The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

State News

April 14, 2008

Lawsuit claims Blackwell polluted from old zinc smelter

The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY — A former zinc smelter in Blackwell that shut down in 1974 produced more than 58 million pounds of deadly toxins that continue to pose a public health risk for area residents, attorneys allege in a class-action lawsuit filed Monday.

Filed on behalf of a group of Blackwell residents, the lawsuit alleges that cleanup efforts undertaken by the owners of the site over the last 15 years are “nothing more than a sham designed to deceive the citizens of Blackwell.”

The lawsuit, filed in Kay County District Court, names as defendants several mining companies connected to the smelter site, including Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and its subsidiary, Phelps Dodge. Also named in the suit are the Blackwell Industrial Authority, a public trust that developed the old smelter site as an industrial park, and BNSF Railway Company.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, an environmental cleanup and a medical monitoring program for Blackwell residents.

“The contamination of Blackwell represents a public health crisis,” said Nelson Roach, a partner with Texas-based Nix, Patterson & Roach, which represents the plaintiffs. “Past and current attempts to remediate this town haven’t cleaned up the problem — they’ve covered up the problem.

“The children of this community are going to continue to be at risk until these companies are forced to remove this contamination properly.”

Steve Lewis, a Tulsa-based spokesman for Phelps Dodge, which acquired the Blackwell site in 1999, said the company has worked with local residents and the state Department of Environmental Quality to clean up some of the pollution left from the smelter.

“Phelps Dodge has been doing the right thing for the people of Blackwell. They’ve been working with the community and civic leaders for almost 10 years now to find any soil that has a problem and clean it up,” Lewis said. “Phelps Dodge did not create this soil issue, but we’re fixing it anyway under standards set by state officials in Oklahoma.”

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