 days. It also schedules a hearing for Dec. 16 to hear from any guardians for minors who have yet to appear and to hear a petition for approval of wrongful death settlements.

Lawyers for both sides remained under a gag order Thursday and could not comment.

The terms of the settlement were supposed to be confidential, but The Associated Press obtained a letter sent to the plaintiffs and reported its contents. The letter explained that Massey had offered $35 million besides the $5 million it had previously agreed to put into a fund to cover medical testing.

The settlement was reached after a marathon session with two judges who were mediating the case while the other three prepared for the trial.

Current and former residents of Rawl, Lick Creek, Merrimac and Sprigg had accused Massey of contaminating their aquifer and wells by pumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into worked-out underground mines between 1978 and 1987.

Slurry is created when coal is washed to help it burn more cleanly. The residents say it seeped out of the old mine workings and into their aquifer, turning their well water varying shades of red, brown and black, and causing ailments ranging from learning disabilities to cancer.

The plaintiffs are now mostly served by a public water system but believe chronic exposure to metals and chemicals are to blame for birth defects and other health problems.

For decades, coal companies in Appalachia have injected slurry into worked-out mines as a cheap alternative to dams and other systems that can safely store or treat it. The industry claims underground injection is safe, but critics say slurry leaches into water tables through natural and man-made cracks in the earth.

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Image from Flickr.

From Orlando Sentinel:

More than three dozen former factory workers have settled their multimillion-dollar five-year legal battle against Siemens Corp. and General Dynamics Corp. over toxins they allege the companies carelessly dumped into drinking water, causing them to develop cancer.

“I’m just glad it’s over with,” said Gladys Elder of Sanford, a 32-year employee at the plant at 400 Rinehart Road in Lake Mary that manufactured telecommunications equipment.

Elder, 70, developed kidney cancer a decade ago, and she, like dozens of others, accused the plant’s owners of making her sick by carelessly handling solvents.

Plant employees used toxins, including trichloroethene (TCE), to manufacture and clean circuit boards and other equipment.

In 2001, Siemens AG, the plant’s then-operator, ordered employees to stop drinking the water. That’s because it had discovered TCE, a chemical linked to cancer in laboratory animals and suspected of doing the same in humans, in the plant’s tap water.

Workers had used TCE from the time the plant opened in 1968 . . . according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Workers had poured the used solvent into 55-gallon drums that eventually became rusty and leaky and at times poured it down drains and sinks, according to the suit.

It then seeped into groundwater beneath the plant and was pumped back inside, where employees used it to wash their hands and brew coffee.

Before the plant closed in 2003, it was operated by five companies or business ventures, including United Technologies Corp., Marconi Communications Inc. and Siemens.

Each was a defendant in the suit.

* * *

Many of the employee-plaintiffs died while the suit was pending, Elder said.

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From The Baltimore Sun:

Randy White had just buried a daughter, dead at 30 with a brain tumor. Now his other daughter had been diagnosed with growths in her abdomen.

When doctors told White in 2009 that their conditions were likely caused by something in their environment, the Frederick native thought of Fort Detrick. His children had grown up near the Army base.

Detrick was home to the nation’s biological weapons program from the 1940s through the 1960s. It remains a key center for medical research.

“Anybody that lives in Frederick knows all the rumors,” White says. “It’s kind of like, ‘Fort Detrick, they created anthrax, we knew that, smallpox …’ It just clicked for me.”

For decades, Frederick residents had speculated about the possible effects of the experiments at the base on the health of the surrounding community. But it took a grieving father with scientists, lawyers and money — White says he has spent more than $1 million so far — to drag questions about contamination and cancer out into the open.

White hired epidemiologists and toxicologists to monitor the air, soil and water around Detrick. He asked neighbors about their health histories and paid for lab tests to measure the toxins in their blood. He shared his findings with government officials.

The county and state health departments are now studying the cancer rate within a two-mile radius of the base. The Army has released details of Agent Orange testing. And local, state and federal officials are meeting regularly with the community to discuss their progress.

“Without him standing there shaking his hands and dancing around, it would not have gotten this much attention,” says Jennifer Peppe Hahn, a survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, growths on her pancreas and thyroid, and breast cancer.

“When Randy came forward about his daughter’s death,” she says, “somebody had enough money and enough passion at that point that nobody could ignore it.”

White, a former evangelical pastor and a businessman who first contacted officials last year, is demanding information about activities at Fort Detrick past and present, an apology to the people he believes were sickened, and a congressional hearing “so this never, ever happens again in the United States of America.”

He also has filed a mass tort lawsuit. He has been joined by more than 100 fellow plaintiffs.

“I didn’t want to fight, but the fight kind of came to me,” says White, 53. “I had lost my daughter, and then my other daughter was so sick. Our whole motive behind this thing was just to bring resolve and full disclosure.”

