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No settlement reached in Monsanto mediation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jury selection in the class-action lawsuit against Monsanto will begin next week after no settlement was reached during about eight hours of mediation Tuesday, the lead plaintiffs' attorney confirmed.

Residents allege in a class-action case, filed in 2004, that Monsanto unsafely burned dioxin wastes and spread contaminated soot and dust across Nitro, polluting homes with unsafe levels of the chemical.

The lawsuit set to begin next week will seek medical monitoring for at least 5,000 - and perhaps as many as 80,000 - current and former Nitro residents.

Before Putnam Circuit Judge O.C. Spaulding recused himself from hearing the case after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he ruled that residents could not sue collectively to seek remediation of homes they allege are contaminated with dioxin.

On Tuesday, several hundred plaintiffs gathered at the Marriott hotel in Charleston for a court-ordered mediation. Circuit Judges Booker Stephens of McDowell County and Alan D. Moats of Taylor County attempted to resolve the case to avoid trial.

A mediation held in October also failed to produce a settlement.

Stuart Calwell, the lead plaintiffs' attorney, said he plans to call 18 experts to testify during the trial.

"This is an extraordinarily important case," Calwell said. "[Plaintiffs] want their town back. What they're interested in is having a safe home to live in -- I don't think that's too much to ask."

Monsanto's lead attorney, Charles Love of Charleston, would not comment on the upcoming trial.

For more than 50 years, the former Monsanto plant churned out herbicides, rubber products and other chemicals. The plant's production of Agent Orange created dioxin as a toxic chemical byproduct.

Mercer Circuit Judge Derek Swope was appointed by the Supreme Court to preside over the trial, which is expected to last around three months.

Putnam Circuit Clerk Ronnie Matthews said Wednesday no scheduling order for the trial had been filed. He said he understood that the trial would sometimes be held five days a week and sometimes four, so Swope could continue to handle his abuse and neglect caseload in Mercer County.

Matthews said when jury selection begins next week, 28 potential jurors will be chosen out of a pool of about 340 people.  To begin the case, Matthews said, six jurors and six alternates are necessary.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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