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Monsanto vows $93M to Nitro residents

WINFIELD, W.Va. -- Chemical giant Monsanto has agreed to pay millions of dollars to test thousands of current and former Nitro residents for disease and to clean up their homes.

Under the tentative agreement to a huge class-action lawsuit, Monsanto will provide class-members up to $93 million. The company has agreed to a 30-year medical monitoring program with a primary fund of $21 million for testing, and up to $63 million in additional funding, if necessary.

Monsanto also will pay $9 million for professional services to have class members' homes cleaned. It also has agreed to pay court-approved legal fees incurred over the past seven years.

Circuit Judge Derek Swope mentioned the proposed settlement in a hearing Thursday in Putnam Circuit Court, and the agreement was officially announced in court Friday.

In their huge class-action lawsuit filed in 2004, Nitro residents said Monsanto unsafely burned dioxin wastes and spread contaminated soot and dust across the city, polluting homes with unsafe levels of the chemical.

The residents' lawsuit sought medical monitoring for at least 5,000 - and perhaps as many as 80,000 -- current and former Nitro residents.

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

On Friday, Swope approved the proposed settlement, which he said lawyers had worked on until 1 a.m. that morning.

Charleston lawyer Thomas Urban, who represents some Nitro residents, filed a motion Friday after the hearing, raising questions about the sufficiency of the settlement.

Among other things, Urban asked why the settlement sets a $9 million amount for cleanup, when an expert for the residents said cleanup could cost between $945 million and $3.82 billion.

Urban also questioned why only 3,000 to 5,000 class members would receive any medical monitoring when there are potentially 80,000 class members.

Attorneys for both sides have until March 9 to respond to Urban's motion, the judge said.

Before an agreement in a class-action lawsuit is finalized, the members of the class must be notified of the proposed settlement and given a chance to object to its terms.

A fairness hearing has been scheduled for 9 a.m. June 18, where, Swope said, expert testimony must be presented to prove the settlement is appropriate and that the testing procedures of the medical monitoring match the benefits that originally were sought, among other things.

Class members can attend the fairness hearing to object or support the proposed settlement.

A gag order that prevents attorneys from answering any questions was lifted momentarily Friday, only to allow that a written media statement be issued.

"The settlements provide needed medical benefits and remediation services to the people of Nitro and broader community," said Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, in the prepared statement. "The principal goal of the litigation was to provide long-term medical monitoring and to provide professional cleaning of individual homes."

In the statement, Monsanto noted that the settlement would not affect ongoing earnings per share, but that the one-time expense would reduce as-reported earnings per share by .05 percent.

"These settlements ensure that both individual and community concerns are addressed, and services are made available for the people of Nitro," Monsanto Vice President Scott Partridge stated in the release. "We are pleased to resolve this matter and end any concerns about historic operations at the Nitro plant."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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