A Louisiana man has filed a proposed class action over the alleged contamination of his property by “an enormous toxic waste plume” that he says stretches more than five miles from two creosoting plant sites once operated by International Paper Company (IP). According to the lawsuit, IP knew the two sites were leaking “sludge and waste materials” into the soil and groundwater near DeRidder, Louisiana yet failed to notify property owners whose land and health may have been affected.
The lawsuit explains that in approximately 1918, a subsidiary of American Creosoting Company purchased land from Longbell Lumber Company, who owned land adjacent to the site, to build a plant to use creosote, a dark-brown wood preservative distilled from coal tar, to treat pine utility poles. The two companies allegedly operated the plant until International Paper acquired Longbell in 1957 and took over the other site’s operations in 1963.
The case goes on to explain that creosoting is known to produce toxic by-products that are harmful to humans and the environment. When International Paper ceased operating the creosote plant in 1989, the company allegedly claimed in an affidavit that the “hazardous waste” produced from creosote treatments had been removed from the sites. In the same filing with The Beauregard Parish Clerk of Court’s Office, however, IP apparently admitted that toxins remained in the sediment at the plant. According to the lawsuit, IP, despite being fully aware that contamination was likely, had failed to line the ponds and treatment facilities at the plant in order to prevent toxic chemicals from leaching into the surface soil and groundwater. Moreover, IP, as the complaint puts it, knew it had failed in this regard yet did not act to head off potential environmental contamination. From the lawsuit:
“IP knew that the ponds contained hazardous and toxic wastes generated by the pressure treating operations yet did nothing to try to prevent such leaching from its ponds and flowing through the sediments outside property owned and controlled by IP into and onto innocent adjacent property owned by Plaintiff herein and putative class members.”
The plaintiff, who owns property about 5.1 miles southeast of the plant sites, alleges that he discovered after removing a tree stump “foul smelling” toxic chemical waste “percolating” in his yard.
The man claims the only possible source of the contamination is “an enormous toxic waste plume” that originated from the sites owned by the defendants. The plaintiff argues that all the properties between his and the plant, which was added to the federal Superfund program's National Priorities List in January 2018, are likely contaminated with toxic chemicals, the exposure to which is associated with detrimental health effects such as cancer, reproductive issues, strokes and other medical problems.
According to the lawsuit, IP has made no effort to warn property owners, despite the relative ease with which they could be identified, and the surrounding communities of the toxic waste contamination, and has instead “done all in its power” to cover up the problem for more than 30 years.
“Indeed,” the complaint reads, “none of the putative class members were aware of any notification that their private property was affected with toxic waste generated by IP, and all such private homeowner’s addresses were easily obtainable by IP to send direct mail notifying them of such toxic waste contamination had they cared one bit about the health and safety of individuals and the sanctity of the putative class member’s property.”
The lawsuit seeks to require that the defendants investigate and remove the contamination from proposed class members’ properties or, alternatively, pay for the relocation of proposed class members to uncontaminated properties. Additionally, the case demands damages for the loss of the properties’ value, the “annoyance and inconvenience” of dealing with the contamination, and physical and emotional harm caused by the chemicals, as well as the cost of medical monitoring.
IP, according to the case, is no stranger to litigation over creosoting-related pollution. Just last May, a class was certified in a lawsuit alleging IP exposed Louisiana residents to “black liquor,” a chemical by-product released in the rupture of one of the company’s pulp mill tanks.
The 30-page suit also names as defendants Kerr-McGee Chemical Corporation, Kerr-McGee Operating Corporation, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and Occidental Petroleum Corporation, who are successors of the companies formerly responsible for the sites, as well as BNSF Railway Company, who the plaintiff claims owned “certain right of ways and land” near the two sites and transported creosoting products for commercial sale.
The full complaint for the lawsuit detailed on this page can be read below.