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Group Sues Continental Carbon

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PONCA CITY, Okla. (AP) -- A former registered nurse who is now disabled is among 85 Ponca City residents who have joined together in a lawsuit against Continental Carbon, accusing the company of negligence in the operation of its carbon black plant.

Eric Bentley, who lives near the company's facility in south Ponca City, blames the plant for his failing health.

"I just turned 40 and I have had five heart attacks and triple bypass surgery," Bentley said.

Bentley also suffers from severe restrictive lung disease, which he says is a complication from years of breathing in the fine black dust that seems to coat everything surrounding the plant.

Carbon black is a very fine black powder commonly used as additive in automobile tires and copy toner as a pigment. It's considered a hazardous substance by the Occupational Health and Safety Association because of its effects on the respiratory system, eyes and skin.

The lawsuit is the third filed in Oklahoma against Continental Carbon in recent years.

In February 2005, the city of Ponca City joined 280 property owners in a lawsuit. The company recently settled the suit. Kenneth Jean, an attorney in the case, said he couldn't discuss terms of the settlement but said the company agreed to complete an overhaul at the plant to cut down on dust emissions as part of the agreement.

In April 2005, a group of Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma members sued the company. The residents of the White Eagle community claim their area is virtually unlivable because of the black powder that settles on their homes and property. Tribal members are hopeful the suit will move forward and are encouraged by recent developments in their case and the latest lawsuit filed by non-tribal members.

Last month a federal appeals court upheld the tribal members' class action lawsuit, denying the company's appeal to try the cases separately.

Attorneys have since refiled the case and hope it will now move on to trial, said Kalyn Free, an attorney representing the Ponca Tribe.

Blake Lewis, a spokesman for Houston-based Continental Carbon, said the company was aware attorneys were planning to file the latest lawsuit because they had been sending postcards around the city looking for clients.

He wouldn't comment specifically on the case other than to say the "allegations appear to be very similar to complaints we have received in the past."
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