On Thursday, a jury awarded $5.1 million in damages to residents of Cow Island, Louisiana to pay for cleanup of arsenic-contaminated soil and water.
The arsenic contamination was traced to an old cattle-dipping vat, part of a federal Tick Eradication Program, an effort to eliminate Texas tick fever, a deadly cattle disease, the INDReporter reports. Cattle dipping vats were common in cattle-ranching areas for much of the 20th century. Arsenical dips were in use until 1975 when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned them.
According to the INDReporter, used dip was poured on the ground, “where it will seep harmlessly away,” according to literature from William Cooper and Nephews, manufacturer of the dip. But the dip did not seep harmlessly away and in 2004, a Cow Island priest diagnosed with cancer acted on a hunch and had his well water tested. When tests confirmed an extremely high level of arsenic, the priest urged other residents to have their water tested as well. The lawsuit was filed in 2004.
In 1946, Cooper’s learned of a number of deaths in Africa caused by drinking water contamination from arsenic-based dipping vats, but the company never issued any warnings, according to INDReporter. When the EPA banned arsenical dips in 1975, Cooper’s “started a series of transactions to disappear,” said an attorney connected with the case. Cow Islanders eventually discovered that Cooper’s had been acquired by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, a company recently ordered to pay a $3 billion fraud settlement to the United States for drug misrepresentations.
According to the EPA, the maximum allowed limit for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion. Cow Island water wells tested from 20 to as high as 800 parts per billion of arsenic, with the majority falling between 40 and 60, INDReporter reports.
About $750,000 of the award will go toward the cleanup of contaminated water and soil in a mile-long area near the old dipping vat. The remaining $4.3 million will go into a special court-administered fund for groundwater cleanup by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.