Residents of Idaho's Silver Valley want five
former mining companies to pay for a medical monitoring program
that would detect health effects from lead and arsenic
contamination for up to 100,000 people in the Coeur d'Alene Basin.
Filed in January in state court, the residents' class action suit
alleges that five mining companies in the basin "traded public
health for profit by intentionally, knowingly and systematically
exposing individuals to dangerous levels of lead, arsenic and other
hazardous substances." The program, say residents, would help
ensure early detection and prevention of problems associated with
lead and arsenic poisoning, such as cognitive
"Our kids are suffering profound
health damages that we believe are tied to lead poisoning," says
Rita Bornitz, a basin resident whose three children have elevated
lead levels. Rita and Arden Bornitz are part of a group of eight
past and present residents who approached a Seattle law firm with
the idea for the suit. "We believe there are hundreds of families
that have no idea their kids are in danger of health risks," Rita
With the Environmental Protection
Agency planning a 30-year, $359 million cleanup of the basin (HCN,
3/4/02: EPA wants to supersize Idaho Superfund site), it is likely
that the judge will certify the suit as a class action, says Tony
Roisman, a lawyer familiar with medical
While it's unclear how much the
mining companies might pay if they lose the suit, it appears they
will put up a fight.
"I don't think they have a
valid claim for anything that happened in the past," says Mike
Owens, a spokesman for Sunshine Mining Co., which filed for
bankruptcy in 2000. Owens says that once bankruptcy has been filed,
the company is immune from such a suit.
is expected to review the case before the end of the year.