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Anaconda Stack 1976

This photograph of the Washoe Smelter Stack was taken in 1976. 

A former Mill Creek resident is suing Atlantic Richfield Company alleging that his neuropathy is a direct result of growing up next door to the former Washoe Smelter when it was still operative.

Now living in Missoula, William Corcoran, 63, filed a lawsuit in May in state court. But earlier this month Atlantic Richfield, now a subsidiary of Denver-based BP, moved the suit to the Fourth Judicial District Court in Missoula County.

Corcoran’s suit does not specify the amount of monetary damages he is seeking, but the lawsuit says it will likely exceed $75,000. Corcoran claims he began suffering increased pain and disability in his hands starting in 2015.

Diagnosed with “arsenic induced neuropathy,” Corcoran’s peripheral neuropathy is permanent and he can no longer hold jobs that require hand dexterity, good balance, walking on uneven surfaces, climbing ladders or stairs or requiring fine hand motor or sensory skills,” according to the suit.

Corcoran alleges Atlantic Richfield was “aware of the toxicity and migration of these hazardous materials (arsenic), knew the hazards associated with the migration of these toxic materials into the community and failed to warn” the residents of Mill Creek that their health and welfare were in jeopardy.

The lawsuit calls Atlantic Richfield’s behavior “unlawful, improper, malicious and fraudulent.”

Corcoran is suing for disruption of the course of his life, physical pain and mental suffering, emotional distress, the cost of medical care, loss of income and violation of his inalienable Montana constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

Corcoran lived in Mill Creek, a former neighborhood adjacent to the now defunct Washoe Smelter, from his birth in 1955 until 1974.

About three years ago, doctors diagnosed Corcoran with “arsenic induced neuropathy,” the court document states. According to the legal filing, Corcoran’s doctor examined him in March of this year and wrote that he “has peripheral neuropathic symptoms consistent with arsenic induced neuropathy.” The doctor also concluded that Corcoran’s neurological damage is likely permanent.

The lawsuit says that Corcoran’s doctor, Dr. Dana Headaphol, wrote that Corcoran is at risk for “arsenic-related kidney disease” and will “require periodic monitoring for that condition.”

The EPA removed the families living in Mill Creek in 1987, demolished homes and placed a vegetative cap over the contamination, according to legal documents.

Urine samples conducted on children living in Mill Creek in 1985 led agency officials to conclude that Mill Creek kids had “greater arsenic exposure than children of another community in the Anaconda area.” Despite efforts to remove house dust from the Mill Creek homes, the children still had “elevated” levels of arsenic in their urine. That prompted EPA to enforce relocation and eliminate Mill Creek as a place of residence, according to legal documents.

Ingestion of soil, contaminated drinking water, and inhalation and ingestion of airborne dirt and household dust were the causes of exposure, the court document states.

The Washoe Smelter operated from 1918 until 1980, when Atlantic Richfield closed the smelter operations and began sending copper ore to Asia. The smelter sent tons of arsenic and other metals into the air for 62 years.

The EPA named Anaconda a Superfund site in 1983.

Corcoran alleges company negligence because the company failed to “control and contain arsenic and other toxic substances” generated by the smelter, failed to prevent the metals from migrating into the Mill Creek neighborhood, and failed to “exercise reasonable care to contain the toxins” once the company knew or reasonably should have known it had polluted the residential properties.

Corcoran also alleges trespass of hazardous material and failure to remove that hazardous material from his family’s property. He further alleges liability for “an abnormally dangerous and ultrahazardous activity.”

Corcoran’s Missoula-based lawyer, William Rossbach, declined to comment. Atlantic Richfield did not return requests for comment.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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