UPDATE 1/25/13 @ 10:15 a.m.
WINFIELD, W.Va. (AP) - A judge in Putnam County has given final approval to a settlement between chemical manufacturer Monsanto Co. and thousands of West Virginia residents over pollution claims.
Circuit Judge Derek Swope approved the settlement Friday.
A $93 million settlement was reached last February with residents who said Monsanto polluted their community by burning waste from production of the defoliant Agent Orange.
St. Louis-based Monsanto had agreed to pay up to $84 million for medical monitoring and $9 million to clean up 4,500 homes. Monsanto also agreed to pay legal fees.
The litigation began with a class-action case by plant workers in the 1980s.
The Monsanto plant in Nitro produced herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals. The plant's production of the defoliant Agent Orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.
The hearing got underway Monday morning on the February 24 settlement reached with residents who said Monsanto polluted their community by burning waste from production of agent orange.
The production of agent orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical by- product.
During Monday's hearing, both sides went over what's going to take place once the settlement takes effect. The administrator over the settlement will be in charge of making sure everyone who is entitled to the money will get it for medical or the clean up process, according to court records.
A couple of people who object to the settlement will speak during the hearing Monday afternoon.
The hearing is expected to continue through Monday afternoon.
Putnam County Circuit Judge Derek Swope gave preliminary approval Friday.
The former Monsanto plant's production of warfare chemical Agent Orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.
The plant operated between 1929 and 2004 in Nitro.
The settlement creates an $84 million fund for Nitro residents to have their health monitored over 30 years and a $9 million fund to pay for professional cleaning of thousands of homes. Monsanto also has agreed to pay the residents' legal fees.
"These settlements ensure that both individual and community concerns are addressed, and services are made available for the people of Nitro," said Scott Partridge, vice president of Monsanto, in a prepared statement.
One of the individuals with concerns is longtime resident Albert Davis. His father and brother worked for Monsanto, but he says he's also facing health problems because of the company.
"I know for a fact it's caused heart problems," said Davis. "I have to be on oxygen once in a while, and it has a lot to do with it."
Though the Monsanto plant is long gone, Davis believes it caused the air he and his neighbors breathe to make them sick.
"There was dust over the cars. Sometimes gray dust, sometimes white dust. It had to come from Monsanto. It's the only place it could come from," Davis said.
Davis said many of his neighbors along 38th Street in Nitro have faced various health issues, which they believe are linked to the plant.
Even with suspecting the plant was making him sick, Davis said he never could bring himself to leave the area.
He said, "I've been here all my life. This is my home. I own this house. And, I'm not going to let anybody take my home away from me. I was born and raised in this town. Why should I have to give up my home because of a plant?"
There's a proposed settlement but Judge Derek Swope has questions about it, according to published reports.
A hearing is scheduled Friday in Putnam County Circuit Court.
A gag order remains in effect.
Swope has sealed all documents pertaining to the proposed settlement.
The lawsuit seeks medical monitoring for at least 5,000 current and former Nitro residents.
It alleges a former Monsanto plant unsafely dispersed dioxin, exposing residential properties and streams to unsafe levels of the toxic chemical.
During a court proceeding Thursday, Swope raised questions about several items, including a cleanup of residences.
The former Monsanto plant made chemicals that some neighbors say affected their health. The upcoming trial is all about proving that.
All of that red tape, along with loyalty, are some reasons some who worked at the plant have never taken action.
“Dad felt like he made a good living from Monsanto,” Jim Persinger said.
Persinger’s father worked at the Monsanto plant in Nitro for several decades.
The plant is no longer there, but the Monsanto name still has a heavy presence in court. Thousands of families are suing -- claiming dioxin and other chemicals made them sick.
“They weren't making cotton candy over there,” Persinger said. “It was definitely some serious stuff going on as far as the stuff they were making.”
His father won't be around to witness the trial because he died from lung cancer. His family never pushed to see if the plant played a role in that.
“In his case he didn't want to pursue any litigation just because he felt like they'd been a good employer,” Persinger said.
Harvey Collins also worked for Monsanto and agrees.
“That was the first job I had after I got out of the Navy,” Collins said.
He stayed there about 37 years with few health problems.
“If you had some kind of a problem, Monsanto took care of your doctor bills,” Collins said.
Loyalty is causing former workers to stay far away from the Putnam County Courthouse. That's where behind closed doors a jury is being chosen to decide whether or not Monsanto should pay up. Because neighbors say while Monsanto took care of its workers, it left their health up in the air.
The lawsuit has been in the works for several years, and we have yet to hear from anyone with Monsanto.
However, they'll be speaking up soon when the trial gets started. Opening statements will be made once a jury is selected sometime within the next week.
Jury selection started about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The trial comes after attorneys for Monsanto and neighbors in Nitro could not come to a settlement.
They claim that Monsanto unsafely burned dioxin and spread contaminated soot and dust across the city, polluting homes and businesses.
The lawsuit is seeking medical monitoring for thousands who live there.
Monsanto has not made any comments about the lawsuit.
A court spokesperson tells WSAZ.com jury selection could take a few days. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
We have a crew in Putnam County. Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for the very latest information.
The trial date was set Thursday by visiting Mercer County Circuit Judge Derek Swope.
Swope was appointed to the case in August by Supreme Court Chief Justice Margaret Workman after Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding stepped aside. Spaulding has been diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Swope had postponed the trial, which was supposed to begin on Sept. 6.
The case involves thousands of current and former Nitro residents who blame Monsanto for polluting residential properties and streams. The cases were consolidated into a class-action lawsuit in 2008.
Neighbors in Putnam County are suing over alleged pollution from the company's former plant.
Swope takes over the case from Putnam County Judge OC Spaulding.
Spaulding says he is stepping aside because he was recently diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
The trial is currently set to begin on September 6. Judge Swope will decide whether to keep the current trial schedule.
The Associated Press reports Putnam County Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding announced the news Friday at a hearing in Winfield.
ALS is a progressive neurological disease that causes loss of muscle strength and coordination.
Spaulding didn't say whether he'll resign, but the treatment decisions he faces in the coming weeks would compromise his ability to preside.
Spaulding asked the state Supreme Court to name a new judge and hopes to avoid a trial delay.
The trial was set to begin within weeks. It involves thousands of Nitro residents who say the company polluted their properties and streams.
A spokesperson with the Supreme Court tells WSAZ.com a new judge could be appointed as early as Friday afternoon. The new judge would decide if the trial will move forward or be delayed.
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