2006-01-20 / Front Page

Plaintiffs settle for $30 million

By Daniel Wolowicz danielw@theacorn.com

Aerospace giant Boeing Co. agreed to pay $30 million to settle an eight-year-old lawsuit brought by 133 plaintiffs who claim that pollution created by 50 years of nuclear and rocket engine testing at the Santa Susana Field Lab in the Santa Susana Hills caused a number of illnesses, according to one of those plaintiffs.

Although the settlement was reached in late September—the day after jury selection was set to begin—a confidentiality agreement between Boeing and the plaintiffs kept the terms of the agreement private.

Margaret Ann Galasso, a plaintiff in the case, made the settlement public in early January because she was upset that lawyer fees would cost plaintiffs more than 60 percent of their settlement awards.

“I don’t care about the entire settlement,” said Galasso, who now lives in Florida. “That’s not the reason I’m upset. The reason I’m upset is Barry Cappello got $20 million, and we, the plaintiffs, got stiffed.”

Phone messages left by the Thousand Oaks Acorn for Barry Cappello, a partner with Santa Barbara-based law firm Cappello and Noel and the attorney who handled the case, were not returned.

Ingar Hodgson, a Boeing spokesperson, said she would not comment on any aspect of the settlement because of the confidentiality agreement. Galasso, 52, said she lived in Van Nuys from 1980 to 1999, during which time she responded to an open letter sent to everyone in her apartment building seeking residents who had possibly been contaminated by pollutants coming from the test field.

While living in Van Nuys, Galasso was diagnosed with uterine cancer and was added to a growing list of San Fernando and Simi Valley residents claiming that their illnesses were caused by radioactive and toxic pollution.

Galasso was awarded $85,700. But the 60 percent cut for legal fees left her with about $35,000, which she said would not be enough to cover her mounting health insurance costs.

“It’s not going to cover anything,” Galasso said. “I am going to wind up paying.”

Galasso contends that she did not sign a confidentiality agreement, and she has “not taken one penny.”

According to the Daily News article that first reported the story, attorney fees totaled some $10 million, while research and case expenses came to about $8 million. The remaining amount, $12 million, is set to be divided among the plaintiffs.

Money will be divided based on a number of factors, including age and severity of illness.

A key argument in the case against Boeing was an earlier U.S. District Court finding that a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor core in 1959 on the field lab may have released 260 times more radiation than the 1979 meltdown at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island.

The recent settlement disclosure is one of a number of problems for Boeing concerning the test field.

Known as the Rocketdyne test site, the 2,600-acre parcel was used by Rocketdyne, the Defense Department, NASA and the Energy Department to conduct rocket, missile and nuclear testing for nearly 50 years.

In mid-November, a federal grand jury began investigating Boeing for allegedly breaking environmental laws due to waste runoff water from the site.

Later that month, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a cleanup and abatement order, demanding that Boeing not only stop discharging contaminated runoff water but also detail how they plan to clean up their site in order to avoid future violations.

Shortly afterwards, the regional water board issued a cease and desist order, which forced the company to stop water runoff until they meet state and federal regulations for runoff water.

In October, U. S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wrote a letter to Barbara Riordan, interim chair for the California Air Resources Board, asking for an air quality report after the Topanga fire scorched more than 2,000 acres of the field earlier that month. Feinstein was concerned the blaze released toxins that exposed firefighters, as well as area residents, to unhealthy air.

Worried about potential health problems caused by possible toxins released by the fire, officials with the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Association are asking area firefighters to seek X-rays and other medical tests to detect any latent breathing problems.

Boeing and the U.S. Department of Energy officials have since reported that no airborne or ground contaminants unique to fires were released into air by the Topanga blaze.

Return to top