Skip to content Skip to footer

Lawsuit Claims Company Knowingly and Illegally Dumped Cancer-Causing Waste

“Several hundred victims have come forward with cancers and other conditions caused by exposure,” said an attorney.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2022.

A Mississippi auto parts company illegally dumped toxic waste for more than 50 years, poisoning workers and sparking a cluster of cancer cases, according to a lawsuit filed this week by a group of former employees.

The lawsuit, filed June 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, names EnPro Industries and multiple other corporate entities as defendants in the case, alleging they participated in illegally discharging trichloroethylene (TCE) into the environment, contaminating soil, air and groundwater, and knowingly exposing workers to the cancer-causing chemical.

“This greedy company cheated to cut costs at the expense of human health and risking countless lives,” Nick Rowley, co-founder of the national public interest law firm Trial Lawyers for Justice, said in a press release. “The scope and scale of harms and losses caused by this wrongdoing is devastating.”

TCE is a clear, colorless liquid that is used as a degreasing solvent and dry cleaning agent, among other uses. It is considered a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The chemical is also known to damage the heart, liver, kidneys, and many other organs in the human body. It can also break down into other chemicals known to cause cancer in humans, including vinyl chloride. As well, a recent study found “circumstantial” evidence linking TCE to the doubling of global Parkinson’s disease diagnoses over the past 30 years

TCE can be found in the drinking water of 19 million people, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The EPA has recently proposed banning all uses of TCE, but the chemical industry is fighting the move. The American Chemistry Council asserts TCE is valuable for many industrial uses.

The lawsuit was filed by eight former employees of a facility in Yalobusha County, Mississippi where TCE was an ingredient in a degreaser used to clean cart parts in the 1970s and 1980s at a facility operated by the Holley Automotive Division of Colt Industries — later renamed Coltec.

The facility “did not have any sort of plan or procedure in place for the responsible disposal of its TCE waste” and “decided to it would use Mississippi as its ‘dumping ground for hazardous waste’” to cut costs, alleges the lawsuit. In at least one instance, the company instructed employees to dump 1,000 gallons of TCE waste into a ditch behind the facility, the lawsuit alleges.

The company stopped using TCE in its degreaser in the late 1980s, according to the lawsuit, but the huge quantity of the chemical released into the environment created a massive 340-acre plume that contaminated soil and groundwater in the area. TCE can persist in soil and groundwater for decades.

North Carolina-based Enpro Industries acquired the liabilities of Coltec through a series of transactions, the lawsuit states.

Enpro did not respond to a request for comment.

After years of exposure to TCE, including through contaminated drinking water at the facility, plaintiff Josephine Martin developed breast cancer and Stage IV kidney disease, while plaintiff Excell Vance developed multiple myeloma, according to the lawsuit.

“The harm that they caused to my life, my family, and this community is unspeakable,” Vance said in a press release.

Five other plaintiffs allege their exposure to TCE at the facility also led them to develop cancers, including colon cancer, prostate cancer, and B-cell lymphoma. Plaintiff Clayfers Walton, who worked at the facility from 1973 to 2011, alleges TCE exposure caused him to develop Parkinson’s disease.

The lawsuit alleges that TCE from the facility not only impacted workers, but contaminated municipal well water, a fact that the company knew, but did not warn the public about, according to the lawsuit.

While Yalobusha County is one of the least populated counties in the Mississippi, with just over 12,000 residents, it has the highest rate of growth for new cancer diagnoses in the state “by far,” according to the complaint.

“The rapidly increasing ‘Cancer Cluster’ in Yalobusha County is so drastic that despite its tiny population size, it presently ranks 22nd in diagnoses of all cancer types out of the 3,143 counties that make up the United States of America,” the lawsuit states.

“Several hundred victims have come forward with cancers and other conditions caused by exposure to TCE,” plaintiffs’ attorney Drew Tominello said in the press release. “This lawsuit is the first of many that we expect to file for the scores of individuals and families that have been harmed.”

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $34,000 in the next 4 days. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.