Civil suit filed over arsenic contamination in Kentucky neighborhood

Workers wearing protective suits are involved in the cleanup of a site on Long Lane in Montgomery County where the state detected higher-than-normal arsenic levels.
Workers wearing protective suits are involved in the cleanup of a site on Long Lane in Montgomery County where the state detected higher-than-normal arsenic levels.

Some Long Lane residents filed suit Monday seeking damages in connection with the presence of arsenic and other heavy metals at a former wood-treatment site in rural Montgomery County.

Mary and John Sparks, Gwen Burns and Cole Caddell are suing Southern Wood Treatment Co., Southern Wood LLC, and the estates of people who were involved with those companies. The suit filed in Montgomery Circuit Court in Mount Sterling seeks compensatory damages, medical monitoring, the costs of remediation and removal of heavy-metals contamination, and a trial by jury.

A person who answered the telephone at Southern Wood Treatment, now located in Winchester, referred questions to John Rompf Jr., a lawyer in Winchester. Rompf could not be reached for comment.

The suit says Southern Wood Treatment Co. once operated on Long Lane northwest of Mount Sterling, and then merged with Southern Wood LLC in 1999 to create Southern Wood Treatment Co. LLC. The suit says the defendants used “chromated copper arsenic and/or ammonical copper arsenic” as a wood preservative in the treatment of lumber.

When the wood-treatment company closed the Long Lane site in the 1980s or ’90s, the defendants “improperly disposed of equipment, materials and chemicals left over from the operation, thereby contaminating the site and the surrounding properties,” the suit says.

The state pursued efforts with Southern Wood Treatment Co. to clean up the site in the 1990s. “However, for unknown reasons, those actions by the commonwealth stopped in 1998 even though the site and surrounding area remained contaminated,” the suit says.

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 requiring an immediate cleanup.

The suit says James Morgan Long and Robert O. Long were owners of the Long Lane site and surrounding real estate near the site. Robert O. Long died in 1994 and James Morgan Long died in 2013.

The majority of Robert O. Long’s assets went into a trust, and the suit says that trust “may be obligated in whole or in part for payment of any award or judgment sought by the plaintiffs in this action.”

As of Monday, the suit says, “the majority of residents of Long Lane, including the plaintiffs, have been advised to vacate their homes and relocate, at great cost and expense to them,” while the state conducts cleanup activities at the site and “attempts to reduce the levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in the area.”

“It is unknown when, or if, the plaintiffs may be able to return to their residences, if ever,” the suit says.

But even if they are able to return to their homes and the state is able to remove and replace the contaminated soil, “plaintiffs have been irreparably and forever damaged” by the conduct alleged in the suit.

The suit alleges that residents “have suffered and continue to suffer damages that include physical injuries and symptoms, diminution in property value, loss of use and enjoyment of property, medical expenses, and the increased risk of developing diseases in the future such as cancer.”

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.