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Judge Approves 29 Out-of-Court Settlements Involving Kerr-McGee

Nov 7, 2003 | The Citizen's Voice

Luzerne County Judge Thomas Burke approved 29 out-of-court settlements between the Kerr-McGee Corp. and several hundred area residents who claimed ground contamination from the company's former wood treatment facility in Avoca caused serious health problems or deaths.

In the largest settlement, the family of John Gorzkowski, a 32-year-old man who died of leukemia in 1988, was awarded $450,000. The second highest settlement, $234,550, went to James Manley, brother of the late Gail Manley, 41, who allegedly developed liver disease as a result of the contamination and died in 2001.

Most of the settlements were in the range of $2,700 to $20,000.

After Kerr-McGee closed its Avoca plant in 1996, residents began to raise concerns about serious health problems they said were related to the facility, including the deaths of several area children who had developed brain tumors.

The Avoca plant, which operated for more than 32 years at the 34-acre site off York Avenue, treated railroad ties with toxic chemicals that allegedly seeped into the ground and contaminated soil and water supplies.

Among the civil complaints filed against Kerr-McGee was a class-action suit involving 500 plaintiffs seeking compensation for property damage and requesting medical monitoring. Other suits alleged chemicals used at the plant caused cancer, birth defects, liver and kidney disease, asthma and other health problems. In all, more than 1,000 area residents sued the company.

According to complaints, plant workers used carcinogens such as benzene and arsenic to pressure treat the railroad ties, which were left outside to dry, causing the chemicals to emit toxins and contaminate the air, soil and groundwater.

As part of the settlement agreements, Kerr-McGee denied any wrongdoing or liability.

Company officials, who have been working with the state Department of Environmental Protection to clean up the Avoca property, claim health risks at the former plant are now within state guidelines and commercial use of the site should be permitted.

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