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Dome Workers’ Suit Alleges City Coverup

St. Petersburg Times

Thirteen workers who say they suffered brain damage or other problems from cleaning up toxic sludge near the Florida Suncoast Dome upped the ante Tuesday in their lawsuit against the Dome’s owner.The city of St. Petersburg, and its consultants and contractor, not only “should have known” about the dangers, according to a new claim. They knew and covered up the hazard to expedite construction of the Dome.

“This was more than a mistake, or mere oversight,” said Steve Yerrid, a Tampa attorney representing the workers. “Possibly there were other motivations, maybe as simple as getting this job done by a deadline.”

Yerrid on Tuesday filed an amended version of the workers’ lawsuit in April against the city, adding plaintiffs, defendants and allegations. The amended lawsuit also names Zipperly, Hardage & Associates, an Orlando construction management firm; Huber, Hunt, and Nicolas (HHN), the Indianapolis-based general contractor; James Richard, a job site supervisor for HHN; Williams and Associates, which tested soil at the site; the Peoples Gas System, which owned the contaminated property from 1979 to 1983.

The lawsuit accuses HHN and Richard of gross negligence for failure to warn the workers of the dangers and “participating in a cover-up with the City… of the presence of the hazardous substances so as to permit and reduce expense.”

Part of the dome site was found in 1987 to contain cancer-causing sludge from a gas plant that was there until the 1960s. Two years later, workers in protective suits removed the contaminants.

The three original plaintiffs, all former heavy-equipment operators who worked on the site in 1987, have been joined in the lawsuit by 10 other workers, and 12 of the men’s wives. The men worked for one of HHN’s subcontractors.

Yerrid said between 18 and 22 men worked on the contaminated site, and that as time goes on, more have reported such symptoms as weakness, frequent infections, and loss of senses of smell, taste, and feeling in hands and feet. There is a “strong probability” the men will develop cancer or other illnesses, the lawsuit claims.

The new lawsuit charges that between 1984 and 1987, numerous water and soil samples from the site reflected high levels of hazardous substances, such as heavy metals. The city should be held reliable for any harm caused by hazardous substances, the lawsuit says, because they constituted an abnormally dangerous activity.

The lawsuit says Peoples Gas negligently removed old tanks from the site, spilling hazardous material into the soil before turning the land over the city for construction of the dome.

Williams and Associates, which tested the soil, is accused of failing to tell the city about the discovery of toxic materials.

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