on March 4, 2013 - 10:06 PM
, updated March 4, 2013 at 10:16 PM
The huge and complex state court lawsuit over toxic waste in the Love Canal neighborhood looks like it may get even bigger and more complex.
In Niagara County Court, lawyers for people who say they have suffered illnesses or incurred property damage from Love Canal waste asked a judge to add 10 more defendants to their lawsuit. The potential new defendants include Occidental Petroleum Corp. and several plumbing and environmental companies that have done work at or near the Love Canal landfill in Niagara Falls.
County Judge Matthew J. Murphy III indicated Monday that he will probably accept a revised complaint that was filed Feb. 22 by the plaintiffs. The proposed complaint adds the 10 new defendants and many new allegations to a complaint filed last year at the inception of the negligence lawsuit seeking $113 million in damages.
Lawyers for more than 550 present and former residents of the Love Canal neighborhood contend that toxic contamination from the landfill has created a “public health catastrophe” in the neighborhood. The residents allege that the contamination has damaged their homes and caused a wide range of illnesses, including birth defects, lung and heart problems, skin rashes and learning disabilities.
Nearly 22,000 tons of toxic chemicals have been stored at the site for decades.
State and federal agencies that monitor the landfill say they are certain that the 70-acre site is being operated safely. The government agencies and Glenn Springs Holdings, the Occidental Chemical subsidiary that operates the landfill, deny allegations that dangerous chemicals are leaking from the site into the neighborhood.
Unless it gets dismissed at some point, the lawsuit is expected to be fought for years before a trial even begins, according to legal experts familiar with the case.
“We’re going to be at this for some time, and it’s a complex piece of litigation,” Murphy said at one point Monday.
Last year, attorneys for the residents sued the City of Niagara Falls, the city Water Board, Glenn Springs Holdings, and Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, an engineering consultant for Glenn Springs Holdings. Those parties all deny any wrongdoing.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys asked Murphy on Monday to accept a revised complaint and to allow them to add the following defendants:
• Occidental Petroleum, whose subsidiary, Occidental Chemical, was formerly known as Hooker Chemical, the firm that dumped thousands of tons of toxins at Love Canal decades ago; and Miller Springs Remediation Management, another Occidental Chemical subsidiary.
• CECOS International, an environmental firm that was involved in toxic cleanup operations at the site in the 1980s; and Sevenson Environmental Services, which built the landfill and its water-treatment system.
• Edward S. Roberts, chairman of Conestoga-Rovers, or CRA; and five other companies that have done cleanup work at or near the landfill – Gross PHC, Kandey Co., Op-Tech Environmental Services, Roy’s Plumbing, and Scott Lawn Yard.
The new 46-page complaint that Murphy said he is likely to accept includes a number of new allegations about things that the plaintiffs contend have occurred in the Love Canal neighborhood.
“As a result of Defendants’ misconduct, chemicals have been and continue to be visible to the naked eye on area roads, sidewalks and grass, and through the sewers and storm drains of this residential community,” the lawsuit alleges. “The area has an unnatural absence of worms, mice and other normal biodata. It is also strewn with dead trees and grass. Plaintiffs’ and their neighbors’ pets are sick. Dead animals are a common sight throughout the area.”
Officials of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency call such claims exaggerations.