A federal magistrate judge preliminarily approved a settlement that required Republic Services, Inc., the owners of the Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill, to pay $6.8 million to neighboring residents. The settlement was the result of a class action lawsuit alleging lost property value and public nuisance caused by the overwhelming, noxious odors released from an underground fire in the depths of the landfill.
The Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill was converted from farm fields to a landfill in the 1950s. The landfill covers 52 acres and has a total waste thickness of 320 feet. The Bridgeton Landfill was closed on Dec. 31, 2004, but Republic Services bought the property in 2008. In 2010, an underground fire at the site caused the release of toxic vapors and noxious odors. In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that the fire was only 1,000 feet away from radioactive waste that had been dumped in the adjacent West Lake Landfill.
Independent landfill fire and odor experts found elevated levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide in air samples taken in and around the Bridgeton Sanitary Landfill. Benzene is known to cause cancer, while hydrogen sulfide gives off a strong odor of rotten eggs, which can burn the eyes and throat. Beginning in 2010, as the fire grew and intensified, residents living near the landfill experienced steadily increasing concentrations of odors and other emissions from the landfill. The emissions were so strong that residents could not spend time outdoors. Property values also suffered; the landfill’s emissions made it nearly impossible to sell a home in the affected area. Residents lived in constant fear that the emissions may be causing long-term health problems for themselves and their families.
Republic Services Inc. is one of the country’s largest waste management companies. Republic Services began recording elevated temperatures at some of the landfill’s gas-extraction wells in late 2010. Temperatures recorded in the landfill exceeded 260 degrees. Republic informed state regulators of the fire within the Bridgeton Landfill soon after they became aware of it, but they failed to take the necessary steps needed to quell the problem.
In March 2013, the head of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources pressed the state’s Attorney General, Chris Koster, to take legal action against Republic Services, as the resultant foul odors and underground smoldering raised resident concerns. Two weeks later, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed a lawsuit against the owner of the landfill, alleging eight counts of violating state environmental law. Koster’s legal action prompted Republic Services to act more quickly to remedy the issue, but residents had already suffered at the hands of Republic for over two years.
Shareholder Ted Gianaris of Simmons Hanly Conroy filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri on behalf of the more than 600 residents impacted by the putrid smells. † These residents were located in the neighborhoods of Spanish Village Subdivision, Terrisan Reste Mobile Park and Gallatin Ave Condominiums, as well as in homes on Foerster Road in Bridgeton, MO. By April of the next year, a federal magistrate judge preliminarily approved a settlement with Republic Services for $6.8 million. The settlement was earmarked for individuals who were legal residents of the affected areas between November, 2010 and December, 2013.
In order to receive a portion of the settlement, class members were simply required to complete and return a claim form. Residents who participated in the settlement received cash settlements, depending on specific criteria related to their individual circumstances. The landfill also paid the residents’ legal fees and expenses.
“Republic Services put these families in a terrible situation that negatively impacted their quality of life. By uniting together through a class action lawsuit, we were able to quickly reach a resolution that will give residents some resources to decide how to move forward,” Gianaris said. He continues, “Through aggressive litigation we were able to put together a solid case.”
Shareholder Ted Gianaris also successfully secured a subsequent ruling by a federal judge regarding the existing and/or potential future harms faced by residents due to the radioactive waste housed in the Bridgeton or West Lake landfills. The judge ruled that class members who accepted the terms of the settlement would not give up their right to pursue past, present or future claims for physical injuries, diseases or medical conditions resulting from radioactive emissions, or death resulting therefrom. In other words, affected residents could accept the settlement funds without giving up their right to bring future claims against the landfill owners for other types of injuries suffered.
“The addendum gives class members the assurance they deserve,” Ted Gianaris said. “If folks are sick or lose value due to radiation contamination, their legal rights will still be intact.”
Our firm has a proven record of success and high client satisfaction. We have recovered more than $5 billion in verdicts and settlements for our clients. Shareholder Ted Gianaris helps to oversee cases in the environmental litigation practice area. Simmons Hanly Conroy has helped hundreds of people who have been exposed to noxious, dangerous substances. Our contingency fee approach empowers people with limited resources to get the legal representation that they deserve. We only get paid when our clients prevail.
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The Bridgeton case received considerable local news attention because of the distressing effect that landfill emissions had on residents, as well as the potential radioactive contamination.
† The case name and number is Buck et al. v. Republic Services, Inc., et al. No. 4:13CV00801 TCM (E.D. Mo. Apr. 17, 2014).
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