ARCO to pay up to $20 mln to Nevada copper mine neighbors over contamination

Nov 7 (Reuters) - Residents of a small Nevada city won up to $20 million in a class action lawsuit that claimed Atlantic Richfield Company and its parent corporation allowed a defunct copper mine to leak harmful chemicals into nearby soil and drinking water.

Atlantic Richfield (ARCO) and BP America, part of BP Plc , agreed to pay $6.3 million in property damages and between $6.5 million and $12.5 million to reroute water supplies to select residents of the city of Yerington, about 80 miles (129 km) southeast of Reno, to settle the case, according to a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“We’re very proud of this settlement,” Allan Kanner, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said of the agreement reached late last month and revealed publicly this week. Kanner said he was “pleasantly surprised” to have reached an agreement with ARCO and BP without a long-term legal battle. “I was expecting trench warfare.”

About a dozen families, representing more than 900 neighbors in Yerington, filed the lawsuit in 2011, alleging that uranium, arsenic and other harmful chemical from the ARCO-owned Anaconda Copper Mine had seeped into their private soil and water wells for more than two decades.

ARCO acquired the mine, built in 1918 as the Empire Nevada Mine, from the Anaconda Company in 1977 and permanently ceased operations five years later.

The Environmental Protection Agency and state agencies began issuing reports as far back as 1982 that said the Anaconda mine could have been contributing to dangerous levels of uranium found in local groundwater and dirt, but ARCO did little to address the problem, the complaint says.

In their original complaint, the plaintiffs argued that consuming and touching the chemicals could lead to multiple forms of cancer, neurological, kidney, and liver damage, as well as behavior and learning problems.

ARCO and BP did not admit wrongdoing under the agreement, which also requires that they establish a $900,000 fund for residents to receive medical screenings and other preventative medical costs possibly associated with Anaconda mine toxins.

“Atlantic Richfield is pleased that the court has approved the settlement as fair and reasonable,” ARCO said in a statement.

“The company supported settlement in this narrow case because it delivers a good outcome for the community by guaranteeing the availability of a reliable, clean source of drinking water,” the statement said.

Kanner said the agreement, approved by the U.S. District Court of Nevada, does not bar residents from filing personal injury claims against ARCO or its parent company due to Anaconda mine contamination in the future. (Editing by Cynthia Johnston)