The city of Pomona, California won its 10-year lawsuit against the U.S. subsidiary of a Chilean fertilizer manufacturer for contaminating the city’s drinking water in a ruling on Sept. 7.
On Jan. 27, 2022, U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner denied the request for a new trial brought by the defendant, a U.S. subsidiary of Sociedad Química y Minera de Chile, also known as SQM North America Inc, reported The Daily Bulletin.
The defendant sold Chilean fertilizer used in the area’s citrus orchards, which contained the toxic chemical perchlorate. The jury found fertilizer shipped from the Atacama Desert of Chile in the 1930s and 1940s and mixed into the soil of Pomona’s fertile ground.
After three trials, a federal jury in Los Angeles awarded Pomona $48 million to pay for the damages associated with drinking water contamination, reported The Daily Bulletin.
The state declared perchlorate a contaminant and set a maximum level of 6 parts per billion in 2007 and Pomona had to close 14 wells, which pumped the perchlorate-contaminated water from the aquifer, part of the Chino Water Basin.
The judge said the jury's liability finding was supported by the evidence.
“We are pleased with Judge Klausner’s ruling,” said Ken Sansone, of SL Environment Law Group, who represented the city at trial. “It is time for the company that caused the contamination to pay to clean up the mess it made. The city of Pomona is to be commended for fighting for over a decade to make sure that the polluters, not the taxpayers of Pomona, pay to clean up the perchlorate in the drinking water and that Pomona’s citizens have clean and healthy water to drink.”
SQM may still appeal the ruling. According to SQM, the company should not be held liable for risks unknown to them in the 1930s and 1940s, although they did remove percholate from its fertilizer before selling it after a certain point.