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A stinky situation.. but hazardous to your health?

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  • Jurydoctor@aol.com
    Plaintiffs View The Landfill has a long history of violations of environmental rules and regulations. It also has a long history of dramatic events
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2002
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      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
      environmental standards.
      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.


      Defendants' View
      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...
      Amy
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