Atrazine

In 2004, the Environmental Law Group began fielding calls from water providers concerned about atrazine in their water supplies. Atrazine is a widely-promoted weedkiller used extensively in the United States despite its propensity to contaminate water wherever it is used. When atrazine products are applied to crops, some runs off and migrates into rivers and lakes used for drinking water. Water providers must test for it and, if detected, the required testing increases in frequency and they must use expensive filtration systems to remove it.

The Group filed suit in 2004 on behalf of Holiday Shores Sanitary District, a water provider in Illinois, whose surface water supply was contaminated again and again every year as atrazine was applied to surrounding farmlands. The District was incurring the expense of testing for atrazine and removing it from water served to the public. We sought to recover those costs from the company that makes atrazine. We didn’t sue farmers, and we didn’t try to stop them from using the product. Nor did we want consumers to have to pay to remove atrazine from their water by increasing their water rates.

That same year, concerns about persistent groundwater contamination led the European Union to ban the sale of atrazine. Atrazine is made by Syngenta AG, a Swiss-based multinational agrichemical company. Despite the ban, Syngenta continued to market atrazine for use in the United States without warning regulators, water providers, or the public of the potential for water contamination — or of the potential health risks of drinking water contaminated with atrazine. The company’s marketing efforts paid off. Atrazine is one of the most commonly-used herbicides in the United States. Approximately 75 million pounds are applied to crops each year.

Soon, the Group represented additional water providers who were dealing with similar contamination. Baron & Budd filed a second lawsuit in 2008 on behalf of several water providers serving communities in the Midwest — including several subsidiaries of American Water Company, the largest public water provider in the United States. The litigation grew into a national class action that would benefit hundreds of water providers. Scott Summy was appointed Class Counsel along with Steve Tillery of Korein Tillery in St. Louis. “This case was the first of its kind. No one had ever brought a successful atrazine case before. No one had held Syngenta responsible for repeated pollution of American water resources,” Scott says, “We knew we had a responsibility to the public to make Syngenta clean up its own mess.”

Several members of the Environmental Law Group worked full-time on the litigation. Scott Summy, Cary McDougal, and Carla Burke crafted legal strategies and plans for trial. Cary, Carla, Stephen Johnston, and Mitchell McCrea met regularly with clients to discover important facts and prepare for their depositions. Mitchell also spent weeks on the road traveling to each client’s area to gather documents and evidence needed for the case. For Mitchell, meeting the people in the affected communities was a powerful experience. He says, “Getting to know them and understand their concerns motivated me to work harder to help them.”

After several years of work toward trial, the Group negotiated a $105,000,000 class settlement with Syngenta that was allocated among 1,085 water providers. The team is very happy with the result. “It’s just great to know that the work we do gives everyday Americans better water for their homes, schools, churches, and workplaces,” says Erin McIntosh, the team’s senior paralegal, “That’s why we do what we do.”

Our direct clients in the atrazine litigation include:

  • Illinois-American Water Company, IL
  • City of Carlinville, IL
  • City of Coulterville, IL
  • City of Fairfield, IL
  • City of Flora, IL
  • City of Gillespie, IL
  • City of Greenville, IL
  • City of Hillsboro, IL
  • City of Litchfield, IL
  • City of Mount Olive, IL
  • Holiday Shores Sanitary District, IL
  • City of Mattoon, IL
  • Village of Evansville, IL
  • Village of Farina, IL
  • Indiana-American Water Company, IN
  • City of Jasper, IN
  • Iowa-American Water Company, IA
  • Chariton Municipal Water Works, IA
  • Creston Municipal Utilities, IA
  • City of Gladbrook IA
  • City of Carbondale, KS
  • City of Dodge City, KS
  • City of Hillsboro, KS
  • City of Marion, KS
  • City of Oswego, KS
  • City of Plains, KS
  • Rural Water Dist. No. 2 of Miami Co., KS
  • Missouri-American Water Company, MO
  • City of Cameron, MO
  • City of Concordia, MO
  • City of Vandalia, MO
  • City of Maryville, MO
  • Ohio-American Water Company, OH
  • City of Upper Sandusky, OH
  • Village of Monroeville, OH
  • Village of Ottawa, OH