NRDC et al. v. County of Dickson et al.

The Washington Post

In the 1960s, manufacturing companies in Dickson, Tennessee, west of Nashville, dumped trichloroethylene (TCE)—a toxic industrial solvent that causes cancer as well as reproductive and neurological harm—into an unlined landfill. Although Dickson’s population is largely white, the landfill was located in a quiet, historically African-American enclave that included the Holt family’s homestead. And for more than a decade, the Holts unknowingly drank well water that was contaminated with unsafe levels of TCE.

It turned out that the TCE in the landfill had spread. In 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency detected TCE in the Holts’ well, but the family was told that their water was safe to drink, even as some white families were provided alternative water supplies. Twenty years later, Harry Holt, the family patriarch, died of cancer, and his daughter, Sheila Holt-Orsted, also received a cancer diagnosis. Sensing that something was wrong, Holt-Orsted reviewed state environmental office files and discovered the contamination. Neither the polluting companies, the landfill’s operators, nor state or federal regulators had taken any steps to remove the contaminant. Nor had they fully mapped its spread. Dickson County’s ground and surface waters had been surrendered to an invisible and toxic chemical, and the Holts and other families had not been warned or adequately protected.

So in 2008, NRDC joined Sheila and her mother, Beatrice, in suing the landfill’s owners and operators along with three industrial companies that had dumped there. The suit was filed under a federal law that allows people to go to court to abate an imminent and substantial threat to health or the environment caused by the disposal of solid and hazardous waste. After years of contentious litigation, the defendants settled in 2012. The settlement provides for new water supplies to be piped to homes in the environmental-risk area, enhanced water-quality monitoring to make sure the contamination does not spread undetected, and air quality monitoring for TCE vapor, because as testing under the settlement found, TCE vapors had indeed infiltrated at least one family’s home. 

Last Updated

October 03, 2017



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