- Associated Press - Friday, June 27, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Two North Carolina congressional leaders introduced legislation Friday they say will help people exposed to contaminated water near a closed Asheville factory and a Marines Corp base.

Sen. Kay Hagan and U.S Rep. G.K. Butterfield said their measure would pre-empt states from limiting the timeframe in which damages can be recovered for injuries in pollution lawsuits.

The federal legislation is in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that halted an Asheville lawsuit. The ruling also is being used by the federal government to try to stop a lawsuit involving contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.

“Those who release harmful substances into the environment have a responsibility to clean up contamination and address any suffering they have caused,” Butterfield said. “This bill protects federal Superfund law as we know it, holds polluters accountable, and defends the rights of communities in North Carolina and across the country.”

Superfund is the name given to the environmental program established to address abandoned hazardous waste sites.

Citing a state law barring any lawsuit brought more than 10 years after any alleged contamination occurred, the Supreme Court ruled Asheville residents couldn’t sue nearby electroplating business CTS Corp. for contamination that ended in the 1980s. U.S. Justice Department attorneys then asked a federal appeals court to dismiss a lawsuit blaming contaminated tap water at Camp Lejeune, citing the Asheville ruling.

Hagan said the Supreme Court’s ruling “delivered a major blow to the service members and families affected by the water contamination at Camp Lejeune and the CTS site, making it nearly impossible for these victims to seek justice under the law.”

Earlier this month, North Carolina legislators changed the state law. Lawmakers say the 10-year period shouldn’t be interpreted as barring personal-injury cases involving certain groundwater contamination.

Gov. Pat McCrory signed the law last week, but the General Assembly gave final legislative approval Thursday to update the new law that clarified time limits for filing personal injury lawsuits in state courts.

Legislators said more clarification was needed to show that the 10-year “statute of repose” wasn’t intended to apply to lawsuits alleging tainted groundwater ultimately made people sick. The update also says the product liability cases aren’t affected.

This updated bill now goes to McCrory.

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