Initial health screenings will include blood tests and standard health-history reports. Also, samples will be taken to determine how much dioxin participants have in their blood.
These tests would be performed every five years. If 25 percent or more of the participants in the program are found to have more than certain "background" levels of dioxin in their blood, increased frequency of the tests kicks in, from every five years to every two years.
Monsanto also agreed to spend $9 million cleaning 4,500 homes in the area to rid them of dioxin-contaminated dust. The cleanups include vacuuming carpets, rugs and accessible horizontal surfaces with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter vacuums, wet cleaning floors, floor vents, tops of doors and window moldings, interior window sills, ceiling fans, light fixtures and radiators.
The settlement also would allow residents to retain their right to file personal-injury lawsuits against Monsanto if medical tests turn up illnesses potentially related to dioxin exposure.
"The court believes that it is in everyone's interest, including the public's, that this matter be resolved," Swope wrote.
"These settlements allow the citizens of Nitro and the surrounding area to turn the page on this chapter of their history," the judge wrote. "These settlements are in the public interest because a potentially hazardous situation can be addressed."
Dioxin from the plant not only made its way into the Kanawha River -- prompting long-term advisories against eating the fish -- but, the lawsuit alleged, contaminating dust that "was carried by prevailing winds over the town of Nitro, surrounding communities and the plaintiffs' homes and businesses."
The medical monitoring and cleanup provisions of the case cover residents within a smaller area than was included in the original class-action area, with the settlement focused on an area where experts for the plaintiffs' lawyers believed dioxin emissions from Monsanto were most likely to have put residents at risk of future pollution-related diseases.
In his order approving the deal, Swope said the number of residents eligible for medical monitoring dropped from about 80,000 to between 2,000 and 5,000. The number of homes eligible for cleanups dropped from 12,000 to 4,500, the judge wrote.
Swope said that the original estimate for residents who needed medical monitoring "was substantially overstated" and not supported by the "ultimate evidence" as the litigation progressed. Likewise, the judge said, the area and the number of homes where contamination warranted cleanups "were vastly overstated."
Former Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding and Swope, who was brought in from Mercer County in 2011 to preside over the case when Spaulding stepped down, had issued rulings that threw out the property cleanup claims. Prior to settling, lawyers for the residents had appealed those decisions, arguing that the rulings left a huge gap in efforts to deal with the legacy of Monsanto's chemical-making operations.
More information about the settlement is available online at https://bibbclass.com.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.
Reach Kate White at kate.wh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.