Former Nitro chemical plant sued because of dangerous toxins

By Cara Bailey | Jan 3, 2007

CHARLESTON - Nine current and former Nitro families have filed personal injury and wrongful death suits against a now defunct chemical company and its eight successors.

The suits say the former Monsanto Company is responsible for personal injury and wrongful death by exposure to the dioxins/furans produced at the plant.

Charles and Betty Tyson; Virdie Allen; Zina G. Bibb; Hillman Raynes and Erma Raynes; Donald R. Rhodes and Wanda M. Rhodes; Charles Agee and Eileen Agee; Herbert W. Dixon and Norma J. Dixon; Homer Thomas. Jr., as personal representative of the estate of Homer Thomas Sr.; and Mary McNeely, as next of kin for Ethan McNeely, a minor, are seeking to recover money for employees of the Old Monsanto Company's Agricultural Division because of contamination of the dioxins/furans produced at the plant.

The suit is being brought against Monsanto Company, Pharmacia Corporation, Akzo Nobel Chemicals, Inc., Akzo Nobel, Inc., Akzo Nobel Chemicals International, B.V., Akzo Nobel N.V., Flexsys America Co., and Flexsys America, L.P., the successors of the Old Monsanto Company.

Old Monsanto owned and operated a plant in Nitro from 1934 to 2000.

"Beginning in 1949 and continuing through 1971, Old Monsanto produced at the plant site an agricultural herbicide 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacidic acid (2,4,5-T) which was heavily contaminated with dibenzo dioxins and dibenzo furans including 2,3,7,8 tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxin (dioxins/furans)," the suit states.

The suit seeks to represent current and former residents of Nitro and surrounding communities, during the time of 1949 to the present, as well as current and former employees and students of communities surrounding the plan, "all of whom … have been injured in their person as a consequence of their abnormal exposure to dioxins/furans."

2,4,5-T was a molecule that exhibited toxicity to plants by causing their root systems to out grow their leaf systems, thus causing the plant to destroy itself through the process of defoliation, the suit states.

The plaintiffs in the case claim the plant knew about the danger of the dioxin because of a 1949 incident. The suit says a reaction in one of the 2,4,5-T autoclaves went out of control, causing a safety disk to blow open. "A large cloud drifted over the plants and over the town. 226 workers became ill."

Medical reports following the incident claimed the toxin caused a systemic intoxication in the workers, involving most major organ systems, the endocrine system, the nervous system (both central and peripheral) and further resulted in systemic acne, dubbed "chloracne," or "weed bumps."

"In approximately 1964, Old Monsanto began selling 2,4,5-T to the Armed Services to be used as part of the herbicide 'Agent Orange' for use in Vietnam."

The plant continued to produce the toxin until 1971. During this time, the plant was in production seven days a week, 365 days a year. Dioxin-contaminated dust was carried into the atmosphere and covered the surrounding communities.

The suit claims "at all times relevant, Old Monsanto and the herein named defendants had actual knowledge of the dioxins/furans contamination problem in Nitro and the surrounding communities and in the alternative certain of the defendants knew, or with the exercise of reasonable care should have known, of the aforesaid contamination."

The suit is restricted to Old Monsanto's Agricultural Division's 2,4,5-T and any of its dioxins/furans contaminated chemical precursors.

The suit, filed by attorney Cindy Kiblinger of the Charleston office of James F. Humphreys & Associates, includes counts of strict liability, intentional assault and battery and negligence. The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages for their personal injuries, wrongful deaths, pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, loss of consortium and other injuries.

"They further demand punitive damages in an amount equal to ten times the provable compensatory damages to deter the defendants from future conduct and protect other communities from similar conduct by these defendants in the future."

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-2665

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