A class action complaint filed in federal court in Mississippi charges that years of toxic creosote contamination by the Kerr-McGee wood treatment plant in Columbus, MS have caused creosote syndrome illnesses and property damage in that community of 25,000 residents. The complaint was filed by Lundy & Davis, L.L.P., Roda & Nast, P.C. and Bennett Lotterhos Sulser & Wilson, P.A.
The Columbus operation is one of six plants in Kerr-McGee's Forest Products Division, which collectively treat about 40 percent of railroad crossties sold in the United States. The Columbus wood treatment plant has been in operation since 1928.
According to the complaint, PCP (pentachlorophenol) and creosote were used up until the mid 1970s to treat the crossties. The use of PCP was later discontinued, and coal-tar creosote is now used. The complaint alleges that creosote is toxic to humans, and claims that additional toxic substances are produced through the treatment process.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of numerous Columbus residents who allege that Kerr-McGee should take responsibility for contamination of the environment.
"The contamination from operations at Kerr-McGee occurs at numerous points during the wood treatment process. Drips, spills, leaks, accidents, air emissions and waste disposal practices throughout the years and continuing into the present have led to widespread contamination of the plant site and neighboring community," claims Hunter Lundy, an attorney from Louisiana who is representing the plaintiffs.
"Ask any resident of Columbus and he or she can tell you about the strong creosote odor that permeates the air throughout Kerr-McGee's neighborhood and the surrounding area," said Dianne M. Nast, a Pennsylvania attorney who is one of co-counsel to plaintiffs in the suit. "This odor is caused by creosote vapors, a toxic substance released into the air at the plant."
Uncontrolled releases of creosote waste have spread from the plant into the environment, the complaint alleges, and large, open ditches transport waste products from the plant to the Lauxapalilla Creek.
"Sediment and soil in the ditches and on the banks have been significantly contaminated as a consequence of Kerr-McGee's waste discharge practices," explains Mississippi attorney Richard (Dick) Bennett, also an attorney for the plaintiffs. "Children who have played in this ditch have been exposed to dangerous, toxic substances."
Residents living in close proximity to the plant have a creosote syndrome disease rate much higher than in a similar population not exposed to creosote, according to the complaint. Health problems typical of creosote syndrome include respiratory diseases and reproductive and neurological disorders, according to the complaint.
The complaint also alleges that the value of property owned by class members in the affected area has been substantially diminished because of Kerr-McGee's environmental contamination.
The complaint seeks money damages and class-wide medical monitoring.
By Sandy Smith