Some coal preparation plant workers in Pennsylvania and coal preparation and water treatment plant workers in West Virginia may be entitled to free medical exams under a preliminary $14 million settlement proposed last month that would end a 10-year-old class action in West Virginia.
The original lawsuit, filed in Marshall County in 2003 against chemical makers and distributors on behalf of nine plant workers in several Eastern and Midwestern states, focused on the use of polycrylamide -- commonly referred to as flocculent -- a water-treatment chemical that is used to separate liquids from solids.
The suit claimed that the chemical, still in use, is toxic and that workers exposed to it have a higher risk of developing certain diseases or chromosome damage.
The defendants -- including Chemtall Inc., Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., Zinkan Enterprises and others -- deny the allegations but have agreed to the settlement to save money, defense attorney Mark Fitzsimmons said.
Under the proposed settlement signed Dec. 3 by a Marshall County judge, the companies said they will pay up to $6.6 million to set up a medical monitoring program for any workers affected. Lawyers for the plaintiffs will receive $4.6 million, plus another $2 million in expenses.
A hearing for final approval of the settlement is scheduled for May 1.
In a joint statement, lawyers on both sides said they agreed to settle to "avoid the costs and risks of a trial."
Of the original nine plaintiffs, four have dropped out, leaving five as class representatives. The complaint does not name any specific coal plants in Pennsylvania, but the chemical is commonly used in Pennsylvania as well as plants in other Eastern states, including Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.
Anyone who worked at a coal preparation plant in Pennsylvania or a coal plant or water treatment plant in West Virginia where the chemical may have been used is included in the settlement as a class member, lawyers said.
Workers who want to file claims may call 1-877-738-3562 or visit www.FlocSettlement.com. The deadline hasn't been set but could be as early as March 1.
Anyone who wants to object to the settlement must do so by written letter to the court and to the lawyers on both sides postmarked no later than April 1.