Tennessee Residents Protected from Toxic Chemical Exposure

Settlement Reached in Dickson County Contaminated Drinking Water Case

NASHVILLE, TN (December 8, 2011) – A Tennessee community will be permanently protected from toxic well water and provided with safe municipal drinking water under a settlement reached today among the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), two members of a family whose homestead is adjacent to the contaminated landfill, and the County and City of Dickson, TN. The case has been called the “poster child” for the environmental justice movement in this country by prominent environmental justice advocates.

The agreement follows a four year legal effort by NRDC and the Holt family to ensure that residents of Dickson are protected from exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), a toxic industrial chemical that, for decades, was dumped in the Dickson landfill. TCE has leached into wells and springs several miles from the site, rendering them unsafe for human consumption.

“The settlement restores a fundamental right to this community—access to clean water,” said Sheila Holt-Orsted, a Holt family member involved in the lawsuit.  “Though the pain and loss caused by this pollution and the government’s failure to protect us still haunt my family, it is a tremendous relief to know that our nine-year struggle for justice has resulted in a community made safe from poisonous water. Before this, I assumed that clean water was available to all Americans. I hope that the message that this case sends is that it should be.”

Holt-Orsted grew up across the street from the landfill before she and her father were both diagnosed with cancer in 2003.  Harry Holt died of cancer four years later, two decades after government officials told him that his TCE-contaminated well water was safe to drink.

As part of the settlement, which is pending court approval, residents in the area affected by the contamination will be offered a free, permanent connection to the municipal water supply, freeing them from reliance on well water that is at risk of TCE contamination.

A monitoring program will be created to ensure the TCE contamination does not spread undetected beyond its current boundaries or reach locations that could impair public drinking water supplies. A panel of independent scientific experts will identify monitoring locations to which the toxins may spread.  A five million dollar remedy fund has been set aside for water connections and testing, which will be conducted by County officials and overseen by the independent scientific panel.

“Today, the City and County have begun to set things right,” said Michael Wall, NRDC senior attorney.  “The residents of Dickson County will finally be ensured clean, safe water. People should not have to fear they will be poisoned when they turn on the tap.” 

A related settlement will resolve a separate civil rights lawsuit by members of the Holt family.  As part of the settlement, the Holt family will receive compensation for damages associated with their exposure to TCE and their civil rights case.

Three companies that were previously a part of the NRDC suit, Interstate Packaging, A.L.P Lighting, and Nemak, reached an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiffs in October.