Stack close to ruling in Holiday Shores atrazine class actions

Steve Gonzalez and Ann Knef Jun. 27, 2008, 12:58am

After 30 months under advisement in Madison County Circuit Judge Daniel Stack's court, six class action lawsuits against major chemical manufacturers will finally get a ruling.

Stack said he will have his order in the cases before the July 4 holiday.

For months Stack has indicated he is close to ruling on defense motions to dismiss the cases brought by Holiday Shores Sanitary District in 2004 against Sygenta, Drexel, Dow, United Agri Products, Supcan Agro and Makhteshinm Agan.

Holiday Shores, seeking to represent a class of other Illinois water districts, alleges atrazine made by the defendants breaks down into "degradant" chemicals which are hazardous to humans. Among other things, Holiday Shores wants to be fitted with a new charcoal system to filter out atrazine.

The lawsuits, brought by attorneys Courtney Buxner and Stephen Tillery of KoreinTillery in St. Louis, as well as Baron & Budd of Dallas, have been idle since the defendants argued motions to dismiss before Stack.

Plaintiff Holiday Shores Sanitary District, one of nearly 1,800 water districts in the state, was fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency several years ago for exceeding the allowable amount of atrazine in its water supply.

Stack has been working on his order since this time last year, when the American Bar Association supplied him with law clerks for six weeks through the summer.

Stack had said the clerks would work on book briefs and memos for the atrazine cases and then he would formulate a ruling.

In the past couple of years, Stack said he has fallen behind in some of his cases he has under advisement because of complex litigation that has gone to trial.

Stack has had a Vioxx trial, a weld rod trial, an eight week legal malpractice trial, as well as several asbestos, medical malpractice and personal injury trials that have consumed a lot of his attention.

In addition, Stack holds asbestos motion dockets nearly every week, sometimes two and three times a week.

Atrazine, which the U.S. EPA has declared allowable three parts per billion in drinking water, is the most commonly applied herbicide used by corn growers.

According to the Illinois Farm Bureau, atrazine, which is employed primarily by corn growers, has been used in the state for years and is the best no-till product. It helps conserve farm fields by preventing sediment run-off. It increases yields, reduces costs and is proven good for the environment, a spokesman for the Farm Bureau said.

The EPA has thoroughly evaluated atrazine using a detailed scientific process and is "probably the most well-studied chemical," said Nancy Erickson, Natural Resources director for the Illinois Farm Bureau.

A report issued by the U.S. EPA on June 21, 2006, concluded that the cumulative risks associated with triazine herbicides pose "no harm that would result to the general U.S. population, infants, children or other...consumers."

Atrazine also is the number one seasonal contaminant found in surface drinking supplies in the nation. It usually shows up in low levels in the spring and summer after farmers apply it to kill weeds rather than plowing weeds.

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