June 19, 2003


New state lawsuit filed against YSI

Three neighbors of YSI Incorporated filed a state lawsuit against the company last week, bringing previously withdrawn tort claims back on the table.

Lisa Wolters, Fred Arment and Bob Acomb are seeking an injunction compelling YSI to investigate, disclose and remediate the environmental contamination on the company’s Brannum Lane property to the neighbor’s satisfaction and fund a medical monitoring program.

In the suit, which was filed on June 10 in Greene County Common Pleas Court, the neighbors are also seeking compensatory damages of more than $25,000 and an undetermined amount in punitive damages.

In addition to resubmitting the tort claims, which pertain to damages the neighbors alleged that they have incurred, the new suit claims that “top YSI management” misrepresented and concealed the extent and duration of the contamination that occurred on company property since as early as 1979.

This information, which the suit calls a “cover up,” was learned through a discovery order in the State of Ohio’s case against YSI, which allowed the plaintiffs to depose top company employees and access old YSI documents, according to the neighbors’ lawyer, D. David Altman.

“We wanted to show what we’ve always known, that the contamination went on longer and [the problems] were broader than they’ve admitted,” he said. “YSI’s current investigation is based on a narrow set of facts.”

YSI maintains that the company was not aware of past disposal practices until the issue was brought to its attention in 2001 when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency first detected contamination on the company’s property, according to Lisa Abel, YSI’s director of corporate social responsibility.

“As a company we were focused on the business at hand, and we didn’t look at anything that happened in the past,” she said. “From our perspective this was brought to our awareness in 2001, and that’s when we started looking at the history.”

Last month, before the injunction was filed, YSI reached a settlement with the State in a separate case when the company agreed to pay $275,000 in fines for hazardous waste violation and sign a consent order to investigate and remediate the contamination. As of Tuesday evening, Greene County Common Pleas Court Judge Stephen A. Wolaver was still in status conferences deliberating on the injunction before signing the settlement.

The neighbors in the injunction requested a 15-day extension without submitting comments, which Judge Wolaver denied.

“It’s not clear what they want in this process as plaintiff interveners if they can’t comment on what the State is putting out there,” Abel said.

The tort claims were originally part of a federal suit the three neighbors filed last year against YSI. The suit also contained three federal claims, two of which were dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Rose because, he said, YSI is under orders from the Ohio EPA, and the state filed a suit against the company.

The neighbors appealed Rose’s decision in April and withdrew the third federal claim and the state tort claim, which they have now filed in the Common Pleas Court.

The injunction asserts that company officials did have knowledge of the contamination earlier than they originally stated and that they were not forthcoming with the breadth of the hazardous chemicals involved.

The neighbors claim, for instance, that the company did not fully disclose the extent of its use of perfluorinated compounds and has never tested for them in residential wells. They also claim that company officials knew a maintenance building bordered on “being both an environmental and personal hazard.”

The perfluorinated compounds YSI used, Abel said, were different from the ones found to be harmful when combined with Scotchgard and Teflon coatings. She said that YSI used fluorinerts, which, according to the manufacturing company, are not water soluble and do not react with anything.

Abel said that the suit includes information concerning the hazards of the maintenance building that was “taken out of context” from a 1989 facility assessment report YSI ordered to evaluate the use of space and structures on its local campus. The report did not refer directly to any chemical hazards.

For now, Abel said, YSI is focusing on what it views as most important: moving ahead on the investigation and remediation of the contamination on and around its property. The company will issue a source area report for public comment on Monday, June 23, that shows contaminant source areas on the campus and suggests methods for remediation.

The report says that data collectors still need to take more samples to better define the edges of the source area under the Brannum East manufacturing building.

—Lauren Heaton