On Friday, August 23, 2019, a jury in California Superior Court in Merced California, awarded the City of Atwater $53 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages following a four-month trial.
The case involved the chemical 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP), an ingredient in a nematicide sold by Shell Oil Company.
Shell marketed the TCP-containing nematicide in California’s Central Valley for several decades without revealing that the nematicide contained TCP.
Shell’s nematicide was widely applied to agricultural lands around the City of Atwater and the City contended that those applications ultimately led to the City’s water being contaminated with TCP.
In 2018 the State of California adopted a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 5 parts per trillion (ppt) in public drinking water systems.
When the City detected TCP in City wells at levels above the MCL it retained the law firm of Miller & Axline to recover the costs of treating TCP in City wells from Shell.
Miller & Axline had previously won a $22 million verdict for the City of Clovis in a case involving TCP. As reflected by the size of the jury’s verdict, the costs of removing TCP from public water supply systems can be significant.
“We are grateful that the jury decided in the best interests of Atwater and it’s residents,” said City of Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton. “The City simply cannot afford the costs of removing TCP from the City’s water, and the ratepayers should not have to bear the cost burden of the cleanup due to the actions of Shell Oil Company.
Up and down the San Joaquin Valley, clean drinking water is an issue far too many cities must deal with.
In Merced County, it is estimated that more than 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean drinking water. Thankfully for this verdict, we can ensure that our residents have a safe, reliable source of drinking water, and not have to face the same issues that far too many of our fellow valley residents have to face.”