A jury just awarded $5.1 million in damages to Cow Island residents over arsenic contaminated soil and groundwater.
The award, which is meant for cleanup, originated with a Cow Island, Louisiana priest’s cancer fight, according to TheInd.com. In fact, that priest was the second to be diagnosed with cancer from the Cow Island rectory. He had his water tested in 2004 and revealed it contained very high levels of arsenic, which led him to advise his parishioners to have their own water wells tested.
The result was that Cow Island residents discovered arsenic was contaminating their wells. The maximum allowable limit for drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb), yet water wells on Cow Island tested from 20 ppb to a massive 800 ppb of arsenic, according to TheInd.com. Most wells tested between 40-60 ppb. And, while 10 ppb is the maximum acceptable limit, it is still high, according an attorney involved in the case. In fact, noted the attorney, if a public water system tests with 11 ppb, that system would be shut down.
Engineers were hired and an antiquated community cattle dipping vat was found to be the culprit. The parish bought the vat at the turn of the last century in response to Texas Tick Fever, as part of the government’s Tick Eradication Program, in place from the early 1900s to 1937, according to TheInd.com. The dip was produced by William F. Cooper and Nephews, the world’s largest manufacturer of arsenical dip for the bulk of the 20th century. The dip remained in wide use after the program ended.
The then-approved method of disposing of the dip was to pour it on the ground. The company touted this as a safe disposal method and never disclosed the poisonous nature of the arcynical dip and that it could seep into groundwater, according to TheInd.com. On Cow Island, the dip was used up until the 1970s. When the residents discovered the source of the contamination in 2004, Cooper’s was gone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned the use of arsenical dip in 1975.
Meanwhile, Cooper’s appears to have intentionally buried itself; the lawsuit traced a series of acquisitions to drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, TheInd.com noted.
The jury’s verdict puts $746,120 of the $5.1 million in a trust for the cleanup near the old dipping vat; this includes about a mile-long area near the site. The other $4.3 million is for a special court-administered fund for groundwater cleanup by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. This initial verdict, noted TheInd.com, involves just one of four contaminated areas in Vermilion Parish included in the lawsuit.
Arsenic can be toxic and carcinogenic, and ongoing exposure can, at first, lead to gastrointestinal problems and skin discoloration or lesions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as the years progress – say between five and 20 years – it could heighten risks for cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and reproductive problems.
Arsenic is found naturally in water, air, food, and soil, in both organic and inorganic forms. Although organic arsenic passes out of the body quickly and is considered harmless, inorganic arsenic, such as the type found in the Cow Dip, can be toxic and carcinogenic. The acute or immediate symptoms of toxic arsenic exposure may include, according to MedicineNet:
- Abdominal pain
- Cardiac problems
- Dark urine (termed black water urine)
- Hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells)