City of Atwater wins $63 million from lawsuit with Shell Oil Co. over tainted water

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ATWATER, California (KSEE/KGPE) – A Merced jury awarded a total of $63 million in damages Friday to the City of Atwater in a case involving water contamination by the Shell Oil Company.

The city was awarded $53 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages following a four-month trial in Merced County Superior Court, according to a statement released by the City of Atwater. The case involved the chemical 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP), an ingredient in a nematicide sold by the Houston-based subsidiary of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

“We are grateful that the jury decided in the best interests of Atwater and it’s residents,” said Atwater Mayor Paul Creighton. “The City simply cannot afford the costs of removing TCP from the City’s water, and the ratepayers should not have to bear the cost burden of the cleanup due to the actions of Shell Oil Company.”

Shell marketed the TCP-containing nematicide in the Central Valley for decades without disclosing TCP was in the chemical product, the city said. The nematicide was widely applied to agricultural lands around Atwater and the city contended that it led to Atwater’s water being contaminated with TCP.

The City of Atwater said it retained the law firm of Miller and Axline when TCP levels exceeded the 5 parts per trillion limit set by the State of California in 2018, to recoup the costs of treating TCP-laced city wells from Shell.

The law firm previously won a $22 million verdict in 2016 for the City of Clovis in a case involving TCP.

Creighton said clean drinking water is an issue far too many cities in the Central Valley must deal with. He added that 1 in 10 people do not have access to clean drinking water in Merced County alone.

“Thankfully for this verdict, we can ensure that our residents have a safe, reliable source of drinking water, and not have to face the same issues that far too many of our fellow valley residents have to face.”

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