Refinery lawsuit settlement doesn't bring justice, plaintiff says

Thursday, June 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Berryhill residents who sued a Tulsa refinery 18 years ago over burning waste at a nearby landfill finally have a settlement. But one plaintiff said Thursday that they didn't get justice.

Sun Co. has come to terms with about 115 current and former residents who alleged that waste dumped at the Compass Industries
Landfill sickened them.

Sun admitted no wrongdoing in the agreement, which was completed last month, said Bob Redemann, a Tulsa attorney who represented the firm. The settlement had been in the works for some time and involved claims against third party defendants.

A company spokeswoman said Thursday she could not comment on the case because she was not familiar with the agreement and needed time to research it.

A gag order prohibited the disclosure of the amount or terms of the agreement, both parties in the case said.

"Everyone is happy that this is ended," said Maria Welding, one of the plaintiffs. "Everyone I know of shares my feelings that the endurance of 18 years was unbelievable."

Residents alleged in 1982 that they were exposed to toxic fumes and noxious odors from the landfill near Chandler Park in west
Tulsa. Several underground fires erupted at the site in the late 1970s and some burned until 1984.

The Berryhill group alleged that high cancer rates, learning disabilities and birth defects resulted from their exposure to hazardous wastes dumped at the site. They originally sought $150 million in damages.

Sun's lawyers argued in the past that the company was just one among hundreds of firms and individuals that used the landfill from
1964 to 1976.

Welding said the plaintiffs wanted a trial but agreed to settle because after 18 years "it was apparent to us that the justice system was not going to open the trial doors for us anytime soon."

The settlement did not mean justice, said Welding, who declined to disclose any amounts.

"It can never make up for exposing innocent people to all these chemicals," she said. "You walk a long road for 18 years in hopes of someone recognizing there has been an injustice."

The case sat idle before the state Supreme Court for several years in the 1980s while one of the defendants, Texaco Inc., went through bankruptcy reorganization.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eventually gave the site Superfund status and the fires were extinguished. EPA ordered a clay cap placed over the limestone-based site.

The project was completed in 1990.

Sun Co. and Texaco Inc. spent $12 million cleaning the 46-acre site.

Welding said she still suffers health problems, such as vision problems and memory loss, that she believes are tied to living in the area from 1981 to 1984.

The majority of plaintiffs still live in the Berryhill community, she said.