Baron & Budd attorneys have been representing Public Entities in environmental contamination cases for decades.
Led by pioneer “Water Lawyer” Scott Summy, our Environmental Group has zealously pursued companies whose chemicals invade the nation’s drinking water supplies. On behalf of dozens of Public Entities, we have recovered the costs of removing those contaminants from water before it is served to the public.
Historically, our water contamination litigation has concerned several different chemical contaminants, all linked by their unwelcome presence in drinking water supplies and their manufacturers’ knowledge that such contamination would inevitably result from normal, intended uses. These chemicals include: methyl-tertiary-butyl-ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive; perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry-cleaning solvent; atrazine, a popular agricultural herbicide; trichloropropane (TCP), a pesticide; trichloroethylene (TCE), a multipurpose industrial solvent; and other toxic chemical contaminants.
Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive, is one of the most common water contaminants in the country. Baron & Budd attorneys in the Environmental Litigation Group have represented hundreds of water providers, helping them recover the costs of removing MTBE from their water supplies. Our results are extraordinary: Baron & Budd recovered over $800 million from the companies that knew MTBE would harm the environment and still flagrantly placed the safety of various communities at risk. Baron & Budd’s proven track record in MTBE litigation makes us one of the most sought-after groups in the country for water contamination cases.
Our MTBE cases hold particular significance for Public Entity clients, whether a state, township or water supplier. In order to maintain proper community water standards, public water suppliers incur great costs, which are then borne by ratepayers or taxpayers. Baron & Budd’s Environmental Group has successfully assisted many communities by shifting these costs to the responsible parties.
As far back as 2001, Shareholders Scott Summy and Celeste Evangelesti received the “Attorney of the Year Award” for Environmental Law from California for their work on MTBE water contamination litigation.
As the attorneys in our Environmental Group became more and more involved in MTBE litigation, we took on many more cases. In 2003, a settlement was negotiated on behalf of the City of Santa Monica requiring the Defendants to pay for the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a filtration system until the water contaminant was removed.
Our group’s most prestigious case began in 2004, when we filed suit on behalf of 150 water providers and well owners in 17 states. These cases were consolidated in a multi-district litigation (MDL) in the Southern District of New York. The Court appointed Shareholder Scott Summy lead counsel for all Plaintiffs. The Defendants in the case included all of the major oil companies. This case took several years to litigate, but we eventually reached a spectacular settlement. In addition to the monetary award, the oil companies agreed to pay a portion of treatment costs for any of the water providers’ wells that became contaminated over the next thirty years. So, not only did the Baron & Budd attorneys solve the immediate containment and clean-up of the water providers’ wells, but we also made sure that the oil companies were held accountable for potential future contamination.
A second group of cases representing twenty (20) water providers settled in 2011 for $20 million.
Today, the Environmental Litigation Group continues to represent Public Entities in MTBE cases across the country, seeking to clean up the nation’s water supply, holding those responsible for the contamination, rather than taxpayers, accountable for the costs. In a recent case filed on behalf of the State of Vermont, our Environmental Litigation Group is seeking to recover funds spent by the State for past and current clean-up actions, the costs of remediating MTBE from public water supplies, the costs of restoring natural resources, and the cost of testing and treating private wells located in rural areas not served by public water supplies. This will ensure that all communities in the State enjoy clean drinking water and will protect the resource for future generations.
Baron & Budd’s Environmental Litigation Group is very active in PCE litigation. In addition to its use as a “cleaning” solvent, PCE is commonly used in dry cleaning businesses. Given its widespread use and poor disposal practices, PCE has become a prevalent contaminant in the ground water. Even a small amount of PCE can contaminate groundwater and drinking water, resulting in risks to the public’s health.
The Environmental Litigation Group currently represents several water suppliers against the manufacturers of PCE, PCE-containing products, and dry cleaning equipment. Our Public Entity clients include: California Water Services; The City of Sunnyvale, CA; and Suffolk County Water Authority, NY.
Atrazine is one of the most widely used herbicides (weed killers) in the United States. Farmers apply it to crops extensively throughout the Midwest. After application, atrazine easily runs off of sprayed areas and contaminates streams, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, including those used for drinking water. Removing it from water supplies requires use of expensive carbon filtration systems. In 2004, based on concerns about persistent groundwater contamination, the European Union banned the sale of Atrazine. But its manufacturer, Syngenta AG, continued to market and sell Atrazine to farmers in the United States without warning them or alerting them to the fact that Atrazine could enter and contaminate a community’s drinking water, and the possible health risks that could occur as a result.
In 2004, the Environmental Litigation Group filed suit on behalf of Holiday Shores Sanitary District, a water provider in Illinois. This water provider’s water supply was repeatedly contaminated each year as Atrazine was applied to nearby farms. Baron & Budd filed suit against Syngenta AG to recover the district’s costs for testing and filtration. The lawsuit alleged that Syngenta had known about the danger of water contamination but sold atrazine without warning or proper instructions. Through the litigation, we sought to shift the costs of filtration from the affected communities to the company that knew its product would cause contamination.
