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Monsanto Reaches Settlement On Agent Orange Class-Action Suit

A proposed settlement has been reached in a big class-action lawsuit against Monsanto. The case is connected to the company's production of the controversial herbicide "Agent Orange," the defoliant the military sprayed over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

The case was filed on behalf of people who lived, worked and went to school in the small town of Nitro, West Virginia. For about two decades ending in 1971, Monsanto produced the herbicide 2,4,5-T there, which was used in Agent Orange. The lawsuit claims the company polluted the town with toxic substances, including dioxins, and asks the court to award medical monitoring for residents (more on the case here).

Charleston Gazettereporter Kate White was in the courtroom Thursday morning and tells NPR details of the settlement were not released and documents associated with the case are being kept secret.

"The judge sealed everything," says White. "You're also not allowed to ask questions because of a very strict gag order, where attorneys, the judge, any law clerks are not allowed to talk to the press."

The court issued a wide-ranging gag order in 2008 fearing pre-trial publicity would sway a local jury.

In her Charleston Gazette article White says Putnam County Circuit Court Judge Derek Swope did offer some hints about the settlement:

"The judge also raised a question about cleaning residences... Swope mentioned terms in the proposed settlement suggesting a cleanup would take place over the course of three years, and 1,500 residences would be cleaned — 29 homes a week, six per day, 750 a year. The judge asked if that would be 'feasible.'"

It's surprising to hear discussion of cleaning up properties around Nitro, WV. Earlier, the court threw out that part of the case, leaving just the medical monitoring element.

Another hearing to discuss the proposed settlement is scheduled for Friday at 1:30 PM ET.

(Jeff Brady is a reporter for NPR.)

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