Honeywell International, the world’s largest maker of airplane controls, will pay $50 million to settle two lawsuits that contended a predecessor company polluted land and water outside a Brunswick, Georgia, chemical plant. The first case was filed by Glynn County and the second was brought on behalf of four hundred and fifty landowners surrounding the plant. Honeywell will pay $25 million to a group of more than 200 property owners along the Turtle River in Brunswick and $25 million to the Board of Commissioners of Glynn County, Georgia. Honeywell also agreed to accelerate its cleanup of the plant site. Property owners and the county claimed that AlliedSignal discharged hundreds of thousands of pounds of mercury and PCBs, a cancer-causing chemical, into Glynn County marshes and the river. AlliedSignal bought Honeywell in 1999 and took its name. Over 1,500 pounds of mercury a year was going into one canal fed into the Turtle River. It was alleged that this plant was the largest source of mercury contamination in the state of Georgia.
Honeywell and other former owners have been cleaning up the site under the jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency. Honeywell agreed in November to spend $451 million to remove hazardous chemicals from Onondaga Lake in New York. Honeywell estimates it will have to pay $888 million in environmental costs in the future, according to a July regulatory filing. The first suits were filed by property owners near the plant against AlliedSignal in 1995. They sought damages for diminished value of their homes and loss of use of the river and marshes. Areas close to the plant were barred for commercial fishing. Advisories went out warning pregnant women not to eat the fish. It was alleged by the plaintiffs in their suits that AlliedSignal knew that the plant was polluting the area surrounding the plant. The company’s documents showed they were discharging mercury directly into the water.
The property owners settled as a class covering owners of 245 parcels of land along the Turtle River and adjacent creeks as of 1995. All persons who purchased this land since that time are also included. A special master appointed by the court will determine the exact amounts of damages to each owner. The Glynn County commissioners approved the county’s settlement on November 16th. U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo gave preliminary approval to the property owner class action settlement on November 21st. Final approval by the court will result in the settlement being final.
In the late 1990s, bio-remediation was employed to eradicate a significant amount of polluted soil. However, the remediation efforts were inadequate to restore the land to its original uncontaminated condition. Since that time, landowners have had to endure no-fish advisories and other such limiting policies to ensure that they are not injured by lurking pollutants. As a result, it was argued that hundreds of property-owners have not been able to enjoy their property as they should.
The cases brought by the County and surrounding landowners are not the first that Honeywell International has had to defend with regard to this plant. In 2001, approximately 75 employees sued the Brunswick plant for illegally discharging pollutants and endangering the health of their workers. The suit resulted in a twenty million dollar settlement for the employees. Additionally, the former executives were given prison sentences of between four and nine years. As for the fifty million awarded to Glynn County and the property-owners, half will go to the County and the other half to the individual landowners. A special master will be appointed to allocate the class funds.
Source: Daily Report and Bloomberg News
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