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Settlements Reached in Dioxin Lawsuits

November 6, 1992

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ Hundreds of former residents of 28 dioxin-tainted sites, including the former town of Times Beach, have settled 17 lawsuits accusing the companies that handled the chemical of recklessly endangering them.

The out-of-court settlements were reached Wednesday. Their terms, including monetary damages, weren’t revealed.

The 381 people who sued are ″just happy that it’s over,″ said Marilyn Leistner, former mayor of Times Beach and one of the plaintiffs. The federal government bought up her entire city in the 1980s and evacuated more than 2,000 people after dioxin contamination was found there.

″I’ve always said that there isn’t any amount of money to compensate for what they’ve been through,″ Leistner said. ″We will never put it behind us. But this makes it a little bit easier.″

Dioxin, a byproduct of chemical manufacturing, has been linked to cancer and other ailments in animals. Its danger to people is still being debated.

Times Beach and the 27 smaller sites around eastern Missouri were contaminated when dioxin was mixed with waste oil and spread on dirt roads in the 1970s to control dust.

Defendants in the Times Beach lawsuit were Syntex USA, Syntex Agribusiness Inc., Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co., and Independent Petrochemical Co.

Jan Potts, a spokeswoman for Syntex in Palo Alto, Calif., wouldn’t comment.

The lawsuits charged that the companies were negligent in handling dioxin, resulting in ″health problems and other personal tragedies,″ said Gerson Smoger, a Walnut Creek, Calif., attorney who represented the residents.

The case was scheduled to go trial in July in St. Louis Circuit Court, but Judge Robert H. Dierker Jr. urged the parties to reach an out-of-court settlement, said Mark Bronson of St. Louis, another attorney for the residents.

Syntex inherited the dioxin problem in the late 1960s when it bought Hoffman Taff Inc., which had rented a building to Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Co.

Northeastern produced dioxin as a byproduct of the manufacture of hexachlorophene, an ingredient in toiletries. Independent Petrochemical was hired to dispose of the dioxin.

Also settled Wednesday was a lawsuit filed by the family of Alvin Overmann, a truck driver exposed to dioxin sprayed at the P.I.E. terminal in St. Louis.

Last year, a jury awarded the family $1.5 million after deciding that Overmann’s death was the result of a rare cancer caused by dioxin. The family settled its case for the amount of the verdict.

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