The Army says it has no indication that Fort Detrick is currently contaminating its surroundings, and it is responding to the community’s concerns.

State health officials, who are studying the incidence of cancer in the area during the last two decades, say they have found no evidence of a cluster.

But White says the state’s cancer registry is incomplete and out of date. He says his own scientists have found continuing contamination.

“Everything I say is backed up by scientific fact,” he says. “It’s not something we just dream up. … We just want the truth.”

Fort Detrick is a 1,200-acre campus in northern Frederick that today is home to a variety of military and civilian organizations involved in medical research and development, including a National Cancer Institute facility. For years, it was known primarily for its work on biological warfare agents, including anthrax and smallpox.

Scientists developed and tested biological agents there from World War II until 1969, when President Richard Nixon banned research into offensive biological warfare. Since then, researchers have focused on defending against biological attack.

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From Los Angeles Times:

One of the most widespread groundwater contaminants in the nation is more dangerous to humans than earlier thought, a federal agency has determined, in a decision that could raise the cost of cleanups nationwide, including large areas of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

The final risk assessment for trichloroethylene by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the widely used industrial solvent causes kidney and liver cancer, lymphoma and other health problems. That lays the groundwork to reevaluate the federal drinking-water standard for the contaminant: 5 parts per billion in water, and 1 microgram per cubic meter in air, officials said.

Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for the EPA’s office of research and development, said toxicity values for TCE reported in the risk assessment released this week may be used to establish new cleanup strategies at 761 Superfund sites, as well as in aquifers supplying drinking water to millions of residents in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.

The risk assessment had been subject to more than a decade of delays. A 2001 draft assessment that suggested a strong link between TCE and cancer was opposed by the Defense Department, the Energy Department and NASA.

The Pentagon had demanded greater proof that industrial substances cause cancer before raising cleanup costs at more than 1,000 polluted sites.

“This risk assessment is a big deal because it will strengthen protections for people who live and work above TCE plumes — and there are a lot of them — and could force serious rethinking about the extent of cleanup efforts,” said Lenny Siegal, executive director of the Mountain View, Calif.-based Center for Public Environmental Oversight, which posted a letter Monday signed by activists across the country, demanding that the final risk assessment be released. It was released Wednesday.

Jennifer Sass, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the decision “launches new arguments about what the safety standards should be. In the meantime, people impacted by this pollution can now link their disease to it in litigation with more confidence because the science is no longer in dispute. TCE causes cancer.”

TCE has been discovered in nearly every state but in none more widely than California. Military bases including Camp Pendleton and Edwards Air Force Base have Superfund sites with TCE contamination.

The Los Angeles metropolitan area overlies a checkerboard of underground plumes of TCE, and has high ambient levels of the chemical in the air. More than 30 square miles of the San Gabriel Valley lie in one of four Superfund sites that contain TCE. The San Fernando Valley overlies a large plume grouped into three separate Superfund sites. The former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in Orange County sits over a plume several miles long.

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Photo by Jeremy Brooks.

From Associated Press:

John Adams can’t see the nearly 3,000 cows on the dairy farm two miles from his Wisconsin home, but when the wind blows he can smell them.

The stench gives him and his wife headaches. They blame the big farm for contaminating their air and polluting the groundwater well they use for drinking, bathing and watering their garden. They no longer feel safe eating the vegetables they grow.

Adams also blames the state, which requires local governments to grant permits to large farms that meet certain limited criteria, even if there are additional environmental concerns. The rural farming town where he lives tried to impose stricter rules, only to be overruled by the state agriculture department.

Adams and seven neighbors, along with the town of Magnolia, sued the state and the farm in the first case of its kind to reach a state supreme court and the result could set a precedent throughout the Midwest. Similar cases have been filed in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio and Oklahoma, and two juries in Missouri have already handed out multimillion-dollar awards to homeowners who complained of intolerable odors from so-called factory farms.

At the same time, several states have passed or are considering laws that would make it easier for big farms to get permits. Lawmakers say the move creates uniformity, allowing farms to expand under predictable circumstances, and strengthens one of the few industries that didn’t tank in the recession.

Critics argue the laws deprive residents of a voice.

“A township should have the right to establish guidelines to keep its people safe, but it doesn’t,” said Adams, 61. “Those of us who are being affected, it’s like there’s nothing we can do.”

The owner of the big farm, Mike Larson, supports the state law. Consistency across the state makes it easier for farmers to expand and, in turn, strengthens the dairy industry in the nation’s No. 2 milk-producing state, he said.

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From California Watch:

California’s former top pesticide regulatory official dismissed safety guidelines suggested by her own staff scientists on the grounds that they were “excessive” and too onerous for the pesticide manufacturer, recently released internal documents show.

