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Kerr-McGee agrees to pay settlement Deal stems from Mississippi lawsuits

Chip Minty Published: June 22, 2002

Most sums small Rather than face 10 years of litigation, attorneys at Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp. say they will agree to pay a $50 million settlement involving 6,000 residents in Columbus, Miss.

Details for the agreement will be negotiated this weekend and a settlement is expected to be signed next week, Kerr-McGee attorney Peter Nickles said.

The Oklahoma City-based corporation's directors will vote on the agreement when they meet in early July.

Nickles said the settlement involves several lawsuits filed within the past three years against Kerr-McGee Chemical's Columbus plant.

The facility uses creosote, a possible cancer-causing agent, to convert timber into railroad ties. State environmental analysts found high levels of chemicals in ditches from the plant in 1999.

Plaintiff's attorney Hunter Lundy said he expects residents of the north Mississippi community to accept the settlement terms.

He said 322 plaintiffs who claimed they developed diseases or ailments from living near the Columbus plant are being offered $18 million.

The 6,000 plaintiffs who said chemicals from the plant damaged their land could be paid $32 million, Lundy said. Some plaintiffs who claimed illness also have property damage claims.

"The whole settlement is a very fair settlement under the circumstances," Lundy said. "The offer won't be on the table long. They will pay the people who accept it and the others, the money will be off the table."

Kerr-McGee representatives say the settlement is not an admission of fault.

"Our environmental performance has been nationally recognized for environmental responsibility, and our plants operate safely and have not harmed anyone," Kerr-McGee spokeswoman Debbie Schramm said.

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