LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A lawsuit was filed Jan. 6 against Clark County, City of Las Vegas, Union Pacific Railroad Company and others after several people allegedly died or became sick because of where they worked.
According to the lawsuit, Clark County employees were knowingly subjected to unsafe work conditions at the Clark County Government Center near Grand Central Parkway and West Charleston Boulevard since the building opened in 1995.
The lawsuit claims that hazardous or toxic chemicals were manufactured and distributed by several companies on the land prior to the construction of the government center.
Additionally, Union Pacific Railroad, CalNev Pipeline and Kinder Morgan knowingly dumped diesel fuel on the property.
The lawsuit also claims that Clark County and the City of Las Vegas was aware of this before the government center was built in 1995.
There are 7 people listed as deceased in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs allegedly developed cancers and/or other illnesses after being exposed to chemical waste products on the property owned and controlled by the Union Pacific Railroad at their Las Vegas Rail Yard.
The development of Union Pacific’s site in Clark County began as far back as 1904 and was a mid-point stop between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
The site was developed as a maintenance hub, a fueling facility, battery shop and diesel-engine repair shop. The site comprised 320 acres bordered by Main Street to the east, Charleston Boulevard to the south, Interstate 15 to the west and U.S. 95 to the north.
The lawsuit says the railroad created a waste disposal trench and would dump contaminated bunker fuel, diesel fuel, ethanol, jet fuel, lubricants, cleaning solvents and other waste into the trench.
By 1952, the trench had become a known hazard and the railroad decided to set fire to it in 1952.
During the 1960s, Union Pacific began to shut down operation at the Las Vegas Rail Yard
Starting in the late ‘60s, the City of Las Vegas began looking at the land for development. One of the first areas purchased became the location for the Plaza hotel-casino.
The lawsuit alleges the City of Las Vegas and Clark County knew about the contamination in the 1970s and ‘80s.
In February 1985, there was a massive diesel fuel oil spill in what remained of the yard. Two leaks along the CalNev pipeline were also discovered. Both areas are adjacent to the property where Clark County constructed the government center.
The City of Las Vegas then bought the property and sold it to Clark County for the construction of the government center. The lawsuit alleges the city did not test for contamination before the sale.
The county hired a firm for testing, which recommended removing 2.5 feet of soil in some areas. Only 5% of the contaminated soil was removed, according to the lawsuit.
Another firm hired at a later date recommended additional measures but it appears that the county did not follow those recommendations.
"The building should never, ever, ever have been built, literally over a toxic waste pit of the rail yard," said Craig Mueller, an attorney representing dozens of plaintiffs in the complaint.
The Clark County Government Center opened in 1995. The lawsuit says that problems were noticed regarding workers' health and working conditions inside the building almost immediately.
Workers whose main jobs had them working in the basement of the building were getting sick and work stations would be covered with black dust and soot on a daily basis.
Complaints were allegedly filed with Clark County supervisors and were either dismissed or ignored for years.
The lawsuit also says young workers in the center for years began to get sick but the county dismissed any suggestions that it might be related to the building and no investigation was conducted.
Additionally, employees were told there was nothing toxic about the grounds where the center was constructed.
"I was the departmental systems coordinator," said Nicholas Romano, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Romano says he started working in the Clark County Government Center in April 2007.
By 2016, he began developing skin irritation and rashes.
Romano says his condition worsened and by 2019 he was suffering severe pain and discovered his spine was deteriorating and had developed other serious medical conditions.
"The damage I have sustained in my spine is permanent and irreversible," said Romano.
Mueller & Associates, who represents the 5 dozen plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, began investigating in 2019.
A toxicologist examined soot collected by an employee and linked outside found contamination to indoor exposure. A medical doctor backed up the toxicologist’s findings.
The decedents are Kim Bush, David Edwards, Marie Leggio, Patricia Porter, John Koswan, Rich Romer and Andre Kelley. The lawsuit alleges they and others were exposed, inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed “great amounts” of toxic chemicals while working at the government center.
Illness caused by the exposure includes breast and ovarian cancer, kidney cancer, liver disease, neurological disorders, chronic fatigue, gallbladder disease, Parkinson’s Disease, Fibromyalgia, Graves Disease, heart disease, prostate cancer, spine disease, abdominal pain and more.
The other companies listed in the lawsuit include:
Pharmacia & Upjohn Company
Kinder Morgan Pipeline
Kinder Morgan In.
Kinder Morgan Energy Partners
The lawsuit is asking for actual damages, punitive damages, pre-judgment and post-judgment interest, costs of the lawsuit, and all other and further relief to which plaintiffs may show themselves to be justly entitled.
13 Action News reached out to the City of Las Vegas, Clark County, Union Pacific Railroad and others for comment.
Union Pacific Railroad sent the following:
Union Pacific has not had an opportunity to review the complaint in detail. As we understand it, the claims allege exposure to certain chemicals at the company's former Las Vegas Railyard, which was sold to the City of Las Vegas many years ago. Prior to the sale, Union Pacific performed environmental work under the direction of the Nevada Department of Environmental Quality.
The City of Las Vegas also responded and said they do not comment on pending litigation.