Doe Run Investment Holding Co., Other Defendants Found Liable in Missouri Lead Poisoning Lawsuit

Doe Run Investment Holding Co., A.T. Massey Coal and Fluor Corp. have been ordered to pay $38.5 million in compensatory damages in a lawsuit alleging pollution from a smelter they once operated caused <"">lead poisoning among residents of Herculaneum, Missouri. The St. Louis jury that rendered the verdict is now considering punitive damages in the case.

The plaintiffs, 16 people from Herculaneum, ranged in ages from 11 to 26. Their lawsuit claimed that lead poisoning from the smelter resulted in the plaintiffs having lower IQs and caused them to suffer attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The lawsuit concerned the operation of the lead smelter, which is located about 30 miles from St. Louis, between 1986 and 1994. According to Courthouse News, plaintiffs’ lawyers produced an internal memo from 1987 that showed soil samples near the plant were many times higher than necessary to qualify for federal Superfund status, but the smelter did not warn the community about the dangerous levels until 1993. They also presented a 1989 consultant’s report that advised against buying out homes near the smelter because such an action “would almost certainly invite a major class action suit.”

Doe Run Resources Corp., which was not named in the Missouri lawsuit, took over the smelter from Flucor in 1994, and plans to close down the 100-year old smelter in 2013 and replace it with an upgraded facility.

Doe Run Resources Corp. is also the owner of Doe Run Peru, a smelting operation in La Oroya, Peru that has been blamed for poisoning thousands of Peruvian children. When Doe Run acquired the La Oroya Metallurgical Complex in 1997, the company agreed to modernize the plant and bring emissions down to acceptable levels by 2006. While Doe Run took some steps to reduce some pollutants, it never built the promised sulfuric acid plant which would significantly reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. In fact, Doe Run requested and received numerous extensions from the Peruvian government to meet the deadlines contained in the original environmental remediation and management agreement.

According to an article in the St. Louis Dispatch, the La Oroya Metallurgical Complex generated annual discharges of roughly 32 tons of lead, 36 tons of poisonous arsenic and 69,000 tons of the toxic metal cadmium into the nearby Mantaro River. Between 2002 and 2004, lead emissions through the main smokestack at La Oroya increased by 33 percent.

In 2006, La Oroya was named one of the 10 most polluted areas in the world by the Blacksmith Institute, an environmental organization in New York.

Last November, Mike Hugo, an attorney with the U.S. law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso LLP, told the New York Post that the average measurement of lead in the blood of La Oroya’s children is 32 micrograms per deciliter of blood – “off the charts” by American standards. Some of the Peruvian children have lead levels as high as 70, he said.

Parker Waichman Alonso LLP is working with Peruvian law firms to investigate legal claims stemming from the La Oroya catastrophe.

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