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$925 million for people near ex-nuke plant

Two companies were ordered to pay $925 million to residents who claimed that contamination blown from a nuclear weapons facility endangered their health.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two companies that worked as contractors with the now-defunct Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant have been ordered to pay $925 million to residents who claimed that contamination blown from the facility endangered people's health and devalued their property.

A federal judge on Monday ordered Dow Chemical Co. to pay $653 million and the former Rockwell International Corp. $508 million in compensatory damages, but capped the amount to be collected at $725 million.

Judge John L. Kane also ordered Dow and Rockwell to pay exemplary damages of $111 million and $89 million, respectively.

The lawsuit, filed by a group of homeowners, affects up to 13,000 people who owned land near the former plant when it shut down in 1989 because of safety violations.

The lawsuit claimed the companies intentionally mishandled radioactive waste and then tried to cover it up.

Dow Chemical operated Rocky Flats for the Department of Energy from the 1950s until 1975. Rockwell ran it from 1975 until 1989, when the plant closed. The plant made plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads.

Kane's judgment arrived more than two years after a jury returned a verdict in the trial, which ended in February 2006.

At the time, the federal jury decided the two contractors damaged land around the plant through negligence that exposed thousands of property owners to plutonium and increased their risk of health problems.

Boeing Co., which acquired parts of Rockwell in the 1990s, is responsible for Rockwell's portion of the judgment, according Kane's order.

Kane stayed his judgment pending appeals.

Violations documented by state and federal officials included the outdoor storing of barrels of waste oil and solvents contaminated with plutonium. State health officials have said some of those barrels leaked and contaminated the surrounding soil, which later blew downwind.

The federal government has since spent $7 billion to clean up the site and turn it into a wildlife refuge.