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Dow Will Appeal Rocky Flats Verdict

Contractors were found liable for contamination at former nuclear weapons complex in Colorado

by Glenn Hess
February 21, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 9

A federal jury has determined that Dow Chemical Co. and the former Rockwell International Corp. negligently allowed plutonium from the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant to contaminate thousands of homes and businesses near Denver.

Dow intends to appeal the verdict, saying the judge improperly instructed the jury. The company also maintains that property values in the area have increased and scientific studies have shown no harm to residents' health or property.

On Feb. 14, the jury concluded the two companies damaged private property around the Rocky Flats site through negligence that caused ''class members to be exposed to plutonium and placed them at some increased risk of health problems.'' The verdict called for punitive damages of $110.8 million against Dow and $89.4 million against Rockwell. The jury also recommended that the companies pay $352 million in actual damages.

"The jury's verdict is disappointing as numerous independent scientific studies have concluded that there is no past, present, or future public health threat," says Charles J. Kalil, corporate vice president and general counsel for Dow. "Additionally, the class area has developed at a pace consistent with other suburban Denver properties. There was simply no merit to the property owners' claims."

Kalil says the company operated Rocky Flats from 1952 through 1975 in a safe and proper manner, consistent with the then-applicable standards. "It is unfair and improper to impose today's standards on operations that occurred over 30 years ago."

Milwaukee-based Rockwell, now known as Rockwell Automation, operated the plant from 1975 until it was shut down in 1989. Rocky Flats made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads until it was closed. Much of the 6,240-acre site is being transformed into a wildlife refuge.

Although the Department of Energy was not named as a defendant in the class-action lawsuit, the government will be responsible for paying the jury verdict if it is not overturned or reduced on appeal. That's because the companies operated Rocky Flats as indemnified government contractors.



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