LOS ANGELES - A Denver, Colorado court has fined Dow Chemical Co. and Boeing Co. a combined 926 million dollars for property damages caused by plutonium contamination from a nuclear weapons plant.
The court set the fines in a judgement handed down late Monday after a jury found Dow and Rockwell International Corp, which Boeing bought parts of in 1996, responsible for damages claimed by thousands of property owners near the Rocky Flats (Colorado) Nuclear Weapons Plant in a trial that concluded in February 2006.
In the class action suit launched 18 years ago, some 12,000 plaintiffs accused Dow and Rockwell of allowing plutonium from the Rocky Flats plant to contaminate their property, especially residential areas downwind from it, endangering the residents' health and slashing their property values.
The court Tuesday fined Dow 653.3 million dollars and Boeing 508.1 million in compensatory damages, but then set a cap of 725.9 million dollars for both for compensating the plaintiffs, according to the ruling.
It also fined Dow 110.8 million dollars and Boeing 89.4 million in exemplary damages.
Boeing "is successor-in-interest to Rockwell International Corporation and has represented to the court that it is answerable for any judgement rendered against Rockwell International Corporation in this matter," Judge John Kane wrote in his judgement.
The lawyers for the property owners who sued the two companies cheered the judgement.
"Our clients are very pleased to have this judgement entered, this has been a long and very difficult process. They're very pleased to have their claims recognized and are looking forward to the conclusion of this very long and difficult process," Steven Kelly, attorney for plaintiffs, told AFP.
Dow said it would appeal the judgement and both Boeing and Dow said that ultimately the US Department of Energy was liable for the damages, having idenmified them when it contracted their work at the Colorado plant.
"As contractors at Rocky Flats, Dow and Rockwell are indemnified by the US Department of Energy," Dow spokesman Jarod Davis said in a statement.
"Consistent with our position in the past, we intend to appeal, and we are confident this judgment will be reversed."
"We are not going to be responsible parties here," Boeing spokesman Dan Beck told AFP.
"There will be no impact on earnings and balance sheet because of the indemnification."
Located about 25 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of Denver, the Rocky Flats plant was operated by Dow from 1953 to 1975, and then by defense contractor Rockwell until its closing in 1994; it supplied the plutonium triggers for the US nuclear bomb arsenal.
Fires, equipment leaks and loose storage controls during that period were the sources of significant releases of plutonium and other radioactive substances.
In 1989 the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Environmental Protection Agency raided the plant over alleged environmental crimes, ultimately leading to its shutdown.
© 2008 Agence France Presse