CHICAGO--A jury in southern Illinois has awarded $3.2 million to the families of four children who contracted a rare form of cancer following the remediation of a facility that once was used to process gas from coal (Donaldson v. Central Illinois Public Service Co., CirCt, ChristianCty, No. 96-L-20, 3/27/98).
The award was levied March 27 against Central Illinois Public Service Co., a utility based in Springfield, Ill., that was recently acquired by St. Louis-based Ameren Corp.
The Christian County Circuit Court jury found CIPS guilty on counts of negligence and creating a public nuisance. The utility was acquitted on counts alleging willful and wanton misconduct. Two co-defendants in the litigation, Hanson Engineers Inc. and Parsons Engineering Science Inc., were acquitted on counts of negligence.
Thomas Londrigan, who represented the plaintiffs, said the action was brought by the families of four children who have been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer of the adrenal glands or sympathetic nervous system.
The plaintiffs alleged that the disease, which has killed one of the four children, was caused by exposure to coal tar. Such exposure occurred during CIPS' improper cleanup of an old coal gasification plant in Taylorville, Ill., between 1987 and 1989, plaintiffs alleged.
Improper Cleanup Alleged
The coal gasification facility was obtained by CIPS in 1912, but operated between 1892 and 1932. A leaking underground tank filled with coal tar was discovered on the site in 1985, and CIPS was ordered to remediate the site by state environmental authorities.
During the cleanup, CIPS and the two engineering firms failed to take the proper steps to secure the area and prevent carcinogenic materials from dispersing into surrounding areas, Londrigan said. He noted that the area was left largely open for two years before it was backfilled with clean dirt. The former coal gasification site is adjacent to a residential area and a public park.
"It was our contention that there was never proper containment of the volatile and organic emissions," said Londrigan, a partner in the Springfield Law firm of Londrigan, Potter & Randle.
Londrigan said the jury awarded damages in the amount of $1.2 million to the family of Brandon Steele, who died of neuroblastoma. The families of Zachary Donaldson, Chad Hryhorysak, and Erika May were awarded $360,000, $1.2 million, and $400,000, respectively. Despite the award, Londrigan said he intends to appeal the aspects of the verdict dealing with Hanson Engineers and Parsons Engineering Science and CIPS' acquittal for willful and wanton misconduct.
"It was a 'mixed victory' in the words of the plaintiffs," Londrigan said. "We've always said the case was not about money. There will be a cross appeal ... so the story isn't exactly over yet."
Ed McDowall, a spokesman for AmerenCIPS, the subsidiary that operates the utility, said the company was disappointed with the verdict and intends to appeal. He said AmerenCIPS believes there is no proven link between neuroblastoma and coal tar. In addition, the company disputes evidence that the children were exposed to significant levels of coal tar.
"Our attorneys are evaluating the basis for the appeal, which will include the fact that there was a lack of requisite medical and scientific connection between the chemicals at the site and neuroblastoma," McDowall said.
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