A lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield Co. by nearly 100 residents of Opportunity seeking to have the company clean hazardous materials from their property has been rejected.
District Judge Brad Newman ruled on Monday that residents knew their properties were contaminated long before they filed the lawsuit in 2008, The Montana Standard reported.
Newman said that prevents them from bringing suit against Atlantic Richfield Co., which acquired the smelter site in 1977. Smelting and refining operations occurred from 1893 to the 1970s.
Contamination from the operations was dispersed from the site’s 506-foot-tall smokestack, which operated before pollution control technology became common. The stack was designed to eject a volume of 1.5 million cubic feet of air per minute. The EPA in 2011 put the former copper smelter and refinery on the Superfund list.
Plaintiffs “cannot reasonably argue that they were unaware of some potential environmental damage to their respective properties until April 17, 2005 or thereafter,” Newman wrote. He added that plaintiffs “concede the environmental degradation of their properties has not changed in decades.”
Mark Kovacich, an attorney representing Opportunity plaintiffs, said an appeal will be filed.
“We are surprised and disappointed with the ruling,” he said. “We don’t think it’s consistent with Montana law. We intend to appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.”
Newman noted in his ruling that soil sampling has been available in the area since 2002, and that residential yards with high arsenic levels have been cleaned up, including two properties owned by residents who filed the lawsuit.
The judge also mentioned historic litigation about pollution from the smelter, including a 1905 case by farmers and ranchers who sought damages on the grounds smelter emissions were harming livestock. But the ranchers lost in court.
It’s unclear when the Montana Supreme Court might consider hearing the case.
“The relief that we’re seeking is important to our clients, and holding polluters accountable is an important objective, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Kovacich said.
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