Syngenta seeks summary judgment in atrazine case; Cites contradictions in plaintiffs' claims

Steve Korris Dec. 2, 2011, 2:12am

BENTON – Greenville's city council alleges in federal court that weed killer atrazine contaminates the local reservoir but the council assures customers they can safely drink the water, according to atrazine maker Syngenta Crop Protection.

Syngenta spotlighted the apparent contradiction on Nov. 30, in a motion for summary judgment against Greenville in a six-state class action the city proposes to lead.

Kurtis Reeg of Clayton, Mo., told U.S. District Judge Phil Gilbert there is no risk of imminent injury to Greenville.

"Greenville never warned its customers that its water was unsafe nor did it order them to stop drinking the water because of the presence of atrazine in the water," Reeg wrote.

"Greenville also never warned its customers that the atrazine in Greenville's water posed a health risk," he wrote.

He wrote that the city sends out consumer confidence reports representing that it takes efforts to provide safe drinking water.

He attached a table of quarterly tests showing the city hasn't come close to a federal safety standard of three parts per billion since 1994.

The table shows the city detected no atrazine in the last 10 quarters, meaning the concentration didn't reach three parts per 10 billion.

"Other than its attorneys, no one has told Greenville that atrazine concentrations of less than three parts per billion in its water pose a health risk," Reeg wrote.

He wrote that the city engaged engineers to address taste and odor issues but didn't consult them about atrazine.

"Additionally, no consultant has ever advised Greenville that atrazine must be removed from its water," he wrote.

"The Greenville water treatment plant in the same manner today as it did before Greenville filed this lawsuit," he wrote.

Syngenta's motion followed depositions of city manager Dave Willey and water superintendent Jeff Leidner.

"Mr. Leidner did not conduct any research into atrazine until after this lawsuit was filed," Reeg wrote.

"Mr. Willey does not know of any research that Greenville conducted related to atrazine or its potential health effects," he wrote.

Reeg filed a similar motion against Marion, Kan., writing that state regulators found its atrazine level consistently and reliably below the standard.

"Marion has not suffered an injury as a matter of law," he wrote.

"Marion never even tested its raw water for atrazine until February 25, 2011, at the request of its own counsel," he wrote.

"Marion never issued materials or warnings to its customers that its water was unsafe because of the potential human health effects of atrazine in its drinking water," he wrote.

"Nor has Marion convened a council meeting to advise its citizens of any potential health effects of atrazine," he wrote.

He wrote that Marion sends out consumer confidence reports assuring customers their drinking water is safe.

He asked for oral argument after Greenville and Marion file responses.

Greenville and Marion sued Syngenta last year, along with other public and private water providers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa.

They want Gilbert to declare atrazine a defective product and order its complete removal from drinking water at Syngenta's expense.

Their lawyer, Stephen Tillery of St. Louis, disputes the federal safety standard but claims he doesn't seek to overturn it.

He argues that the standard concerns drinking water but his suit concerns raw water.

He asserts a common law right to recover costs of past and future treatment.

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