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Decades of Environmental Disasters Show Role of Civil Justice System in Holding Polluters Accountable
New AAJ report examines how the civil justice system has protected the environment
Washington, DC—As the devastation from BP’s oil rig disaster grows, a new report released today by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) illustrates how corporations have evaded U.S. environmental laws for decades, only to be later held accountable and responsible for clean-up through the civil justice system.
The report examines how laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s were supposed to protect the environment, but lax enforcement left corporations with little incentive to comply. Ultimately, trial attorneys were the ones who sought justice for communities destroyed by corporate polluters.
“Time and again we have seen corporations avoid responsibility for the pollution and environmental devastation they have caused,” said AAJ President Anthony Tarricone. “Without the civil justice system, many corporate polluters would never have been held accountable for the disaster they caused.”
For example, smelter owner Asarco in Globeville, Colo. knew their metal processing plant had been spewing lead, cadmium, and arsenic into the neighborhood for decades, exposing residents to high risks of cancer, lead poisoning, and other deadly diseases. The state of Colorado had pursued the company under the Superfund law, but the settlement covered only 50 of the nearly 500 affected homes.
With the help of trial attorneys, residents forced Asarco to replace the contaminated soil and landscaping in the town. The company later paid $1.7 billion to clean up more than 80 contaminated sites in 19 states.
“Without vigilant attorneys willing to pursue Asarco so doggedly, hundreds of homeowners would have never received just compensation for the devastation the company caused,” said Tarricone. “Similarly, the civil justice system will ensure BP is held accountable and responsible for the pollution along the Gulf Coast.
The report, entitled “Hazardous to Your Health: How the Civil Justice System Holds Corporate Polluters Accountable,” can be found at www.justice.org/environment. Earlier this year, AAJ also released a report on the role of litigation in making vehicles safer, which can be found at www.justice.org/autosafety.