During the years the Nitro plant produced Agent Orange, Keith Estep said he was "in and out of that department at least once a week for five years."
"It didn't cause any harm to me," he said.
He acknowledged, though, that he might be disposed to look favorably on the company that provided his family with jobs, sponsored dances, parties, baseball and other sports teams in the community, provided one of his first trips out of the state and still makes sure he lives comfortably today, at an old age.
Considering the possibility that residents in surrounding areas of the plant could have been exposed to dioxin, he said the company always tried its best to control things.
"There are different stages of the process. . . . Some stuff might have got out in the air, as hard as we tried to contain it," he said. "Whether it was dangerous or not I don't know. It all stank, as far as I'm concerned."
Longtime Nitro attorney Harvey Peyton is a former law partner of Charleston attorney Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiffs' lawyer in the class-action lawsuit.
Twenty-eight years ago, Calwell and Peyton were among the lawyers who lost in a landmark effort to get jurors to hold Monsanto responsible for dioxin-linked illnesses among Nitro plant workers.
"All industrial work has a love-hate relationship with almost every employer," Peyton said. "I represent people who love railroad work but hate the railroad.
"Sometimes, what controls your paycheck doesn't seem to care a lot about you - there's a disconnect."
The lawsuit tentatively settled Friday asks that Monsanto bear the cost of periodic medical testing to determine whether residents' exposure to the harmful chemicals caused any one or more of 12 diseases, which they say are caused by exposure to dioxin.
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 small exposures can accumulate to dangerous levels.
Ramona Dent, 60, lived in Nitro until she graduated from high school and went to college. She wonders if growing up there caused the health problems that have plagued her for decades.
As a teenager, Dent said, she had thyroid cancer. In her 30s, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She is still undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which she was diagnosed with about six years ago.
"I don't know what causes MS, but they say that it's environmental," she said, "and I know -- through most of my childhood -- the smell was so bad in Nitro that you had to go indoors."
According to the federal Veterans Affairs website, there is no "demonstrated connection between Agent Orange and MS." However, the website lists non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as an illness or disease recognized by the VA as connected to Agent Orange herbicide exposure.
Dent returned to Nitro about a year ago, and said she is curious if her health problems could be linked to the Monsanto plant.
"When I heard about the Monsanto lawsuit," she said, "two and two just clicked."
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.