In response, the scientists lodged a formal protest, calling the official’s actions “not scientifically credible,” according to the documents released by court order last week.

The documents amount to a “smoking gun,” says Paul Blanc, a professor of occupational and environmental medicine at UC San Francisco. Last year, Blanc helped advise the staff scientists on their evaluation of the pesticide, methyl iodide.

“The decision by the regulatory superiors was not science-based,” Blanc said.

In one of the documents, Mary-Ann Warmerdam, who led the state’s Department of Pesticide Regulation until this year, weighs a recommendation from her staff that farm workers be exposed to no more than a trace amount of methyl iodide per day. The recommendation – intended to protect farm workers from cancer and miscarriage – is “excessive and difficult to enforce,” Warmerdam wrote in April 2010, about two weeks before the department made its recommendation that California approve methyl iodide. If the restrictions on methyl iodide were approved, she wrote, the pesticide manufacturer might find the recommendations “unacceptable, due to economic viability.”

“(Warmerdam’s) method was to consult with the pesticide manufacturer and determine what was acceptable to them, and then decide on what an acceptable level of exposure was,” said Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for the Pesticide Action Network, a group suing the state.

Department spokeswoman Lea Brooks declined to comment on the documents, citing the pending litigation. “It is inappropriate to try this case in the media,” Brooks said.

Warmerdam resigned from the department in January. Gov. Jerry Brown has yet to appoint a successor.

Methyl iodide was approved in December 2010, at the tail end of the Schwarzenegger administration. It’s a chemical fumigant used primarily by strawberry growers. A coalition of environmental and farm-worker groups has sued the state to try to ban the chemical.

As part of the suit, the groups asked the Department of Pesticide Regulation to release documents explaining how the agency decided to approve the chemical. The plaintiffs wanted to know how the agency had settled on exposure levels more than 100 times higher than what scientists within the agency believed were safe.

When pressed for documents that might reveal the agency’s rationale, Warmerdam declined to release them, citing the “deliberative process” exemption, which allows government agencies to keep the thought process behind a decision private. A public records act request filed by California Watch and KQED QUEST elicited the same response.

Earlier this month, a judge disagreed, ordering the department to release the documents, which plaintiffs shared with reporters on Thursday.

“DPR has an obligation to explain to the public the basis for its decision,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie, who is representing the plaintiffs. “The public has every right to know that DPR approved methyl iodide over the objections of its own staff scientists.”

That rift between scientists and regulators first became public last year, in an e-mail exchange unearthed by KQED QUEST and California Watch’s Public Records Act request. In the e-mails, two staff toxicologists – Lori Lim and Ruby Reed – said they had not been part of the decision to approve methyl iodide, and they stood by their original work.

“We had to read between the lines to figure out how the target levels were calculated,” they wrote. Both Lim and Reed have since resigned from the department.

The new documents show staff scientists sending their complaints up the department’s chain of command.

“I am puzzled by the numbers,” staff scientist Jay Schreider wrote in a memo to the state’s top toxicologist, Gary Patterson. Approving methyl iodide was “management’s prerogative,” Schreider wrote. But he said managers should not imply that the scientists’ findings “are the basis for that decision, or that the apparent ‘mix and match’ approach provides a scientifically credible basis for the decision.”

In his order, Judge Frank Roesch of the Alameda County Superior Court found that the “great majority” of the department’s documents should never have been withheld in the first place. As for the rest, Roesch found “the interest in public disclosure clearly outweighs agency interest in non-disclosure.”

The documents reveal a rare point of agreement between the department’s scientists and its managers: that methyl iodide may cause brain damage in developing fetuses.

When California first began evaluating methyl iodide, it took the unusual step of bringing in an outside group of scientists, hired to work alongside department scientists, as an independent peer-review group. The scientists, including UCSF’s Blanc, worried that methyl iodide could drift up from strawberry fields and be inhaled by pregnant farm workers or children playing nearby, causing subtle effects such as IQ loss, which might never be detected or traced back to the chemical.

“Methyl iodide concentrates in the fetal brain to levels well above those in the mother,” they wrote in their assessment. “There is a high likelihood that methyl iodide is a developmental neurotoxin.”

The new documents show department managers also contending with the lack of data about methyl iodide’s potential effects on developing brains. In animal tests, they wrote, “several measures of neurological deficiency were measured. … Overall, there is a need for a more thorough investigation into developmental neurotoxicity in pre- and post-natal exposures to methyl iodide, because the existing data do not address these exposures.”

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(Image Creative Commons by Donnaphoto.)

From Associated Press:

In a dramatic reversal, President Barack Obama on Friday scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America’s ailing economy.

Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of GOP opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by President George W. Bush.

