CAMDENTON, Mo. (CN) – The wife and son of a Missouri plant worker who died of cancer claim in court that the parts manufacturing plant is responsible for poisoning him and contaminating an entire community.
Gary Seaton, a long-time machine operator at the Camdenton, Mo., plant, died in 2016 after years of suffering from liver, colon, bladder and lung cancer.
From 1969 until 2012, Seaton not only came in contact with cancer-causing chemicals while working for Modine Manufacturing Company, but he also breathed in poisonous vapors and drank contaminated water at his nearby home, according to a lawsuit filed May 1 in Camden County Circuit Court.
His wife Lynda and son Wes are suing the former owners of the plant, which was abandoned in 2012 and is located directly next to their family’s house.
The defendants are Modine Manufacturing, UTC Aerospace Systems and John Blatchford, Seaton’s former supervisor. They are accused of knowingly endangering the lives of employees and nearby residents through reckless handling of hazardous materials.
The 67-acre site at 221 Sunset Dr. in Camdenton has been owned and operated by numerous companies over the years, producing parts for heating and cooling systems.
The poisonous plant has been dumping trichloroethylene, or TCE, and other deadly carcinogens directly onto the ground and into the water supply for decades, according to the lawsuit.
Two major areas of concern have been Hulett Lagoon and Mulberry Well, where testing revealed TCE levels were more than 10 times the maximum contaminant level.
“The City of Camdenton pumped the TCE-contaminated groundwater from the Mulberry Well and discharged it to waste through a ravine which eventually discharged to the Lake of the Ozarks,” according to an administrative order filed last year by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which describes Camdenton’s groundwater containment system.
Exposure to TCE, which has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a human carcinogen, is linked to immune system damage and liver, kidney and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“The nature of TCE is that once it has contaminated an area, it will typically remain a contaminant in the area and soil for hundreds of years,” the Seatons’ lawsuit states.
According to the complaint, despite being advised of the contamination and ordered to clean up the area, Modine and UTC Aerospace allowed numerous 55-gallon drums filled with TCE to corrode and empty into the soil and streams surrounding the plant.
They also allegedly “ignored evidence that property owners, workers and animals were becoming ill and/or diseased as a result of the contamination.
The DNR’s website says the plant is currently vacant and the property is inactive, aside from ongoing “corrective action activities.” The site lists Simmons First National Bank as the lienholder for the property.
Calls to Modine Manufacturing’s legal department were not immediately returned Wednesday, and the DNR does not comment on pending litigation.
Seaton’s family seeks compensatory and punitive damages for claims of wrongful death, negligence, strict liability and property damage.
“There were others who were also injured as a result of this contamination and I suspect there will be additional claims forthcoming,” said attorney Chandler Gregg of Strong Garner in Springfield, Mo., who is representing the Seatons.