Two companies that were contractors at the now-defunct Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant have been ordered to pay $925 million to nearby residents. Contamination blew from the facility, endangering people’s health and devaluing their property. Dow Chemical Co. denies any wrongdoing and said it will appeal. The other contractor, Rockwell International Corp., has in part been purchased by Boeing Co., which said it had no liability for the site. A federal judge ordered Dow to pay $653 million and Rockwell $508 million in compensatory damages, but capped the amount to be collected at $725 million. Dow and Rockwell also were ordered to pay exemplary damages of $111 million and $89 million, respectively.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of homeowners, affects up to 13,000 people who owned land near the former plant when it shut down in 1989 because of safety violations. The lawsuit claimed the companies intentionally mishandled radioactive waste and then tried to cover it up. Judge John L. Kane stayed his judgment pending the appeals. Boeing is responsible for Rockwell’s portion of the judgment, according to Judge Kane’s order. Rockwell retained responsibility for any Rocky Flats claims when Boeing obtained its defense and space businesses in 1996.
Both companies say the Department of Energy had agreed to be responsible for any settlements or judgment costs. The trial in the case ended in February 2006. The federal jury decided the two contractors damaged land around the plant through negligence that exposed thousands of property owners to plutonium and increased their risk of health problems. Dow Chemical operated Rocky Flats for the Department of Energy from the 1950s until 1975. Rockwell ran it from 1975 until 1989, when the plant closed. The plant made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. Violations documented by state and federal officials included the outdoor storing of barrels of waste oil and solvents contaminated with plutonium. State health officials have said some of those barrels leaked and contaminated the surrounding soil, which later blew downwind. The federal government has since spent $7 billion to clean up the site and turn it into a wildlife refuge.
Source: Associated Press
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