“Sorry We Ruined Your Lives,” Monsanto Says With Cash

The chemical company giant everyone loves to hate begins to make good on its settlement to clean up the town of Nitro, W.V.

by Dani Yokhna

Photo courtesy Stephen Melkiesthian/Flickr

If your health has to be damaged, your property mucked up and your life changed by a multinational agrichemical company, at least you can get paid for it. Nitro, W.V., residents are now able to register for the benefits of an out-of-court settlement reached with Monsanto in 2012 for alleged dioxin contamination caused by Monsanto’s Nitro plant.

Monsanto had a chemical factory in Nitro—a town of about 7,100 just outside of Charleston, W.V.—that closed in 2004. Until the 60s, it made Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant used during the Vietnam Conflict. (Interestingly enough, Nitro was also the site of gun-powder manufacturing for World War I.)

In 2004, a group of people living, working and going to school in the area filed a lawsuit claiming they were contaminated by dioxin, a byproduct of Agent Orange that’s linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other health issues. The lawsuit said waste disposal between 1948 and 1969 pretty much sucked—as in, the dioxin waste was burned in open pits!—and resulted in widespread dioxin contamination. Monsanto says they never did such a thing, but the company agreed to a settlement out of court, giving the class-action plaintiffs free medical screening and property clean-up and paying for the group’s legal fees.

Health Impact
People participating in this settlement get an initial health screening and follow-ups every five years. Monsanto’s commitment will last 30 years in this effort. Up front, the company is paying $21 million, but if the health screenings come out really terrible, showing higher dioxin blood levels than the benchmarks set by medical professionals, Monsanto could have to pay an additional $63 million for further testing, and individuals’ follow-up tests will happen every two years, not five years.

Property Impact
Because dioxin dust can be pretty much everywhere, Monsanto agreed to pay up to $9 million to clean horizontal surfaces in home interiors. You can get your carpets vacuumed with a super-fancy HEPA vacuum and your floors, window sills, door jambs, ceiling fans, lights and radiators wet-cleaned. They’re not going into people’s attics, garages, utility rooms, sheds, closets and whatnot—this just applies to the main living areas. The company in charge of cleaning estimates it will take four hours to clean each home.

This whole property-clean-up settlement makes me wonder a little: Why? If you’re just cleaning part of a living space, the potential for dioxin dust will still exist in other spaces. I spend more time in my barn than in my home, so if I were in the coverage area, I’d still be at risk. Also, they haven’t even found high levels of dioxin dust in the indoor dust samples that have been taken in Nitro. So the property-clean-up element sounds nice but confuses me.

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The whole mess of settlement documents are online for your reading pleasure, if you’d like to make your head spin.

Getting On Board
If you lived, worked or studied in or around Nitro before 2010, there’s no way you don’t already know about this settlement or how to get involved. But in case you don’t know:

If you want to be part of the medical program, fill out a questionnaire by October 31, 2014, or you’re out of luck. Be sure to read the eligibility criteria—scroll to the bottom for a map and requirements. You can’t participate if you worked at the Monsanto Nitro plant!

If you want to be part of property clean-up, fill out the questionnaire, again before October 31, 2014.

There is also an office for Nitro Class Action Settlement Administrators LLC in Nitro (at 2303 First Ave.) with representatives to talk to you from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

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