Wal-Mart targeted by lawsuit for local PCB discovery

An Indianapolis law firm has filed suit against several entities of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., accusing the retailing giant of negligence following the discovery of a toxic carcinogen at one of its local warehouses.

Price Waicukauski & Riley LLC brought the suit in Marion Superior Court on Wednesday and is seeking class-action certification on behalf of the 600 workers at the far-east side facility on North Franklin Road. Employee Tammy Longest is the named plaintiff.

The complaint alleges negligence related to the discovery of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at the Wal-Mart-owned return center operated by the Excel staffing agency.

The center has been closed since Aug. 20, when Excel management called a meeting to inform employees, without providing a reason, that operations were being shut down, according to the suit. The workers continued to be paid.

A memo provided to employees Aug. 25 read: “Last week, Wal-Mart informed us that they learned of the specific presence of a contaminant in the facility. Preliminary data that has been shared indicated the contaminant is PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, requiring cleanup of the facility.”

The 600 employees have not been told the extent of the contamination, the length of exposure or results of inspections or evaluations of the facility, the complaint alleges.

“The failure to keep them apprised of the investigation is certainly causing a lot of anxiety,” said attorney Henry Price, who filed the suit. “They still do not know the source of the or the extent of the exposure.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove told IBJ on Thursday morning that Wal-Mart hired an environmental consulting firm immediately after PCBs were discovered. Preliminary results from tests suggest the contaminant is in the building materials, he said.

Hargrove said the company is cooperating with an investigation led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

“We will review the specifics of the complaint when we get it and will respond when it’s appropriate,” he said.

PCBs are highly toxic carcinogens that accumulate in the body. Exposure above certain levels can greatly increase risk for a number of serious and even life-threatening diseases.

The employees are seeking damages including a court-supervised PCB surveillance program that provides for medical screenings to monitor any short- and long-term effects of exposure. They are not yet seeking monetary damages.

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