LIVINGSTON -- City officials are preparing to implement a sudden windfall of millions of dollars that came from a recent settlement over groundwater contamination.
The city received a check for $9 million last week to compensate for 1,2,3-trichloropropane pollution, a highly toxic chemical that's filtered into Livingston's drinking water supply.
Filed in 2005, the lawsuit alleged that The Dow Chemical Co., Dow AgroSciences, LLC, Shell Oil Co. and Wilbur-Ellis Co. are manufacturers, distributors and releasers of TCP and TCP-containing products.
The contaminant poses a serious threat to public health and can make drinking water unsafe, according to the lawsuit.
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Often used in the production of pesticides, TCP is a man-made chemical that can cause cancer, kidney failure and tumors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
TCP was often produced as a byproduct of chemical processes, such as the manufacturing of soil fumigants aimed at eradicating nematodes -- a common pest for farmers in the Livingston area.
The risks to public health could have been prevented or mitigated, but the defendants didn't provide any warnings, according to the lawsuit.
"In particular, these defendants engaged in joint activity for the specific purpose of suppressing, concealing and/or minimizing information regarding the toxicity and persistence of TCP," the complaint read.
Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for Dow Chemical, confirmed in an email that a settlement was reached along with the other defendants, but added that the terms of the settlement are confidential.
Records retrieved by the Sun-Star show the settlement totaled $13 million, with $3.5 million going to pay attorney fees and nearly $500,000 going toward litigation expenses.
It won't take long for that money to go to work for residents.
A recent test on Livingston's well 8 showed an evenly dispersed infiltration of TCP, a fix that Councilman Gurpal Samra said needs to be addressed with a new filtration system.
"There's a potential for contaminants in every single well," he said.
The pollutants are still migrating into city wells, according to the complaint.
However, the settlement money should be enough to address the contaminants in all wells, Samra said.
TCP isn't the only threat to Livingston's water.
Other wells have high levels of arsenic and manganese, records show. But Samra thinks after the new TCP filters are installed, the new plumbing system could allow for more filters to be added for other contaminants.
While $9 million may seem like a lot of money, Samra said it will dry up fast. But it will do a lot of good for the city.
"The good thing is the people of Livingston won't pay for contaminant removal that is not their cause," he said. "If the result hadn't been favorable to Livingston, our rate payers would have had to come up with $9 million."
Samra gave credit for city staff for getting the job done, especially Kathryn Reyes, Livingston's public works superintendent, who Samra said was "instrumental" throughout the process.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.