While the Holiday Shores lawsuit was pending, Baron & Budd filed suit on behalf of a group of several additional water providers dealing with the problem of atrazine contamination. The case grew into a national class action which would benefit hundreds of water providers across the United States. Shareholder Scott Summy was appointed Class Counsel along with attorney Steve Tillery of Korein Tillery in St. Louis Missouri. This litigation went on for several years before the parties agreed to a settlement in the amount of $105 million to be allocated among 1,085 water providers.
The settlement allowed public water providers to remove atrazine from their water supplies without raising rates or taxes. Baron & Budd’s Environmental Litigation Group was extremely pleased with the result, knowing that their tenacity, hard work, and diligence made such a huge difference in so many communities.
1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP) is a man-made industrial solvent, typically used as a cleaning or degreasing agent. From the 1940s through the 1980s, however, Dow Chemical Company and Shell Oil added TCP to fumigants used to control underground worm infestations in agricultural crops. Over the years, farmers and gardeners used this chemical extensively, resulting in groundwater contamination in many communities.
TCP is of particular concern because exposure has been associated with cancer and other serious health effects.
Baron & Budd has represented several communities whose water supplies have been contaminated with TCP. On their behalf, we sued Dow and Shell, alleging that these companies knew both the health risks associated with TCP and that, when used as intended, TCP would leach into groundwater but failed to remove the harmful TCP from its products due to increased manufacturing costs.
The Environmental Litigation Group currently represents or has represented approximately ten public water providers with claims against the manufacturers of TCP-containing products. Five cases have settled for a total of over $50 million. Litigation is still ongoing with additional water providers in the State of California.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill began with a tragic explosion and blowout on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. It is considered the largest accidental oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. This tragedy affacted communities, businesses, and individuals all along the Gulf Coast. The Environmental Litigation Group at Baron & Budd has represented or continues to represent public entities, businesses, and individuals affected by this disastrous oil spill.
Shareholder Scott Summy was given a leadership role in the ongoing litigation arising from the Spill. He was appointed by the Court to the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee (PSC) as well as the four-member Executive Committee (EC). These committees guide the litigation on behalf of all the plaintiffs. The PSC has responsibilities concerning discovery, hearings, meetings, and trial, as well as communication with the population of plaintiffs and claimants who allege injury as a result of the Spill.
In 2012, the PSC negotiated an open-ended settlement with BP for property damage, economic loss claims, and medical claims for businesses and individuals. The settlement, administered by the Deepwater Horizon Court-Supervised Settlement Program, has awarded compensation to thousands of qualifying individuals and businesses.
Baron & Budd has represented many businesses and individuals who filed claims for losses through the Settlement Program. The firm also represents others, like Public Entities that were excluded from the Settlement, and others who elected to “opt out” of the settlement and proceed with litigation against BP. The Environmental Litigation Group continues to represent these entities, businesses, and individuals seeking recovery as a result of the BP Horizon spill.
Other Types of Contamination
PCBs in Schools
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a family of industrial compounds that were used in a variety of building and construction materials including caulks, sealants, paints, electrical transformers, and fluorescent lighting ballasts. In the United States, PCBs were manufactured solely by Monsanto Company, and they were used extensively in the construction of schools and other commercial buildings beginning in the early 1930s.
Monsanto continued to produce PCBs despite the company’s internal knowledge of health and environmental risks associated with their manufacture and use. Their sale and use went unchecked until Congress banned their production and sale in the late 1970s based on mounting concern about global PCB contamination and potentially harmful exposure.
As a result of decades of sale, however, PCB compounds remain in place and are commonly found today in caulking materials and fluorescent lighting ballasts in schools and commercial buildings.
Baron & Budd was one of the first firms to file a lawsuit to recover the costs of removing these substances from school buildings. The Environmental Litigation Group currently represents school districts in communities that want to hold Monsanto accountable for its sale of a dangerous product and to remove the products – not at taxpayers’ expense, but at Monsanto’s.
Unfortunately, many communities are unaware of the existence of PCBs or the harm that can be caused by exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only recently started to provide school districts with information regarding the presence of PCBs and preventing exposure. But because the EPA does not yet require school districts to test their buildings for PCBs, communities may not realize that students, teachers, and visitors are being exposed. To help protect our nation’s schools, Baron & Budd has offered free testing to any school in America. The results can help a community decide how to clean up the school without passing that expense on to taxpayers, so that all students and teachers are safe within the learning environment. For some, this may include filing a lawsuit against Monsanto.
Baron & Budd’s Environmental Litigation Group recently filed lawsuits against Monsanto and its corporate successors on behalf of the Town of Westport and the Westport Community Schools in Massachusetts. Baron & Budd is seeking a solution to hold the company accountable for the removal and clean-up of the PCB contaminated material. Our mission with these new cases is to provide students and teachers with a healthy and safe learning environment.