Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 23 February 2010 19:26
The Hillsboro City Council will be reviewing the arguments that led to its decision last March to join with other cities in a class-action suit against the makers of atrazine, a commonly used agricultural herbicide in the United States.
City Administrator Larry Paine said at the Feb. 16 meeting of the Hillsboro City Council that an executive session based on “lawyer/client privilege” is planned for council members March 23.
Included in that meeting will be attorneys from Baron & Budd, a law firm in Dallas, Texas, that is spearheading the class-action suit.
Paine said he agreed to call the meeting following an e-mail request from Councilor Kevin Suderman, who was not a member of the council at the time of the 3-2 vote to join the lawsuit.
Paine said the purpose of the meeting will be for council members to hear directly from the Baron & Budd attorneys rather than depending on his interpretation of their arguments—which was the only input council members considered in their initial decision.
Suderman also asked that an “unbiased” water-quality expert be asked to attend any subsequent public meeting that might be convened on the issue. He suggested the state’s university system as a source for such an expert.
Both Hillsboro and Marion city councils decided at about the same time last year to join the class-action suit against a European company called Syngenta and five other corporations that manufacture, formulate or market products containing atrazine.
Paine said at the time if the suit—which has not yet been filed—is successfully litigated and damages are awarded, participation would qualify Hillsboro for funding assistance to acquire the expensive filters needed to remove atrazine from the water supply.
According to the suit, atrazine has been linked to a variety of health problems in the human endocrine system, including multiple cancers.
From May 1995 through June 2007, the level of atrazine in the Hillsboro water supply was ranged from 0.8 to 1.2 parts per billion, Paine said. The Environmental Protection Agency has set the maximum contamination level (MCL) for atrazine at 3.0 parts per billion.
Paine said at the time of decision that even though local atrazine levels fall well within the EPA standard for safety, “anything we can do to remove atrazine would be a good thing for customers.”
The decision by Hillsboro and Marion drew significant public criticism from some agricultural groups, including the Kansas Corn Growers Association and the Kansas Grain Sorghum Growers Producers Association.
A representative of the Sorghum Growers met with representatives from the two city councils in the weeks following the decision.
Suderman said at last Tuesday’s meetingthat the meeting had not been perceived as particularly helpful, which is one reason he would like to see an impartial expert be invited to join the discussion.
As discussion about calling an executive session drew to a close, Mayor Delores Dalke reminded council members that their primary responsibility was to protect the citizens of Hillsboro.
Suderman said he was offended by the mayor’s comment because numerous local jobs depend on the economic success of the farming community.
Suderman is employed in the area of crop production with Hillsboro-based Cooperative Grain & Supply, which also supplies farmers with fertilizers and herbicides.