Claiming fertilizer laced with heavy metals ruined land and crops in Eastern Washington, a Seattle lawyer filed civil suits Monday against two major fertilizer suppliers.
One class-action complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court in Yakima against Minnesota-based Cenex Supply & Marketing Inc. and the other was filed in the Grant County Superior Court against Quincy-based Quincy Farm Chemicals, Inc.
Plaintiffs’ attorney in both cases is personal injury attorney Steve Berman of Hagens & Berman. He has a reputation for securing large out-of-court settlements from major corporations.
The suits claim that the companies knowingly shipped hazardous industrial waste materials, including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead and mercury, with fertilizer that farmers purchased and spread on their fields. They also claim that the companies profited from the practice by disposing of industrial wastes at a reduced cost for manufacturers who produce them.
“What Cenex and QFC put in their fertilizer products is enough to make your skin crawl,” said Berman. “The companies flat-out lied to the farmers about what the fertilizer contained … and it killed the crops. The land that was ruined by their toxic products won’t recover for years.”
The plaintiff named in the suit against QFC, Paul Giraud, has raised onions and potatoes in the Quincy area. He claims that industrial waste from the QFC fertilizer poisoned his land and caused crop failures costing millions of dollars.
“Contrary to allegations in Mr. and Mrs. Giraud’s complaint, Quincy Farm Chemicals, Inc. does not manufacture any of the fertilizer products that it sells to its customers….Nor does Quincy farm Chemicals Inc. add or blend industrial wastes to any of the products it sells to its customers,” the company’s lawyer, Mike Tabler said in a prepared statement. He also noted that the only complaints the company has received have come from the Giraud family.
Berman said he had no trouble finding plaintiffs for the suits. “It only takes one plaintiff to start a class action suit,” he said. “We had quite a few people volunteer.”
Thomas Witte, Terri Witte and Nancy Witte, the plaintiffs listed in the suit against Cenex, have a family farm in Grant County.
“Not only has Cenex poisoned my fields and crops, but the company has poisoned me as well,” Thomas Witte said. According to Berman, tests of hair samples from Witte and other area farm workers showed high levels of heavy metals present in their bodies.
“We have heard there is a lawsuit filed, but we have not seen it,” said Lani Jordan, spokesperson for Cenex. “We’re a distributer of products, not a manufacturer, and we operate within federal and state regulations and what we consider industry standards to provide the safest product we possibly can.”
Getting the case to trial could take two years, Berman said. “This is pioneer stuff,” he added. said. “There has never been litigation over this issue.”
Berman said he also considers the heavy metals a public health problem, which could lead to other lawsuits.