Hillsboro, Marion sign on for atrazine class-action suit

The city of Hillsboro has signed on as a participant in a class-action lawsuit against the makers of atrazine, a commonly used agricultural herbicide in the United States.

After discussing the issue in an executive session at the end of its March 17 meeting, the Hillsboro City Council voted 3-2 to participate in the suit.

City Administrator Larry Paine said if the suit is successfully litigated and damages are awarded, participation would qualify Hillsboro for funding help to acquire the expensive filters needed to remove atrazine from the water supply.

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 has ranged from 0.8 to 1.2 parts per billion, Paine said.

The Environmental Protec?tion Agency has set the maximum contamination level (MCL) for atrazine at 3.0 parts per billion.

Paine said 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.?

Differing perspectives

Paine said Hillsboro?s four council members were split between philosophical and practical positions.

?I think the primary reason people voted against it is that it falls within the very conservative nature of our community not to be running around suing people because stuff seems to be in our water system,? Paine said.

?One of the things they?re saying is that we?re basically accepting the law firm?s opinion that these things are in the water system and that they?re bad.

?What the ?pro? voters are saying is that any (atrazine) in the system is something they want to be concerned about.?

Mayor Delores Dalke cast the deciding vote in a 2-2 tie. Councilors Shane Marler and Shelby Dirks voted in favor of participation while Bob Watson and Byron McCarty voted against it.

Background of the suit

Litigation of this suit began in summer 2004, when law firms based in Missouri and Texas filed a series of class-action complaints in Madison County, Illinois, on behalf of the Holiday Shore Sanitary District, a local water utility.

The defendants are a European company called Syngenta and five other corporations that manufacture, formulate or market products containing atrazine.

The use of atrazine is banned in Europe, but has been in use in the United States for a half century.

A Syngenta Web site on atrazine litigation states ?the lawsuits make a series of false allegations, using a handful of questionable studies to justify the claims that the EPA standard for atrazine in drinking water is not protective of human health.?

Paine said David Mayfield, Marion city administrator, was contacted a couple of weeks ago by Baron & Budd, a law firm in Dallas, Texas, about participating in the class action.

?They wanted to make sure that we would have ways of treating (atrazine in the water) so we could deal with it from that aspect of it,? Paine said.

The councils from Marion and Hillsboro discussed the issue in executive session in a rare joint meeting March 12.

The Marion City Council voted unanimously at its Monday meeting to participate in the class action.

Neither community will be expected to contribute financially to the litigation process, Paine said. The only investment by the cities will be to provide data on atrazine levels in the water.

Paine said the lawsuit, as far as he understands it, does not set out to prohibit the use of atrazine in this country.

?The issue is really with the manufacturer,? he said. ?It?s not with the distributors the users, because these folks are using the product the way they were directed to use it. There?s really no issue related to that.?

Initial reaction

Paine said his initial reaction to the invitation to join the class action was to side with those who ?don?t like to get involved in other?s people business.?

But after thinking about reasons why the city should consider being a part of it, he had a change of heart and recommended to the council that the city sign on.

?Our responsibility as the city of Hillsboro is to provide a product that is the best we can provide,? he said. ?If we can do something to remove this stuff, then we should.?

Paine said the attorneys battling the manufacturers reported that even a low level of atrazine in the water supply is worthy of concern.

?Lower levels of atrazine coming through seem to be more dangerous than the higher levels because the body will recognize the higher level and will attack it,? Paine said.

?With a lower level, the body will ignore it, and you get that build up that starts to mutate and create all these other medical issues.?

Paine said he was told it could be three to five years before an outcome might be negotiated in this case.

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