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Utahns sue over Trojan plant

Trio say ex-owner liable in contamination of Mapleton’s water

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PROVO — The former owner of a Utah County explosives plant is now the target of a federal lawsuit by some of the same people who settled out of court with other former owners of the plant.

In a suit filed in May in U.S. District Court, the widow of a former Mapleton resident and two other residents filed suit against Cytec Industries of Delaware for the company's part in allegedly contaminating the town's water supply with potentially cancer-causing chemicals during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

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Ellen Bates is one of the plaintiffs. Her husband, Charles Bates, died in June 2001 after a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which many believe was brought on by years of exposure to chemicals in the groundwater that came from the Trojan plant.

The Bates family has lived in the area since 1971. They cooked, showered, grew vegetables and even filled their swimming pool using water from a well on their property and later from the city's own water system.

"The Bates did not know when they used water from their well (and) the Mapleton supply that the water and soil would become or already was contaminated with nitrates and other toxic chemicals, chemical compounds and explosives originating from the plant," the suit says.

Rodney and Marilyn Petersen are also plaintiffs in the suit. They claim they can no longer use their well water due to contamination.

Ellen Bates and the Petersens, who were among those who settled federal suits last year, are seeking damages due to wrongful death, a continuing private nuisance and continuing trespass. The amounts of the settlements have not been disclosed.

An attorney for Cytec said the company will soon file a written response to the suit.

Mark James, a Cytec attorney based in Salt Lake City, said he was aware of the suit but could not comment on the details. He did say, however, that the company will deny the allegations.

Utah's environmental-quality officials have classified the explosives plant as one of the state's largest industrial-waste sites.

Ownership of the plant has passed through several hands.

Cytec Industries owned and operated the plant from 1957 to 1963. At the time, according to the suit, the plant manufactured nitroglycerin.

When Cytec owned the plant, nitric acid was poured through unlined canals and held in unlined ponds, where it was allowed to seep into the ground, according to the suit.

In 1967, the plant was purchased by Mallinckrodt Inc. and was then purchased by Ensign-Bickford in 1981. Ensign-Bickford continues to own the


Both Mallinckrodt and Ensign-Bickford settled several federal suits last year that were filed by Mapleton residents who claim chemicals from the plant caused cancer.

The settlements, however, allowed both companies to avoid admitting any liability in the matter. Cytec refused to participate in the settlement process, according to Laurie Ashton, an Arizona attorney who represents Bates and the Petersens.

Since, Mallinckrodt and Ensign-Bickford have paid millions of dollars to decontaminate ground water and soil at the plant. It was done under the supervision of state officials.

At one time, however, all companies involved in the operation of the plant throughout the years agreed to share the cost of mitigation.

Cytec agreed to pay 25 percent of costs. Mallinckrodt would pay 32 percent, and Ensign-Bickford 37 percent. The remaining 6 percent was to be paid by a fourth company, Jeras Corp. which had a brief ownership interest in the plant.

But in March of last year, Cytec officials announced it would not pay for the clean-up effort, saying that it has "paid more than its fair share" of costs. Cytec also said it did not contribute to the area's contamination when it owned the plant.

In the suit, Ashton counters that for years Cytec contaminated the area with nitric acid. No other company in the area has produced nitroglycerin since the 1960s, when it was being produced at the Utah County plant.

Yet, Ashton points out in the court papers, nitroglycerin is still found in measurable quantities in the plant's soil. Ashton also contends Cytec knew of the contamination and never warned area residents.

E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com