Soil and water

Federal judge upholds $48 million award to Pomona in water pollution case – Daily Bulletin

A federal court judge last week dismissed an appeal from a foreign company found responsible for contaminating groundwater in the city of Pomona with a toxic chemical in a September 2021 jury decision.

On January 27, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner denied a request for a new trial brought by the defendant, a U.S. subsidiary of Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile, known as SQM North America Inc.

Additionally, Klausner ruled that the $48 million in damages awarded by a jury were not excessive and should be paid.

“We are satisfied with the decision of Judge Klausner. It’s time for the company that caused the contamination to pay to clean up the mess it caused,” Ken Sansone of SL Environment Law Group, who represented Pomona at trial, said in a prepared statement.

On September 7, 2021, after more than 10 years and three lawsuits, the city won its lawsuit against SQM North America. The case, which began in 2011, bounced between courts until the city prevailed after presenting its full case in US District Court in Los Angeles.

SQM can still appeal the decision, but has not done so yet, Sansone said in an interview Monday (January 31). “We believe the verdict was correct and supported by the evidence and the law,” he said.

Jury found that fertilizer shipped from the Atacama Desert in Chile in the 1930s and 1940s and mixed into the soil of fertile Pomona soil by citrus growers contained sodium nitrate, a common improvement, but also perchlorate , a chemical that damages the thyroid and wreaks havoc with crucial hormones in high doses and can interfere with a child’s development.

When the state declared perchlorate a contaminant and set a maximum level of 6 parts per billion in 2007, Pomona had to shut down 14 wells, which were pumping perchlorate-contaminated water from the aquifer, which is part of the Pomona watershed. chinos. He spent $8.5 million designing and building processing plants. That doesn’t include the cost of operation, Pomona City Manager James Makshanoff wrote in a recent email.

SQM attorney Bob Smith of the San Diego-based law firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith said after one of the lawsuits in 2018 that the company’s product was not defective and that the company mining had done nothing wrong. The company said it should not be held liable for risks unknown to it in the 1930s and 1940s, as this would amount to meeting future water quality standards.

But the federal court jury disagreed and awarded damages to the city.

“The City of Pomona is to be commended for fighting for more than a decade to ensure that polluters, not Pomona taxpayers, pay to clean up perchlorate in drinking water and that the citizens of Pomona have a clean, safe water to drink,” Sansone wrote.

The city has not yet received the check from SQM. Sansone hopes this will mark the end of a long and drawn-out case and that the company will have the means to pay the judgment.