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Paper Makers Slapped With $100 Billion Dioxin Lawsuit

March 6, 1992

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) _ Residents who live downstream from paper mills have filed a class action suit against more than 30 paper companies asking for $100 billion in damages from toxic waste discharges.

The 17-page suit, filed in state district court earlier this week, alleges the companies misled authorities on their dioxin discharges, trespassed on residents’ property and inflicted emotional distress.

The plaintiffs live downstream from paper mills that discharge dioxin into rivers. Dioxin is widely considered a carcinogen, though manufacturers dispute its potency.

″We propose a nationwide class, every person who has been exposed against their will and against their knowledge″ to dioxins by the defendants, plaintiffs’ attorney John Deakle said Thursday.

Deakle and two other attorneys, Patrick Pendley and Skip Hulett, filed the suit on behalf of two southeast Texas residents and the class.

The suit names the American Paper Institute, the industry’s trade and lobbying group, and large paper makers including James River Paper Co., Mead Corp., Boise Cascade Corp. and Westvaco Corp.

The suit says the companies have known about dioxins in effluents since 1985 and have taken few corrective measures. There are 103 domestic paper mills that produce dioxin as a byproduct of the bleach process used in making paper, Deakle said.

Several companies contacted Thursday declined comment, saying they had not seen the suit.

″The American Paper Institute has not seen any papers and therefore cannot comment on specifics,″ spokesman Tom Kraner said in New York. ″The industry believes there is no basis for any litigation over dioxin.″

Andrew Drysdale, spokesman for Boise Cascade, also said the company hadn’t received the suit.

″This industry and this company since the time dioxin was first discovered in papermaking have worked tirelessly and very openly to understand how it was being created, what if any health risk it was posing and doing what it could and should to rid itself of dioxin,″ Drysdale said.

In 1985, dioxin was found to be emitted in trace amounts from plants that produce heavy, white stock from the ″bleach Kraft″ process, which that uses chlorine.

The defendants conspired to keep the dioxin discharges secret, minimize or discount the possibility of harmful effects, manipulate test data and try to obtain favorable regulatory standards, the suit alleges.

Deakle said hundreds of documents obtained from the companies, some from whistleblowers, will back up allegations.

He said attorneys settled on the $100 billion damage figure based on the assets and recent profit histories of the defendants.

″Arguably, this will be the largest single piece of litigation ever tried in the United States,″ Deakle said.

Neither the American Bar Association nor the American Trial Lawyers Association could confirm that perspective, however.

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