Kraft Doles Out $8.1M to Settle Chemical Contamination Lawsuit

Kraft Foods Global Inc. will pay $8.1 million to settle a class action lawsuit brought by 124 families in Attica, Ind., who alleged that pollution from a local Kraft-owned factory contaminated the air and water inside their homes. Under the terms of the agreement, Kraft is also required to clean up the plant site and groundwater, and install mitigation systems in affected homes. The settlement was approved Friday afternoon by a U.S. District Court judge in Indianapolis.

 “The residents of Attica faced an invisible enemy. These kinds of cancer-causing chemicals are odorless and colorless. And those who caused the problem are almost always telling you not to worry. But people must take steps to protect themselves,” said Shawn Collins, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs.

“It’s extremely difficult for an individual to go toe-to-toe with a big company like Kraft,” said Norm Berger, another of the plaintiffs’ lawyers. “And, let’s face it, when there’s pollution it’s very unlikely that just one or even a small number of local families are impacted.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the chemicals were spilled on plant property beginning in 1957. Families in the vicinity of the plant claimed that chemicals such as cleaning fluids were dumped into the ground, thereby contaminating the groundwater – which in turn allowed cancer-causing vapors to migrate up from the groundwater and into their homes.

The chemicals released into the Attica groundwater included vinyl chloride (“VC”), trichloroethylene (“TCE”) and tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”). These chemicals were discovered in testing to be present in homes in the affected area. Residents, including Mary Bowles, said that at first, it seemed like a pipedream that they’d ever be able to hold a corporate behemoth like Kraft accountable for its factory in Attica.

 “Our system of justice may have its skeptics, but when people of modest means in small-town America can be heard and taken seriously by a company like Kraft Global Foods, that is a system I’ll hold near and dear,” Bowles said.

“We’re elated that the resolution of this matter will bring some greater level of peace of mind to those in Attica who never bargained for the situation in which they found themselves. If nothing else, the settlement amount for each family will allow them a relocation option they didn’t have before,” Collins said.

When Rod Andres purchased his home near the shuttered Kraft factory in 2007, he was unaware that property contamination came at no additional charge. “The settlement money will be a blessing, that’s for sure,” Andres said. “It will help all of us who saw their property values tank after the contamination became known. At least some of that value is now recovered.”

Naturally, residents are concerned about the effects the chemicals have not only on their property values, but also on their health. Prolonged exposure to VC, TCE and/or PCE can cause cancer. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, exposure to TCE may result in liver and kidney damage, heartbeat changes and facial nerve damage.

As part of the settlement, the plaintiffs have the right to bring a separate, personal injury action against Kraft, if somewhere down the line, someone gets seriously sick.

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