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Toxic Waste Suit Settled for $18 Million : Environment: Glen Avon residents will receive payments for the dumping at Stringfellow Acid Pits. Agreement with aluminum firm is largest settlement yet in long battle.

TIMES ENVIRONMENTAL WRITER

In the largest settlement yet in a long-running legal battle over toxic dumping at the Stringfellow Acid Pits, an aluminum manufacturer has agreed to pay $18 million to 3,800 residents of the nearby Riverside County community of Glen Avon.

The tentative settlement with Alumax Inc., which is subject to court approval, was reached last week and announced Monday by Melvyn I. Weiss, a New York attorney who represents the residents.

Suits are pending against 15 other defendants, including 13 companies, the state of California and Riverside County. Trial is set to begin Sept. 5 in Riverside County Superior Court.

The dump, which became a symbol of toxic threats to communities along with New York’s Love Canal and Times Beach, Mo., was closed in 1971. From the 1950s until then, an estimated 34 million gallons of toxic wastes, including nitric acid, phosphoric acid and chromium, were legally dumped into the one-time rock quarry.

Residents sued in 1984 when a toxic release from the pits was discovered creeping underground toward Glen Avon, less than a mile away, and contaminating water wells. They said the waste not only threatened their health, but jeopardized property values.

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Among the 13 companies that have not settled are General Electric Co., McDonnell Douglas Corp., Montrose Chemical Corp., Northrop Corp., and Rheem Manufacturing Co., Weiss said.

“We expect more settlements,” said local environmental activist Penny Newman, who called the Alumax agreement “a real breakthrough.”

“We’ve been approached by some companies. I don’t think the companies want to set case law by having this go to trial. It’s too big of a case.”

Alumax general counsel Robert P. Wolf said his company “obviously thought this was the appropriate action.”

Wolf said the dumping was done by a now-defunct firm that subsequently was acquired by Alumax. Chromium and various acids were among the substances dumped by the company until 1969, Weiss said.

Weiss said Alumax, based in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, Ga., agreed to the settlement even though one of its insurance carriers, Cigna, declined to reimburse the firm. Alumax sued Cigna in Riverside County last week to recover its costs.

Weiss said he expected the Riverside County court to act on the settlement by the time the other defendants go to court. How the settlement money is divided among Glen Avon residents will be determined later, he said.

Newman, executive director of Concerned Neighbors in Action, said 75% of the proceeds remaining after legal expenses will go to residents and 25% to attorneys.

Weiss said attorneys have spent $15 million on the case, and reached settlements totaling $26 million, including the tentative accord with Alumax. Among other companies that settled for smaller amounts were Stauffer Chemical Co., Weyerhaeuser Co., BKK Corp. and dozens of smaller dumpers.


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