LIVINGSTON — Decades after odor complaints began, a $29.5 million settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against operators of the CECOS hazardous waste site, attorneys confirmed Friday.
The site near the Interstate 12 interchange at Livingston was the source of repeated complaints during its 13 years of operation before the state ordered it to close.
People who lived within six miles of the center of the site during a period from 1977 to 1990 were made part of the class-action suit by a 21st Judicial District Court in 2009.
Those people still have to make claims, which will be reviewed and acted upon by a special master, who will come up with a formula for distribution of the settlement fund, said Brad Myers, an attorney representing CECOS.
Money from the settlement fund probably won’t be distributed until next year, he said.
The class involves more than 1,000 people, said Lewis Unglesby, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. A special master will devise a formula in which the people most affected would receive the most money, he said.
An office to make the claims will open Wednesday at 506 Florida Ave. SW in Denham Springs. Claims must be submitted by Nov. 25.
The settlement still must be approved by a judge, who will hold a hearing on Dec. 8, said Blayne Honeycutt, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
Members of the class will have an opportunity to speak at that hearing, he said.
The suit was filed in 1987.
In 2009, a judge ruled that plaintiffs had proven that vapors migrated from the site, and certified a class action.
In his findings of fact, Judge Ernest Drake of 21st Judicial District Court said CECOS operated a land farm that accepted “indiscriminate hazardous waste” with 15 or more storage pits operating at any given time.
The “customary method of handling the hazardous waste was to dump the materials into an open pit and then mix the hazardous waste with either fly ash or kiln dust … in the open air environment,” Drake said in his findings of fact.
Witnesses around the facility “identified clouds of dust, vapors and odors” consistent with testimony by site workers, the judge said.
Expert witnesses for both the plaintiffs and the company agreed that the materials handled were capable of aggravating pre-existing respiratory problems and causing upper respiratory distress, including dizziness, coughing, runny eyes, nasal congestion and nausea, Drake found.
Testimony supported the finding the CECOS facility was the cause of complaints, Drake said.
Ownership of CECOS has moved through a chain of companies and now is in the hands of Republic Waste, Myers said.
CECOS has not admitted any wrongdoing in the case, but is “willing to settle expensive litigation that has been pending for more than 20 years,” the attorney said.