Nelson Roach and Keith Langston represented roughly 7,000 residents of the town of Blackwell, Oklahoma in Kay County, Oklahoma, in a class action lawsuit accusing defendants Phelps Dodge Corporation and its parent company, Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, Inc., of failing to properly address lead, arsenic, and cadmium contamination in the Blackwell area.
This contamination is related to the operation of the Blackwell Zinc Smelter, which was located in Blackwell from 1916 until 1974 and was at one time the largest smelter of its type in the United States. According to recent tests, 76 percent of Blackwell homes contain lead dust above safety levels set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and 90 percent of Blackwell homes are contaminated with arsenic above EPA safety standards.
As owners of the company which operated the Blackwell Zinc Smelter, Freeport-McMoRan and Phelps Dodge are liable for contamination related to smelting activities. This lawsuit demanded that the defendants comprehensively remediate all contaminated property and reimburse residents for damage to property values. The legal action also asks defendants to provide for a medical-monitoring program open to all Blackwell residents.
With Roach and Langston’s leadership, the proposed class action was certified after extensive briefing. Not long thereafter, the case settled and provided benefits to the class totaling over $118 million, including both monetary payments and remediation services.