While trial dates have been set, the class action lawsuit filed against Honeywell International is still in the investigatory stage and attorneys are seeking information from Massac countians.
That’s one thing residents learned during a community meeting held Wednesday, May 17.
About 150 people were at the Metropolis Community Center for the 30-minute meeting that ended with the opportunity to speak privately with the six attorneys involved in the case — Kevin Thompson and David Barney of the Thompson Barney Law Firm in Charleston, West Virginia; Celeste Brustowicz of the Cooper Law Firm in New Orleans; Ron Austin of the Ron Austin Law in New Orleans; Paul Henry of the Paul Henry Law Firm in Metropolis; and Richard Kruger of the Kruger & Abell Law Firm in Metropolis.
As the meeting began, Kruger noted that because the lawyers do not have an attorney-client relationship with everyone present, no questions would be taken so residents’ ”rights are protected,” he said.
“We are in the investigatory stage, so we don’t have it all,” Austin further explained. “As it relates to the group, we’re still investigating; we cannot tell you with any specificity what’s going on with you and/or your possible individual claims.”
One key factor of the meeting was to obtain health information. As they entered the meeting, attendees were given a one-page health screening survey and a HIPAA authorization letter.
Kruger noted the health surveys “will be reviewed and evaluated, and we’ll take the appropriate action.”
Thompson, the suit’s lead attorney, explained the survey is a “self report — you’re reporting to us what the disease experience is. We have about 400 from the last meeting we had. We’ve got to be able to show, with proof, what everyone knows — that there’s too much cancer in Metropolis.”
Those who were unable to attend the meeting can obtain the forms at the Paul Henry Law Firm or the Kruger & Abell Law Firm. The forms need to be returned to either office as soon as possible so attorneys can process them and gather the information needed.
“We got a lot of help from this community in the last community meeting we had,” Thompson said. “A lot of people signed contracts with us so we could go test their properties. If those people hadn’t opened up their homes to us, we wouldn’t have known what was going on. Now, we’re reaching out to you again. The health data you give is going to help you and your community. The health surveys are so we can evaluate and see how many people have contracted cancer and/or other diseases, how many people have died. The class action seeks medical monitoring. The first thing medical monitoring does is cancer screen. But cancer isn’t the only disease that’s associated with radiation — you’ve got COPD; tremors, shakes, things like that; neurological damage. The reason we have these health surveys is we need to be able to show what the health experience in the community is.”
Thompson explained the attorneys have “filed a class complaint, which allows us to gather evidence and investigate. When we get the investigation completed, we’ll file a motion saying we’ve gathered the information that supports class. That’ll be filed probably around Christmas time. When that gets filed we’ll let you know.”
For Thompson, the investigating began five years ago.
“One of the important things we can do is shine light; light is the best disinfectant,” he said. “In 2018, we did a round of preliminary screening. From mid-2018 to the end of 2019, we took a number of samples. We found a lot of documents and put most of what we’ve found in the complaints. We’ve been collecting documents from the defendant and the government.”
Thompson emphasized to the audience they “exhaustively tested the waters” of the city of Metropolis in 2018 and in 2022 and found none of the contamination found elsewhere “has reached the water supply — ground water wells, water coming out of people’s taps, source water at the municipal water plant, the finish water at the plant it is clean.
“The soil, however, is contaminated,” he continued. “I can tell you this contamination is over a widespread area and concentrated more closely to the plant; however, it’s not uniform — there are spots here and there, it’s not like the whole area is blanketed in a uniform layer like a snowfall. The sampling indicates there is radioactive contamination beyond the fence line and extends at least 3 miles beyond the plant with the more problematic areas being within the first mile.”
Thompson said the team is currently working on an air model.
“We’ve been trying to get the complete emissions data from the plant ever since we started this. They’ve been giving it to us as we go along. We can tell you your property has been impacted, but we need the emissions data,” he said. “You don’t just get exposed to this when you go gardening. The real frightening thing about the plant is it emits particles in the air that are radioactive and they lodge in your body where they can cause cancer. We need to know what is in the air. To know what’s in the air, we hire an air modeler.”
Thompson said the air modeler’s complete air data report is expected in the coming weeks. It, the emissions data and Nuclear Regulatory Commission air modeling techniques will be incorporated with the soil samples “to show what people have been breathing. We’ll be able to issue that report by the end of the summer and be able to more clearly tell you what the risks are,” he said.
The class action case is also seeking property damages.
“We will be arguing that everyone’s property has been damaged and there’s been a deviation of property value,” Thompson said.
When the air model report is done and the class certification motion is filed in the fall, “we’ll be back. We’ve got some more work to do in this case. We’re in the end of the middle of the long road. But you’ve held with us for this long, and we hope you can help us now because we disparately need this (health survey) information so we can continue to represent the community as well as we can, bring justice to the community and reduce the risk of cancer. We don’t expect that this is going to be an easy fight. We’ve done a lot of work, and we’ll be doing a lot more. I sincerely appreciate the effort you’ve given … it’s tough living in a town like this. We just pray everyone can stay safe, and we can take care of the fact that there’s too much cancer in Metropolis.”
The attorneys’ expert reports are due in September. The jury trial for the class action and other cases filed is set for February 2024, in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Illinois in Benton.
According to the the Massac County Illinois History Vol. 1, 1987 book produced by the Massac County Historical Society, the Atomic Energy Commission in October 1955 permitted industry to enter the uranium hexafluoride (UF6) conversion business. In December 1955, Allied Chemical was the successful bidder. Ground was broken in August 1957 for the Allied Chemical Metropolis plant, which was completed in December 1958 and delivered its first shipment of UF6 to the Atomic Energy Commission’s Paducah plant within eight days of the contract deadline.
Sixty-five years later, what is now Metropolis Works Honeywell is the only UF6 conversion facility in the United States. It is owned by Honeywell International, Inc., a multi-national conglomerate. As of 2022, Honeywell International has over $62 billion in assets, an annual income of over $4.75 billion and a global workforce of about 97,000 employees.
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