2nd PSC ‘onion-odor’ suit filed by man with kidney failure

Tue, 02/10/2009 - 4:37pm
By: Ben Nelms

A second lawsuit has been filed in relation to the exposure by north Fayette and south Fulton residents to a pesticide and chemical odorant “wash water” during mid-2006. The six-count suit recently filed in Fulton County State Court is on behalf of Sandy Creek Road residents John and Delores Abernathy. The case is currently in the discovery phase.

Exposures to Mocap “wash water,” a combination of the organophosphate pesticide ethoprop, propyl mercaptan and water, was the subject of a state and federal investigation after nearly 800 residents in and around a 40-square-mile area surrounding the Philip Services Corp. (PSC) waste treatment plant on Ga. Highway 92 near Fairburn reported numerous symptoms associated with acute or chronic exposure to the chemicals.

Defendants in the suit filed by Peachtree City attorney Christy Dunkelberger on behalf of John and Delores Abernathy include PSC, PSC Recovery Systems, Inc., AMVAC Chemical Corp. and PSC Container Services, LLC.

The suit includes counts of negligence, negligence per se, continuing trespass, continuing nuisance, punitive damages and is asking for attorney’s fees, costs and expenses.

Abernathy first smelled the chemical during the first full week of June 2006. It was a smell he described as garlic. Hundreds of north Fayette and south Fulton residents during the period described the smell of wild onions, garlic or a combination of the two permeating their neighborhoods during late spring and into the early fall. The primary odor reported was that of onions.

A kidney transplant recipient five years earlier, Abernathy told The Citizen in July 2006 the smell was present at his home most every morning and afternoon during the first week of June. But it was on June 15 that things changed.

On that day, Abernathy began getting sick. He experienced vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea and “acting weird, like he was not coherent,” Delores Abernathy explained. During the next three days the illness continued and during those three days John lost 13 pounds.

“I couldn’t figure it out,” John said in July 2006. “I thought I had food poisoning, but it didn’t go away.”

Ms. Abernathy took him to the emergency room at Piedmont Fayette Hospital on June 18, where he was examined and his creatinine level was checked. Abernathy had his levels checked monthly subsequent to the transplant. The level during the past five years had fluctuated in the safe range from 0.9 to 1.1, a level that indicates normal kidney function, Abernathy said.

But on June 18, his creatinine level registered at a staggering 5.6, up from a level of 1.0 when he was tested less than three weeks earlier on May 30, Ms. Abernathy told The Citizen.

“They didn’t admit John. They told us he was going to Piedmont Hospital (in Atlanta),” she said. “A level of 5.6 is the point of going into renal failure. That’s about the level he was at five years ago when he had to have the transplant.”

Dunkelberger said the trial date has not been set.

Ga. Division of Public Health and federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) later concluded that affected residents had received short-term illnesses but no long-term illnesses.

State and federal findings, based on company records supplied to Fulton County, determined that the first shipments of wash water did not enter the plant until late June. Many area residents reported first smelling the familiar “onion odor” in late May, but it was in late June/early July that the choking odor of “onions” permeated area neighborhoods and was absorbed into carpets and clothing. The smell did not subside until early fall.

Aside from the hundreds of residents sickened, the summer of 2006 also saw the deaths of a number of area dogs and cats and the virtual absence of birds, bees and insects inside the 40-square-mile hot zone.

Company representatives maintained that the widespread reports experienced in Fayette and Fulton counties came from a single shipment of wash water that was off-loaded and then re-loaded, without processing, and returned the same day to the AMVAC facility in Axis, Ala.

The first lawsuit to stem from the exposures, a class-action claim, was settled out of court in late 2008 for $4 million. It included more than 2,000 households generally within a three-mile radius of the plant.

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Woody's picture
Submitted by Woody on Wed, 02/11/2009 - 8:51pm.

Great. I live in North Fayette between GA 279 and 314. A few nights ago my wife and I noted a very strong onion odor in our neighborhood that lingered for hours. Since this isn't exactly the season for onions to grow and for neighbors to cut grass, which might explain it, I just left it as a mystery - until now. I wonder if we're having a new similar problem here. Did anyone else note this?

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