Owner of Manufacturing Plant Sued for Chemical Contamination

A manufacturing plant may have closed four years ago, but according to multiple lawsuits, the effects of the alleged mismanagement of dangerous chemicals used at the plant are still affecting residents of the area surrounding the now-defunct plant.

The plant in Tioga, LA opened in 1961 and made pressure relief valves for the oil and gas industry. The plant was sold to and absorbed by various companies over the years, and the plant was finally shut down for good in 2017 after the company that owned and ran it was absorbed by General Electric Oil & Gas in 2010, and the two companies combined became known as GE-Dresser.

In November of 2011, when the plant was still up and running, a fire hydrant near the plant broke and water filled an area that had been excavated for repairs. According to some of the recent lawsuits, a chemical sheen could be seen on the surface of the standing water.

A few months later, GE-Dresser notified the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) about a spill at the plant that had resulted in trichloroethylene (TCE) and tetrachloroethylene (PCE) getting released into the ground around the plant. The chemicals are used to clean grease from metal, and neither exists naturally, but has to be made in a lab.

The LDEQ installed monitoring wells to test the soil and groundwater for dangerous levels of TCE and PCE, but allegedly did nothing to notify residents about the possibility that toxic chemicals had been released into their environment until January of 2020, when the department first learned about the contamination levels in the Aurora Park subdivision. Some residents claim they weren’t notified of the contamination until months later in 2020.

According to officials who have been involved in the ongoing cleanup of the area, the drinking water, which comes from hundreds of feet below the surface, is safe for residents, but they have found that the groundwater, which is closer to the surface, contains TCE.

Both TCE and PCE can vaporize, allowing them to move through the soil and into the air. They usually dissipate when outside, but they can get into buildings, in which case they can linger and cause health problems, including everything from dizziness to certain cancers and even death.

As soon as residents were notified of the contaminations, they started filing lawsuits against GE-Dresser for causing and hiding the spill from residents. The LDEQ has also been named as a defendant in some of the lawsuits for allegedly hiding the contamination from residents, even though they knew about it for years before sounding the alarm.

Defendants allege the chemical spill (and the fact that it was kept a secret from residents) is responsible for everything from death to cancer diagnoses and birth deformities to plummeting property values. While the process of cleaning the chemicals from the area continues, many of the residents are debating whether they should try to sell their properties while they can, even if it means accepting a lower price than they initially paid to get the property.

One of the lawsuits is seeking status as a class action, while another lawsuit lists 48 different plaintiffs, but the outcomes of the lawsuits remain unknown. Recently, a district judge dismissed claims by plaintiffs for failure to state a claim.

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