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More lawsuits filed in Apollo, Parks nuclear operations

Mary Ann Thomas

PITTSBURGH — Forty-nine new claimants have been added to the civil lawsuits filed earlier this year alleging that emissions from two former nuclear fuel plants in Armstrong County caused property damage, personal injury and wrongful death.

Motley Rice, one of the country’s largest plaintiff law firms, rolled out its first major filing for the nuclear contamination case Thursday in federal court in Pittsburgh, which now totals about 70 plaintiffs since the first suits were filed Jan. 26.

A trial date has not been set. A dollar figure has not been publicly disclosed for the claims, which likely will run into the millions of dollars.

This is the second set of lawsuits claiming wrongful death, personal injury and property damage against the defendants, Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group and Atlantic Richfield, which bought the stock of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC). Each, in succession, operated a uranium fuel-processing plant in Apollo and a plutonium plant in Parks from 1957-86.

The late Dallas attorney Fred Baron negotiated an $80 million settlement in 2008 and 2009 with the companies on behalf of 365 claimants with similar contamination allegations.

The companies always have maintained that their operations did not cause illness and damages.

Like the Baron filings, the Motley Rice will litigate individual claims together, but it is not a class-action lawsuit.

The latest lawsuits cover people who were exposed to the radioactive contamination decades ago but were diagnosed or died after the Baron lawsuits.

“Those individuals never had their day in court,” said Fidelma Fitzpatrick, partner at Motley Rice, and lead counsel, who is based in Providence, R.I.

There likely are more plaintiffs to come.

“The latency period can be decades from exposure to diagnosis,” she said. “Then there are certain younger women exposed as young girls to radiation who have children with leukemia as a result of that exposure.”

The law firm is vetting potential claimants, examining how long they lived or worked in the Apollo and Parks area and if their type of cancer is linked to radiation exposure.

Fitzpatrick said there are about 20 cancers linked to radiation contamination, including breast, cervical, kidney, brain, ovarian and thyroid cancers.

She declined to assign a number of potential claimants.

“From being there, it’s amazing when I drive through these neighborhoods and find that a grandmother had cancer, the next-door neighbor had cancer and so do the grandchildren,” Fitzpatrick said.

Among the new plaintiffs is Ellen Toy of Vandergrift, the Kiski Area girls head volleyball coach who is battling gastric cancer. There was a large show of support for Toy last month at the Apollo-Ridge Relay for Life, a fundraiser that benefits the American Cancer Society.

Leechburg environmentalist Patty Ameno, who brought in Motley Rice and Baron to wage the lawsuits on behalf of residents, said she has seen about 300 people who had cancer or wanted to know more about the new lawsuit.

“In comparison from the first lawsuit in ’98 to this one, there is a higher level of awareness with respect to causation and the responsible parties,” Ameno said. “People are seeking answers.”

Motley Rice will hold a town hall meeting with claimants and residents who want to learn more about the lawsuit at the end of July or early August. Details will be available later this month.


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