Toxic Truth: US case a positive precedent for lead lawsuit

Chad Hinds has sought legal advice. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Chad Hinds has sought legal advice. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

FORMER Boolaroo and Argenton residents whose health may have been affected by lead poisoning have been heartened by a US court ruling that awarded $358million in damages to a community that suffered a similar fate.

The Missouri Civil Court settlement followed a three-month trial of Fluor Corp, A.T. Massey and Doe Run Investment, which operated the former Herculaneum lead smelter near St Louis. 

Lead pollution from the smelter between 1986 and 1994 allegedly caused the plaintiffs – who were children when the lawsuit was filed in 2005 – to lose IQ points and suffer from attention deficit disorder and  asthma.

One juror who spoke to the Missouri Lawyers Weekly said their decision was significantly influenced by evidence that showed that the defendants had bought  houses around the smelter.  They leased the houses but did not allow  children to live in them.

The idea of suing the state government for its role in letting the surrounding area  be polluted for  a century is being considered by the legal representatives of past and present Boolaroo residents.

Chad Hinds is among those who sought legal advice about taking action against the former smelter operator Pasminco Pty Ltd for the health affects they allegedly suffered while growing up in the suburb.

As a nine-year-old, Mr Hinds registered a blood lead level of 30 (the recommended level is 10 and expected to drop to less than five next year) when he was tested at Boolaroo Public School in 1991.

His learning difficulties and behaviour problems as a child have since been directly linked to his exposure to lead.

Environment Minister Rob Stokes, who visited Boolaroo last month, said the community had been left ‘‘vulnerable’’ by the former smelter’s actions.

Mr Stokes is awaiting advice from an expert working group, which is reviewing the effectiveness of  the pollution clean-up.

The Boolaroo residents have urged the government to force the company to establish a future fund to pay for the smelter’s  toxic legacy, before the company’s assets are stripped by banks and developers.