Fairfield receives atrazine settlement
A letter containing a check for $304,715.14 arrived in the mail Jan. 17 at the Fairfield Water Department, signifying closure to a decade-old national class action lawsuit against Syngenta, the largest manufacturer of the weed killer atrazine.
Before Fairfield switched to well water in 2000, the water department detected atrazine in its three reservoirs dating back as far as the late 1980s. While levels were well below the maximum 3 parts per billion allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency, Fairfield Water Superintendent Carl Chandler said the presence of any chemicals in the surface water from agricultural runoff concerned his department.
“Even though the water was purified, it was still a concern,” he said. “It may not have been exceeding the maximum contaminant level, yet it was still there.”
While Syngenta asserts atrazine has been safely used for more than 50 years, Korein Tillery, a St. Louis law firm representing the case, claims that atrazine at any level injures community water supplies.
“Science has been fighting an uphill battle against giant pesticide manufacturers like Syngenta who claim that a little weed killer in your drinking water won’t hurt you,” said Stephen M. Tillery, senior partner of Korein Tillery. “Independent scientists now believe, however, that even trace amounts can harm you and your children for generations to come.”
A federal judge finalized the $105 million settlement Oct. 23. The funds are being distributed among 1,085 claims to help bear the cost of removing herbicide from water systems.
Fairfield is one of 73 water systems in Iowa to receive a piece of the settlement. The average payment per claim is about $50,000, with only 12 receiving between $100,000 to $350,000, according to the law firm.
The Iowa City Press-Citizen says Iowa City’s share is nearly $141,000.
Settlement amounts are determined by levels, frequency and duration of atrazine contamination. Chandler believes Fairfield received a high settlement because of the duration and consistency with which the department detected atrazine, not because of high levels.
“The fact it was there was enough to put us in the class action suit,” he said.
Between 1989 and 2000, atrazine levels fluctuated from as much as 0.89 to as little as 0.1 parts per billion, according to water department records.
Korein Tillery first contacted Fairfield’s former water superintendent Dennis Langstraat about a decade ago. Due to water quality tests required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Langstraat was aware of trace levels of atrazine in the water supply and decided to file a claim.
“He decided to jump on the bandwagon,” said Chandler.
Years passed before the firm contacted the water department again, at which time Chandler had taken over as superintendent.
“When I was first contacted, I didn’t remember anything about it,” said Chandler. “Then I remembered Denny digging up files and talking about atrazine, and it turned a light bulb back on.”
After that, Chandler provided the firm with any paperwork requested, but said he didn’t have high expectations of what would come of it.
“I was surprised we got that much,” he said.
No atrazine has been detected in the well water system currently used by the city. Chandler said the source is better protected and isn’t affected by the environment and weather like surface water is.
“Now when the wind blows or it gets hot, the quality doesn’t change,” he said. “It is pretty much always the same.”
The settlement has no restrictions on how the funds are used. Chandler said he looks at the settlement money as helping to cover the expenses incurred by the city in 2000 when it switched to the well water system.
Chandler turned over the $304,000 check to city administrator Kevin Flanagan last week.
“It will help bolster the city’s costs, and some of it will go to the water department,” said Chandler. “We can turn this into good for us.”
Information from The Associated Press was included in this article.