Supreme Court reverses ruling in lead smelter lawsuit

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- A lawsuit against the operators of a lead smelter in the eastern Missouri town Herculaneum can move forward as a class action on behalf of more than 200 children in the community, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The court reversed and remanded a ruling out of St. Louis. The lower court had ruled that the suit was, among other things, too specific to the individual case of Lani Meyer, the 9-year-old plaintiff in the suit. But the state Supreme Court disagreed in a 4-3 ruling.

Don Downing, an attorney for Lani Meyer, said the ruling was a victory for children in Herculaneum.

The lawsuit named Fluor Corp., a previous owner of the smelter, along with Doe Run, the current owner. The facility in Herculaneum, about 30 miles south of St. Louis, is the nation's only primary lead smelter, meaning it turns lead ore into lead metal.

Emissions from the smelter have long raised concern. In 2002, state health officials reported that nearly half of the children under age 6 living within a half-mile of the smelter had elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Lead poisoning has been linked to learning disabilities, behavioral problems, anemia and kidney disorders.

In recent years, Doe Run has purchased more than 130 houses contaminated by lead particles from the smelter. State and federal regulars continue to seek ways to cleanse lead from the environment there.

In February, Doe Run and the state agreed to a plan aimed at achieving acceptable air quality in Herculaneum.

The lawsuit sought damages to pay for a medical monitoring program for children in Herculaneum. The program would provide exams to test for lead exposure and identify injuries and illnesses resulting from that exposure.

In denying class action certification, the lower court ruled that individual issues -- including the length of exposure, sources of exposure and whether individual children already suffer from lead-related injury or illness -- predominated over common issues.

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