Alabama town triumphs in DDT cleanup case

The South's version of a Love Canal pollution story has just opened a new chapter - one federal officials hope will be the last.

It's a story of Triana, Ala., a small, poor community near the Tennesse River where fishing is a way of life but where for years the waters have been heavily contaminated with DDT. The now-banned pesticide was manufactured until 1970 at a privately run plant on the Redstone Arsenal at nearby Huntsville, Ala.

It's also a story of years of finger-pointing over who would pay for the cleanup costs of the land and water contaminated with DDT.

Now the one-time manufacturer, Olin Corporation of Stamford, Conn., has reached an agreement with the Justice Department to settle all the related outstanding lawsuits against the company by paying some 1,100 plaintiffs in the Triana area a combined total of about $24 million, including funds for continuing health monitoring programs and by paying to clean up the DDT-contaminated area and prevent further spread of contaminated fish and water.

An Olin spokesman says the company expects to pay ''less than $10 million'' on the cleanup effort. But the federal government has not put a price tag on it. The final figure may be closer to the $89 million estimate a federal-state task force came up with earlier.

But some questions remain: How will the government use DDT/health data gathered at Triana? Is the personal compensation adequate? And will the estimated 837 tons of DDT still in the area be isolated to the point that levels of DDT in fish and wildlife in that part of the state are considered safe?

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