Montgomery County residents who live near an area of arsenic contamination have retained a Louisville law firm to represent their interests.
“We’re actively investigating the potential for litigation, obviously,” said Hal Friedman of the Cooper and Friedman law firm. “Whether there can be or will be, I don’t know.”
Last week contractors began removing and replacing soil on Long Lane northwest of Mount Sterling where higher-than-normal concentrations of arsenic were detected in tests. Decades ago Long Lane had been the site of a wood-processing plant that used arsenic in the preservation process.
Friedman said his firm is working with Roy Mason, a Maryland attorney who has been associated with a number of cases across the country involving environmental litigation.
Jean West, spokeswoman for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said toenail clippings were taken from 78 residents.. The test results will be back in one to two months. Arsenic deposited in toenails gives scientists an indication of how much arsenic might be stored in the body.
“They use toenail testing because they can go back eight months to a year on exposure level,” Friedman said. “Whereas if they use hair or blood, you usually can’t go back more than a few weeks.
“I’m not in a position to suggest or tell you whether any individual has been poisoned. I don’t know that,” he said. But “we know there is a substantial contamination in and around the area that came from this wood treatment plant that had been out there for years. We know that the state had an enforcement action on this going back to the ’90s but, for some reason, ceased enforcement and it didn’t really come back up on anybody’s radar screen until this year, which is obviously a concern.”
John Mura, spokesman for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet, said Thursday, “We know some of the residents have retained counsel and certainly that’s their right.”
A blog with the state’s Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said six of the 14 homes in the area were found last week to have arsenic levels in the soil that require immediate remediation. The residential remediation was initially expected to take up to six weeks, but Mura said it might take longer.
Mura said two households have been relocated for a minimum of 10 days while the soil removal and replacement continues. The relocated households are given money upfront for housing and food. The per-day lodging cost that the state pays is $100 to $200 per night, depending on family size.
“We allow them to relocate wherever they wish,” Mura said. “We don’t put any stipulations nor do we track where they go. We give them the money upfront, so it’s completely their decision where they go.”
Once the cleanup of the residential area is finished, the state will look at remediation of surrounding properties, including a neighboring farm and pond, Mura said.
Soil removed from the area will be taken to a landfill in Montgomery County. Soil with higher levels of arsenic will be treated before going to the local landfill, Mura said.
The state Division of Waste Management has been at the site since Aug. 24, when an employee discovered that properties closest to the site of the wood treatment company had soil that showed arsenic concentrations that would require an immediate cleanup.
The state pursued efforts with Southern Wood Treatment Co. to clean up the site in the 1990s. “The attorney is correct that actions stopped in 1998,” Mura said. “We’re not exactly sure how and why the ball was dropped 18 years ago. But we want to emphasize that when we did go to the site in August and realized there were houses now on the site, and that there was a high level of arsenic, we literally did not waste an hour before getting out and doing something about it.”
The state sent out letters this week to put agents of Southern Wood Treatment LLC “on notice that they are responsible parties for this cleanup,” Mura said.
Residents on Long Lane have been advised to minimize their exposure to arsenic until their properties have been remediated. A contractor distributed dust masks for children to wear who live along the road, Mura said.
Residents have been told to thoroughly wash their hands before eating, especially after being outside for a long period of time. They have also been told to close windows and doors while the remediation work is underway.
The cost of the remediation is not yet known. “I can tell you the final cost has not been arrived at because it’s somewhat of a moving target right now,” Mura said.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the non-cancer effects of arsenic can include thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.
Arsenic has been linked to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver and prostate.