Class-action lawsuit filed against aluminum plant after emissions incidents

Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 5:50 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 15, 2023 at 7:34 PM EST
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GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCSC) - A lawsuit has been filed against a smelting plant near Goose Creek after multiple incidents that released emissions into the air.

This is regarding the Mt. Holly Century Aluminum plant that released white dust causing multiple complaints and worries for residents. Dozens of people reached out complaining of a gritty substance coating vehicles, plants, mailboxes and anything else outside in areas across Goose Creek.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control started looking into the four events where ‘alumina dust’ was emitted. The first was on Sept. 3, two on Sept. 16 and another on Sept. 30.

A community meeting took place on Oct. 9 to address resident concerns but many left the meeting feeling like their questions regarding the harm of the emissions were not answered.

The class-action lawsuit claims the alumina dust particulates caused residents to suffer irritation, itching, swelling, congestion, sinus issues, cough, bloody noses and headaches. The suit also states the particulates entering people’s lungs caused them to suffer shortness of breath asthma, inflammation, headaches and permanent impairment. The suit also claims the alumina dust that settled on residents’ lawns caused health issues for pets.

“There are 15 people that are named on the lawsuit as named plaintiffs, but the lawsuit asserts claims for anyone that lives within seven miles of the smelter and lived there from September 3rd through September 30th of 2023,” Elliotte Quinn, an attorney at Steinberg Law Firm that filed the suit, says. “So as a class action, the idea is that this encompasses everyone that experienced this. Now, ultimately a court has to approve us to going forward as a class action has to say we can. But that would be the idea. And I can say we have heard from significantly more than just those 15 people.”

“We are asserting claims both for the health effects --so that would be the negligence claims,” Quinn states. “But then also people have this dust coat their cars, their homes... I had a client speaking about their garden and they couldn’t work in their yard. So, this is also interfering with people’s ownership use of their property. So, whatever a jury determines is a fair award for both the health impacts that people have suffered and then also for that interference with the ownership and use of property.

Quinn states this could be a lengthy process.

“I always wish we could make it move faster than it does,” Quinn says. “The legal process is slow and steady. I don’t think this is the kind of thing that gets wrapped up in weeks or months. This is more like years. So this is a longer process. The defendants may surprise me and may say that they want to resolve this very quickly and they may want to be very reasonable. Typically, they aren’t and this takes quite a while before we get it resolved.”

The residents are suing for multiple causes including trespass, nuisance, and negligence and asking for actual, nominal, compensatory, consequential and punitive damages along with attorney’s fees and any other relief the court deems appropriate.

The filing comes after the Environmental Protection Agency ruled in favor last week of a petition calling for Century Aluminum to stop polluting the air. The decision means that DHEC will have to allow more public input before making changes to the permit for the Mt. Holly Century Aluminum smelting plant.

DHEC says it is close to concluding its investigation into the release of alumina dust coming from Century Aluminum. They will provide additional details once the investigation is fully complete.

DHEC states manufacturing facilities such as Century Aluminum are required to operate within the limits of their air quality permits and other permits. These permits exist for the purpose of protecting people’s health as well as the environment, and DHEC takes permit violations seriously.

When warranted, DHEC states it assesses civil penalties to facilities that violate the conditions of their permits.

“After filing the suit, one of the next steps will be we’d like to obtain all the records that DHEC has both prior to September of 2023 and then everything that they’ve done to investigate this,” Quinn says. “Then, through the lawsuit, we also of course would like to obtain the records that Century Aluminum has about what maintenance were they performing, why did these emissions control systems fail, why did they continue to operate the plant after they failed?”

Mt. Holly Century Aluminum has not yet provided a statement regarding the lawsuit.