A stinky situation.. but hazardous to your health?
- Plaintiffs' View
The Landfill has a long history of violations of environmental rules and
regulations. It also has a long history of dramatic events including huge
fires which have caused widespread publicity and complaints from the
surrounding community. During these decades of operation the Landfill
received toxic and hazardous wastes including heavy metals and volatile
organic solvents. Plaintiffs live within 3/4 to 1 ½ miles from the Landfill
on high ground in the prevailing wind direction from the Landfill.
In 1995 the City undertook a plan to fund its closure of the Landfill,
which was ordered by the State environmental agency, by accepting
construction and demolition (C&D) wastes in massive amounts to be used to
complete the contours of the landfill. At that time the City knew, or should
have known, that C&D wastes, when mixed with municipal solid wastes produced
huge quantities of hydrogen sulfide gas which is highly toxic and produces a
nauseating odor. In addition the City knew or should have known that this
massive infusion of waste materials over a short period of time would produce
significant quantities of microscopic dust particles.
Sure enough, by the middle of 1996, after a large underground fire broke
out at the Landfill and toxic leachate water was used to attempt to douse the
fire, hydrogen sulfide gas began to escape from the Landfill in such large
quantities that government officials were flooded with complaints from the
community where plaintiffs live. Even the City conceded in several public
statements that the Landfill was responsible for the obnoxious odors.
Hydrogen sulfide levels were measured in the community at levels in excess of
It took the City over 18 months to stop the worst of the hydrogen sulfide
releases during which time its contractors made numerous errors in the design
and installation of the containment system. Even now, with the system "fully
operational" dust and hydrogen sulfide continue to be released from the
Landfill and although it is not as overtly evident to the residents, it
continues to add to their already ready massive exposures to these toxins.
The consequences of these negligent actions by the City are:1) for at least
18 months all of the residents suffered through the obnoxious odors which
interfered with their use and enjoyment of their property and substantially
disrupted their daily lives; 2) the value of the real estate in the
plaintiffs' community has dropped dramatically; 3) many people exposed to the
hydrogen sulfide have suffered noticeable neurologic deficits including
reduced reaction time and, in the case of children, ADD and ADHD; and 4) the
microscopic dust particles are responsible for exacerbating the pre-existing
asthma problems of a number of residents.
Despite all the rhetoric and claims about the negligence of the City in
the operation of its Landfill, plaintiffs have no proof that any past
problems with the Landfill, most of which occurred decades ago, have caused
or contributed to any of plaintiffs' claims. Acceptance of C&D wastes was
begun upon the suggestion of the State's environmental agency and only after
the City checked other sites and confirmed those sites were having no
problems with C&D wastes. Similarly, when fires developed at the Landfill,
measures taken to deal with the fires, which are common at municipal
landfills, were first approved by the state regulators. A former enforcement
director for the United States Environmental Protection Agency's hazardous
and municipal waste division confirms that the City's conduct in accepting C&
D wastes was reasonable and appropriate, and that its conduct in addressing
the fires and in addressing the hydrogen sulfide problem were outstanding and
exceeded the performance of other landfills faced with similar problems.
Even though plaintiffs complain about exposures to dozens of chemicals
from the Landfill for years, their expert evidence was limited to evaluating
exposures from only dust and hydrogen sulfide and then for only the peak hour
and peak eight hour period for each plaintiff during one year. The City's
experts scoured the relevant medical and scientific literature and could not
find a single document to support the view that exposures at the levels and
duration calculated by plaintiffs' expert can be linked to any permanent
neurologic problems, including ADD and ADHD. Plaintiffs' experts were unable
to claim to the contrary. Plaintiffs' medical experts reached their
conclusions about the cause of plaintiffs' health problems before they knew
what, if any, exposure the plaintiffs had experienced either to hydrogen
sulfide or dust. Their efforts to use the plaintiffs' health problems as
proof that there must have been an exposure were woefully inadequate and
failed even the most rudimentary tests for reaching causal conclusions.
Even if the testimony of plaintiffs' medical experts were accepted at
face value, it demonstrates, at most, a trivial impact on plaintiffs. Out of
344 plaintiffs 11 were found to have had their asthma exacerbated on a total
of 20 occasions - most only once - as a result of dust from the Landfill.
The same 344 plaintiffs produced 31 persons who were alleged to have
neurologic problems associated with the Landfill and those problems, never
identified by plaintiffs or their treating doctors, consisted of subtle
changes in their reaction time, their body sway or similar symptoms which had
no impact on their daily lives. Even the very few children alleged to have
ADD or ADHD had no formal diagnosis of such condition and appear to be
thriving at their expected level in their school environments.
Plaintiffs' claim of property damage is unsupported by any economic
analysis. To the contrary, the economic analysis conducted by defendants'
property appraiser demonstrates that plaintiffs' properties suffered neither
short term nor permanent diminution in value.
The City faced a problem at the Landfill which it could not have
reasonably foreseen. The City responded to that problem with a massive
commitment of money and other resources which resulted in a closure of the
landfill that was termed "state of the art". The City brought an end to this
problem by the early 1998 and there have been no complaints regarding the
Landfill since that time. The U.S. Agency charged with evaluating the health
effects of toxic releases has published on its Web Site the response plan
developed by the City as an example of the right way address hydrogen sulfide
problems should they occur at municipal landfills.
What do you think???
Who is right?
If the plaintiffs are right, what is their claim worth?
thanks in advance...