5th Circuit to hear appeal in Miss. pollution case

Published 9:21 pm Monday, December 31, 2007

Attorneys for a wood products firm and the estate of a Mississippi woman are scheduled to argue in a federal appeals court whether Koppers Inc. is liable for medical disorders stemming from the alleged release of toxic chemicals from its Grenada plant.

In May 2006, a federal jury in Oxford awarded $845,000 in compensatory damages to the estate of Sherrie Barnes, who had claimed emissions from a Koppers Inc. wood-treating plant neighboring her Grenada home caused her breast cancer and ultimately her death. Koppers’ portion of the compensatory damages came to $169,000.

The jury declined to award punitive damages to Barnes’ estate.

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Both sides appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which is scheduled to hear the case Jan. 28.

The Barnes case was the first of a series of civil lawsuits filed in 2003 by dozens of plaintiffs against Pittsburgh-based Koppers and at least four other companies over alleged runoff from the Grenada plant.

The plaintiffs alleged chemicals released from the plant were responsible for illnesses ranging from cancer to reproductive disorders and skin problems.

The Koppers plant used creosote and pentachlorophenol to produce pressure treated wooden crossties for Illinois Central Railroad and several other types of treated woods for other companies.

The plaintiffs alleged that waste liquids from the Koppers plant drained through ditches near the site and water from the cooling tower and test tank have overflowed into Jack Creek.

Koppers, in an earlier statement, said the jury verdict was inconsistent with decades of industry operating experience and health studies, which, taken together, show no link between the chemicals used at the plant and the health of employees and neighbors, including the Grenada community.