'Floc' settlement gains preliminary approval

By John O'Brien | Jan 10, 2013

MOUNDSVILLE – A class action settlement could provide approximately $6.6 million in free medical examinations for some workers at coal and water treatment plants.

Marshall County Circuit Court Judge David Hummel gave preliminary approval to the settlement in December, and plaintiffs attorneys recently released information related to it. A website – FlocSettlement.com – has also been established.

The lawsuit concerned a certain type of water treatment chemical called polyacrylamide, often referred to as “flocculent” or “floc.” The defendants were manufacturers and distributors of the chemical and included Chemtall, CIBA Specialty Chemicals, Cytec Industries, G.E. Betz, Hychem, Ondeo Nalco, Stockhausen and Zinkan Enterprises.

The lawsuit said workers at plants that used the chemical have a higher risk for sensory or autonomic nervous system deficits.

The complaint says the class members are at an increased risk for cancer of the testicles, adrenal gland, mammary gland, uterus, thyroid, pancreas, brain, spinal cord and lungs.

“The acrylamide monomer is toxic and is an irritant,” says the complaint, filed in 2003.

“Cases of acrylamide poisoning show signs and symptoms of local effects due to irritation of the skin and mucous membranes and systemic effects due to the involvement of the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous systems.

“The neurotoxicity of acrylamide has been recognized since the early 1950s during toxicologic studies prompted by the advent of large-scale production of acrylamide for the polymer industry.

“Within five months of commencing manufacture of acrylamide, several factory workers developed a peripheral neuropathy strikingly similar to neurologic signs previously noted in animals chronically intoxicated with acrylamide.”

Class members must file a claim form to get a medical examination. A deadline to do so has not been determined yet, but attorneys involved say it could be as early as March 1, 2014.

Class members cannot exclude themselves from the settlement, which means they can’t sue as individuals for free examinations. However, should a class member develop an injury, he or she will still be able to file a lawsuit.

Class members may object to the settlement by April 1. A fairness hearing is scheduled for May 1.

The defendants have not admitted liability. The settlement notice will be published in newspapers and a 30 second radio spot is being aired.

Representing the plaintiffs is R. Dean Hartley of Hartley & O’Brien.

Money left from the claims period will be donated in equal shares to the Blanchette Rockefeller Neurosciences Institute in Morgantown and the Center for Rural Health at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University.

The defendants agreed to pay $13,950,000 total in the settlement. G.E. Betz will be responsible for paying attorneys fees and costs to the plaintiffs lawyers.

According to the settlement agreement, plaintiffs attorneys plan to petition the court for a fees award of one-third of the total settlement ($4.65 million), along with litigation costs that cannot exceed $2 million.

The defendants agreed not to dispute the fees award. The defendants are also paying $750,000 in notice and administrative costs.

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