Groundbreaking TCE Groundwater Contamination Case in Tucson, Arizona

In 1985, Baron & Budd filed suit on behalf of more than 1,600 Tucson-area residents against an aircraft manufacturer, the City of Tucson and the Tucson Airport Authority over TCE contamination of the community’s groundwater. Tucson, Arizona is the largest city in the United States that receives all of its drinking water from underground sources. Starting in the early 1950s, industrial solvents containing trichloroethylene, or TCE, began seeping through the sandy soil at the airport and a nearby aircraft company, polluting the wells that supplied water to Tucson’s Sunnyside community.

No one knew that the wells had been polluted, however, until an EPA-sponsored researcher discovered high levels of TCE and other solvent classified as probable and suspected carcinogens. Baron & Budd’s clients suffered a variety of injuries—including cancer—caused by their exposure to contaminants in the city’s water supply. Experts hired by Baron & Budd discovered that several unusual forms of cancer—particularly among children in the area—were at almost epidemic levels.

Through this 21-year legal battle, Baron & Budd helped define Arizona law on pollution coverage issues. The case is widely considered among the most important in U.S. history involving personal injuries caused by water pollution.

The legal-interest legal organization Public Justice presented the Baron & Budd legal team with its “Trial Lawyer of the Year Award” in 2006 for their work in this case. The award recognizes the trial attorney or attorneys who have made the greatest contribution to the public interest each year by trying or settling a precedent-setting case or cases.

Landmark MTBE Settlement on Behalf of the City of Santa Monica

In 2003, Baron & Budd represented the City of Santa Monica in a landmark MTBE contamination settlement with the major oil companies. MTBE contaminated five of Santa Monica’s eleven wells, forcing the city to begin importing water in 1996 for $3 million per year.

The money paid by the oil companies to settle the case provided the city with money to build a needed water treatment system to clean MTBE from the city’s water supply. It will also allow the city to continue buying water until the city’s own supply is clean and to monitor groundwater quality during and after the cleanup. Design of the water treatment facility is underway, and the city expects to be able to distribute clean water from the city’s wells again sometime in 2010.