A victory. A vindication. A precedent.
That’s how businesses, governments and citizen victims of industrial pollution should view last week’s proposed settlement of the Hoosick Falls water contamination crisis.
Last week, attorneys for plaintiffs in a five-year-old class action lawsuit announced that three companies that contributed to PFOA pollution of wells and groundwater in Hoosick Falls had agreed to pay more than $65 million to the victims.
The settlement, which still must be approved by a federal judge, includes monetary payments to about 1,800 affected residents. The distribution takes into consideration health issues suffered by the individuals, loss of property value due to contamination, and damage to private wells.
Perhaps the most important part of the settlement to those exposed to contamination is the inclusion of 10 years of health screening related to potential exposure —including testing for certain cancers, thyroid issues and blood-related conditions.
No financial reward can give victims back their health.
But this settlement demonstrates once again that citizens can fight back against big corporate interests and that companies will be punished financially for their irresponsible and dangerous conduct.
What’s also important about this settlement, and the part that should send a strong message to polluters, are the legal rulings that allowed this case to move forward to fruition.
Courts consistently supported the victims over the polluters throughout the tenure of the case, including rulings related to the actual harm caused by exposure that would necessitate medical monitoring, the impact on property values and the testimony of expert witnesses.
These rulings thwarted company efforts to negate the scope of the settlement, including the financial awards and the inclusion of medical monitoring, and helped lead to what supporters of the litigation are terming a very welcome outcome.
That should help pave the way for more citizens being willing to bring forward legal action and provide a framework for courts and the attorneys to follow in determining a final settlement.
The fact that this situation has dragged on for at least seven years also should send a message to government to take such citizens concerns seriously and to take action quickly when pollution is discovered and when citizens start feeling the effects.
It ultimately will be up to the victims whether the settlement compensates them enough for their pain, suffering and loss.
But even now, the proposed settlement is a victory for the residents is vindication of their concerns, sets a precedent for companies that pollute, and demonstrates how governments and businesses should address such matters in the future.