Read the judge's order: http://wvgazette.com/static/watchdog/MonsantoMainOrder.pdf
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thousands of Nitro-area residents will be eligible for medical monitoring and property cleanup, now that a judge has approved a $93 million settlement of a landmark lawsuit over pollution of their community with dioxin from the former Monsanto Co. chemical plant.
Circuit Judge Derek Swope on Friday entered an order approving the class-action deal, which was proposed nearly a year ago to resolve longstanding allegations that Monsanto had contaminated Nitro with toxic pollution from the company's production of the defoliant Agent Orange.
"I'm very pleased the settlement has been approved," said Charleston lawyer Stuart Calwell, who has waged a decades-long battle against Monsanto over its dioxin legacy. "We are now one step closer to delivering the benefits of the settlement to the members of the class."
Charles Love, lead lawyer on the case for Monsanto, would not comment on the ruling Friday.
In a 385-page order, Swope dismissed a variety of objections raised about the settlement, concluding that it is "fair, adequate and reasonable.
"Any objection that asserts that the settlements could have been better must be rejected because the question is not whether the actual settlements could have been better, but whether the actual settlements are fair, adequate and reasonable, not whether they might have been prettier, smarter or snazzier," Swope wrote.
The judge also approved up to $29.5 million in fees and costs for Calwell's firm, but made $9.5 million of that contingent upon the number of people who eventually qualify for the settlement and how many residents show certain levels of dioxin in their blood.
Swope noted that Calwell's "tenacity" in taking on Monsanto over dioxin "at great expense in time and money" in an "almost solitary course to make the defendants accountable for their actions." At the conclusion of an 11-month trial in 1984, Calwell lost a case in which he sued Monsanto on behalf of workers whose alleged dioxin exposure made them sick.
For more than 50 years, the former Monsanto plant in Nitro churned out herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals. The plant's production of Agent Orange, a defoliant deployed widely in the Vietnam War, created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.
Dioxin has been linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities, endometriosis, infertility and suppressed immune functions. The chemical builds up in tissue over time, meaning that even a small exposure can accumulate to dangerous levels.
In February 2012, Monsanto agreed to the settlement on the eve of an expected six-month trial in which residents sought medical monitoring for dioxin-related illnesses and a cleanup of what they argued was a contaminated community.
The company agreed to a 30-year medical monitoring program with a primary fund of $21 million for initial testing and up to $63 million in additional money dependant on what levels of dioxin are found in residents.