Syngenta AG agreed to pay $105 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in which water utilities in the U.S. Midwest claimed that one of the Swiss company's widely used weedkillers contaminated water supplies.
The proposed settlement, subject to federal court approval in Illinois, would resolve an eight-year-old suit over atrazine, a herbicide used by many corn growers.
Nearly 2,000 water utilities are eligible for the settlement, the lead plaintiff's attorney said Friday. In the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, utilities sought to be reimbursed for the cost of filtering atrazine from their systems.
300 utilities with the highest atrazine levels in their water will recover 100% of their costs, stated Kansas City Class Actions Lawyers.
Syngenta, an agricultural chemical and seed company, admitted no liability linked to atrazine as part of the settlement and said it reached the pact to end the business uncertainty and expense of protracted legal proceedings. The settlement will reduce its 2012 earnings by about 50 cents per share, the company said.
Settling this case will remove the burden of litigation from Syngenta's partners, customers, retailers, distributors and others who have been inconvenienced by the lawsuit.
The lead plaintiff's attorney, a St. Louis attorney, said the agreement will help protect many Americans' health. Water companies eligible to collect payments under the settlement serve 52 million people.
Atrazine is banned by the European Union, and critics of the herbicide cite studies indicating it can disrupt sexual reproduction in frogs, as well as some studies indicating potential human reproductive problems.
Syngenta, holding to its position that the product is safe, said Friday that the product is safe and no one ever has or ever could be exposed to enough atrazine in water to affect their health.
Atrazine is used on more than half of all acres of corn grown in the U.S., according to Syngenta.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is now reviewing the chemical, and has convened several meetings of its independent scientific advisory panel to examine atrazine over the past two years.
The EPA recently said that while there are still areas of uncertainty with atrazine, the agency's regulation is "robust" and effectively prevents exposure that could cause reproductive problems in humans.
A senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has been critical of the EPA's regulation of atrazine, said there is increasing evidence that atrazine poses a threat to Midwestern women who become pregnant early in the crop-growing season, when the application of atrazine and other chemicals spikes.
Syngenta and farm groups said atrazine is a crucial herbicide and prohibiting the use of atrazine would cost farmers millions of dollars each year. Syngenta added that there is no substitute for atrazine, a 50-year-old product used in more than 60 countries.
The EPA's scientific advisory panel will meet again to examine atrazine in June. The agency said findings of the panel's meetings will be considered as it considers re-registering atrazine starting in 2013.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit included municipalities across the Midwest, from Greenville, Ill., to Oswego, Kan., as well as several Midwestern subsidiaries of American Water Works Co., the nation's largest non-government water company by volume.
Attorneys are notifying the communities that have detected atrazine in their water systems, and utilities will have until late August to test their water and submit claims.
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