WINFIELD - A "comprehensive" settlement agreement in a class action lawsuit filed against Monsanto and related companies over its old plant in Nitro was given preliminary approval on Friday by a West Virginia circuit court judge.

Judge Derek Swope approved an agreement that will establish a 30-year medical monitoring program at a local hospital for those who lived, worked or went to school in the Nitro area during the period of time covered by the lawsuit.

A primary fund of $21 million will pay for the testing of those eligible class members, and up to $63 million in additional funding will be available over the 30-year life of the program.

Also, the agreement will set aside up to $9 million to professionally clean homes in the Nitro area.

About 4,500 homes are located in the areas where individual remediation "may be desirable," according to the company.

Monsanto also agreed to pay for court-approved legal fees and litigation costs incurred by the class members over the last seven years.

The settlement resolves all claims in pending litigation, as well as class actions, filed in West Virginia.

"These settlements ensure that both individual and community concerns are addressed, and services are made available for the people of Nitro," Scott Partridge, vice president of Monsanto, said in a statement Friday.

"We are pleased to resolve this matter and end any concerns about historic operations at the Nitro plant."

The residents' lawyer, Stuart Calwell, said he was pleased with the agreement.

"The settlements provide needed medical benefits and remediation services to the people of Nitro and broader community. The principal goal of the litigation was to provide long-term medical monitoring and to provide professional cleaning of individual homes," he said in a statement.

The trial, held in Putnam County Circuit Court, began on Jan. 3 after attorneys for Monsanto and the residents could not come to a settlement.

According to complaints filed in the Putnam court in October 2007, during the years that Monsanto was operating its trichlorophenol plant, it adopted an unlawful practice of disposing of dioxin waste materials by a continuous process of open "pit" burning.

The dioxin in question -- known as 2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacidic acid or 2,4,5-T -- was used by the military as part of the herbicide "Agent Orange" in Vietnam.

Monsanto, which has denied the burning practice, instead described it as an "incineration" process when questioned by regulatory authorities.

The residents' complaints called the process "dusty" and said the company's dust control was "haphazard," causing more than 3,000 pounds of the dioxin to be released into the Nitro air.

Sampling showed levels of 2,200 parts per trillion, while U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards require a level less than 4 parts per trillion.

The Nitro plant was operated by Monsanto until 1995 when the plant merged with Akzo Nobel, a Dutch company, and began operating as Flexsys America Inc.

In 1997, Monsanto renamed a subsidiary as Solutia Inc. and the Nitro plant was distributed to Solutia. The plant eventually closed in 2004.

In August, West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman appointed Swope, of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, to preside in the lawsuit.

Swope, a member of the Mass Litigation Panel, is sitting in for Twenty-Ninth Judicial Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding, who stepped aside from the case due to illness.

Spaulding announced that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative motor neuron disease.

Swope had postponed the trial, which was supposed to begin on Sept. 6.

According to Monsanto, the class action resolutions will now be fully reviewed by Swope to "ensure the fairness" of the class action settlement agreement.

Before the agreement is finalized, class members must be notified of the settlement and given a chance to object.

The Charleston Gazette reported Friday that a "fairness" hearing has been set for June 18.

Monsanto noted Friday that, for fiscal year 2012, the settlement will not affect ongoing earnings per share, but the one-time expense will reduce as-reported earnings per share by about five cents.

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