Employee Sues Empire District Electric Co.; Lawsuit Claims Exposure to Harmful Materials at Riverton Plant

By: Jeff Lehr | The Joplin Jobe  |  September 19, 2013

A lawsuit filed this month alleges that the Empire District Electric Co. knowingly exposed employees at its power plant in Riverton to asbestos and other hazardous materials.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 13 in Jasper County Circuit Court on behalf of Empire employee Les Rider “and all others similarly situated,” seeks class-action status that has yet to be granted by the court.

A judge subsequently issued an injunction sought by the plaintiff’s attorneys, Bryan Stevenson, of Joplin, and David Marcus, of Kansas City, to prevent the company from destroying any evidence that could support the lawsuit’s claims.

Rider, a resident of Diamond who has worked for Empire since December 2006, was transferred to the Riverton plant in 2011 and began working there as an operator after having been previously employed by the company as an energy trader, according to the lawsuit. He transferred out of the plant the same year and currently works in the company’s call center.

The lawsuit alleges that, like many older power plants, Riverton had asbestos insulation around pipes, ducts and wires throughout the plant that over time began to peel and flake, exposing workers to “dangerous concentrations of asbestos fibers.”

Rider and other employees were asked to dispose of various scrap materials in the course of the plant’s recent conversion from coal-fired power to natural gas. The lawsuit alleges that the plant manager let it be known that he wanted these materials to “disappear” so that company personnel charged with environmental oversight would not find them. The document claims that the plant manager also wished to maintain “plausible deniability” if they were found.

Rider was instructed to unwind asbestos-insulated wire from spools to permit disposal of the wire and the spools in separate trash bins. He and other employees were not provided adequate training or safety equipment for handling this material and consequently were exposed to asbestos fibers, the lawsuit alleges.

The scrap materials also included electrical items containing polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which employees were asked to test by drilling, again without adequate safety equipment, the lawsuit claims. They were also asked to clean coal-fired boilers caked with coal ash without being provided protective gear. As a result, the document reads, “hazardous contaminants infiltrated Empire’s employees, their personal effects, clothing, and the food and water they ingested.”

The lawsuit claims negligence on the part of the company as well as premises liability and seeks compensatory damages “in the form of the costs associated with establishing a medical monitoring program for class members.”

The action does not specify any injuries or health consequences suffered by Rider or other employees as a consequence of the alleged negligence and exposure to potentially harmful materials.

Amy Bass, spokeswoman for Empire, told the Globe the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Plaintiffs: In a letter to Empire District Electric Co.’s attorney from one of plaintiff Les Rider’s attorneys, two other clients or potential plaintiffs are named: Ronny K. Myers and Coy L. Elsten.

Read original article here.