Wednesday, August 11, 2004

$3.75M Latonia suit settled

Manufacturer must work to prevent further pollution

By Jim Hannah
Enquirer staff writer

COVINGTON - Residents of western Latonia agreed to a $3.75 million settlement Tuesday in a class-action lawsuit against a nearby chemical manufacturer they claim slowly poisoned them for 30 years.

The settlement also calls for the factory, now owned by Interplastic, to take steps to prevent any further pollution from being emitted from its incinerator.

Combined with a $1 million settlement reached last month with energy conglomerate BP, which sold the Northern Kentucky factory in October 1993, the residents' settlement totals $4.75 million.

"I'm very pleased the settlement calls for continued scrutiny of the plant," said former Latonia resident Cindy Wilson, 40, who filed the initial suit claiming she and other residents were exposed to carcinogenic, toxic, and hazardous chemicals as well as foul odors. "This settlement is for all the residents who still live there. They deserve better."

Families who lived within a 2,000-foot radius of the plant between May 1993 and May 1998 will be eligible to receive part of the settlement, said Paul Dickman, an attorney for the plaintiffs. Kenton Circuit Judge Steve Jaeger must still approve a yet-to-be decided plan to distribute the money among the plaintiffs and uheir attorneys.

Dorothy Brown, 48, of Latonia, said the suit was not about the money.

"The most important part is that residents of Latonia will have a better life," she said. "I think this is the first step in the company improving its relationship with the neighbors."

The class-action suit was filed in Kenton Circuit Court in 1997 after a chemical release the previous December caused the evacuation of everyone living near the plant in Fort Wright on the border of the Covington neighborhood of Latonia.

Covington Fire Chief Joe Heringhaus said he felt vindicated by the settlement.

"The plant had always contended I overreacted by evacuating homes during the uncontrolled chemical release in 1996," he said. "Now, it is more obvious than ever, I did the right thing."

Wilson said residents were subject to frequent evacuations.

She said the odor was so bad in the summers they sometimes stayed indoors. In the winter, she said, they would have to open their windows because the odor would come into the homes from the sewers. Brown said sometimes the fire department would cut off their utilities because they were afraid the fumes were combustible and might cause an explosion.

"It was so bad my father used to say, 'I'm off to the toxic dump' every time he came over to my house," Wilson said.

Ivan Levy, Interplastic vice president and general counsel, flew from the company's headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday morning to sign the agreement.

While his company denies any fault, Levy apologized to about 10 current and former Latonia residents who showed up at the courthouse upon hearing news of the settlement.

"It is a new day, a fresh start, and the sun is shining," Levy said. "We look forward to being good neighbors."

The factory, formerly known as the Filon-Silmar site, makes polyester resins, a material that is mixed with glass fibers to make common household items such as shower liners and counter tops.

Mayor Butch Callery, a longtime Latonia resident, was at the courthouse for the announcement.

"Residents of Latonia have complained about that plant since 1974," said Callery, who has previously campaigned on environmental issues.

"I hope this settlement means residents can look forward to clean air and a brighter future."


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