The White House has been under heavy pressure from GOP lawmakers and major industries, which have slammed the stricter standard as an unnecessary jobs killer. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scientific advisers favored the tighter limits, had predicted the proposed change would cost up to $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed in the U.S.

However, the Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.

Obama said his decision was made in part to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty at a time of rampant questions about the strength of the U.S. economy.

Underscoring the economic concerns: a new report Friday that showed the economy essentially adding no jobs in August and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.

The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

Republican lawmakers, already emboldened by Obama’s concessions on extending Bush-era tax cuts and his agreement to more than $1 trillion in spending reductions as the price for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, had pledged to try to block the stricter smog standards as well as other EPA regulations when they returned to Washington after Labor Day.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had muted praise for the White House Friday, saying that withdrawal of the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.

“But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government ‘stimulus’ spending and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the move was “an enormous victory for America’s job creators, the right decision by the president and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses.”

White House officials said the president’s decision was not the product of industry pressure, and they said the administration would continue to fight other efforts by Republicans to dismantle the EPA’s authority.

But that was little consolation for many of the president’s supporters. The group MoveOn.org issued a scathing statement, saying Obama’s decision was one it would have expected from his Republican predecessor.

“Many MoveOn members are wondering today how they can ever work for President Obama’s re-election, or make the case for him to their neighbors, when he does something like this, after extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and giving in to tea party demands on the debt deal,” said Justin Ruben, the group’s executive director.

The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over Bush’s smog standards, said it would resume its legal fight now that Obama was essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration pledged to change it.

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From Reuters:

Republicans, backed by wealthy conservative lobbyists, are determined to stop the EPA and what they see as an activist agenda that is costing jobs and hurting corporate profits.

“Right now for House Republicans one of their important rally cries is that EPA regulations are excessive and even abusive,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program.

After President Barack Obama’s push for a climate bill in Congress collapsed last year, the EPA was left as the last bastion of hope for his environmental policy.

This led the agency, ironically founded under the Republican administration of Richard Nixon in 1970, to pursue its environmental agenda vigorously. The EPA was considered a toothless tiger under the administration of George W. Bush.

Almost on par with government spending, Republicans galvanized around the issue, using every opportunity, such as congressional hearings, relentlessly to criticize EPA chief Lisa Jackson and stymie her agency’s efforts.

While Republicans face stiff opposition in any legislation to shackle the EPA from the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House, they do have a number of options, especially in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

And the party has proven adept at outflanking the often disunited Democrats on big issues.

House Republicans could move to cut EPA funding through the appropriations process or through deficit-cutting talks in November as required by the debt-ceiling agreement.

Representative Fred Upton, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was picked by Republicans to be part of the 12-member congressional committee that will decide on cuts needed as part of the debt-ceiling agreement.

He could push hard for savings from the EPA’s budget as he has led the battle against its rules.

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid recently said he sees no threat to the EPA from Upton’s presence on the super-committee.

“I would assume they will make a serious effort to cut back and apply pressure to cut back EPA regulatory activity as part of this budgetary process,” Stavins said.

“I don’t know if they’ll succeed. That will depend on what the Democratic response to that is.”

Representative Ed Whitfield, another leading Republican on energy policy issues, said that outside the debt talks his party will hammer away in hearings and through legislation on its themes that the EPA has been killing jobs and growth.

Whitfield said Democrats, especially those from energy-intensive states such as West Virginia and Ohio, should know it will be a major issue on the campaign trail.

“We want to keep passing things on the House side that would reverse things EPA is doing simply because we’d like to see those 23 Democratic senators up for reelection next year vote on some of this,” Whitfield said.

EPA ACTIONS INFLAME REPUBLICANS

Of the most contentious proposals, the EPA wants to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the country’s major utilities. But the process has been delayed, in part, some suspect, by Republican pressure.

These rules could hit the bottom lines of such companies as American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Similar regulations are also planned for oil refineries.

In addition, the EPA has been struggling to complete a much-delayed rule on ozone pollution while also pushing new fuel-efficiency standards and measures to cut emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In protest, states and industry groups have slapped the EPA with multiple lawsuits, which could delay implementation of its rules and slow investment in energy-dependent industries.

CHOKING THE FUNDING

Republicans have tried a number of legislative moves to hamper the EPA. In April, the House passed a bill designed as a blanket ban on the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions and sent it to the Senate, which voted 50-50 on it, falling short of the super-majority needed.

The House Interior-EPA spending bill introduced last month to cut funding to EPA programs is also pending.

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From KSDK:

A St. Louis City jury awarded $38.5 million to 16 people from Herculaneum who grew up near the town’s lead production plant.

The plaintiffs claimed they were exposed to dangerous lead levels from the smelter between 1986 and 1994. That $38.5 million verdict was for compensatory damages only. At 8 a.m. Friday morning, there will be a hearing about what the amount of the punitive damages should be.

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