The lawyer representing a whistleblower who lost his False Claims Act lawsuit against DuPont chemical company said the case isn’t dead and that his client would explore other options in holding the company liable for an alleged leak of cancer causing gases.
Jeffrey Simoneaux, a 22-year employee of DuPont’s sulfuric acid plant in Burnside, La., filed the whistleblower lawsuit in 2012, alleging the company escaped paying fines for its environmental pollution by concealing the leaks from regulators.
Mr. Simoneaux’s lawsuit asserted that DuPont owes the federal government $25,000 per day for every day its plant, situated near a residential neighborhood and elementary school, leaked carcinogenic sulfur trioxide in violation of the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act. The suit estimated that the toxic leak spanned a five-month period.
According to the Times-Picayune, Mr. Simoneaux said to identify the leaks, DuPont had to shut down for a week or so and flush its system with colored gas, which allowed workers to see where the leaks were occurring, or scale back production to reduce the amount of gas seeping through the leaks.
Mr. Simoneaux claimed he cut production after detecting a leak on Feb. 1, 2012, as his supervisor had instructed him to do, but the plant manager “arrived at the plant furious, (and) overrode the decision to cut back the rates at the plant.” In private, the plant manager suggested Mr. Simoneaux would get in trouble for reporting the leaks in writing.
According to his lawsuit, Mr. Sioneaux said he chose to report the leaks in writing so that he wouldn’t be held criminally responsible for failing to report the violation.
During the nine-day trial, evidence was presented that several people had suffered symptoms associated with exposure to sulfur trioxide gas, including throat and eye irritation, but nobody had been killed or seriously injured. However, Mr. Simoneaux’s lawyer argued that “it’s just a matter of time” before someone could be seriously injured or killed at the plant.
Mr. Simoneaux’s lawyer called the verdict “a travesty of justice” and told the Times-Picayune that an appeal may be filed. He also noted that four workers were killed at La Porte, Texas, DuPont plant in November. In that case, DuPont had regularly reported malfunctions with its exhaust and ventilation system inside a pesticide plant, exposing workers to toxic fumes for years before a catastrophic release of methyl mercaptan gas killed four plant workers.