Class Action Threat Over Perchlorate In Water Leads to Halliburton To Offer Undisclosed Settlement To 130 Plaintiffs

Halliburton has agreed to pay out an undisclosed sum to 130 plaintiffs regarding 80 properties in Duncan, Oklahoma, the location of one of Halliburton’s home bases. Perchlorate is the chemical at issue and the accusation was that Halliburton knew there were unhealthy levels of the chemical in the well water.

In 2011, Halliburton announced that ammonium perchlorate was found in residential water wells in a large area around its closed plant in north Duncan.

This area was used by Halliburton during the Cold War to wash off the fuel from spent missile casings. Ash was stored in an on-site evaporation pond and was allowed to seep into the drinking water supply of the area. Wells in the area are now contaminated with unhealthy levels of perchlorate, implying that Halliburton knew about this — or at least knew of the risk — while residents were drinking the water from their taps, and did not say anything.

While this particular case does not appear to be about oil drilling or the controversial technique of “fracking,” people are still concerned about the potential for Halliburton poisoning the drinking water in other areas due to what is known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” What is the “Halliburton Loophole”? In 2005, George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 which exempted companies engaged in oil and gas drilling — including so-called fracking — from following the regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Fracking is considered to be a high risk for the contamination of drinking water. The process involves breaking apart subterranean rock by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water and toxic chemicals into the ground. It has been reported that gas and these other chemicals end up in the drinking water, as illustrated by the many people who have filmed themselves lighting their faucets on fire as the water is turned on.

If fracking was so good why is my nose bleeding and fire coming out of my faucet? kindly Rt #uppers — Americans America (@americans4amer) June 28, 2015

There are calls to replace the 2005 Act due to it preventing big companies like Halliburton from suffering deterrent fines from the government for knowingly putting lives at risk, although class action lawsuits can potentially be successful, so long as the company being sued does not have a legal loophole preventing accountability.

HOUSTON - MARCH 27: Kellogg Brown & Root's building is shown in March 27, 2003 in Houston. Halliburton Company's building is shown. Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheney, has been given a major contract to work in the rebuilding efforts of Iraq, specifically dealing with the oil well fires and the resulting destruction.
GULF OF MEXICO - MAY 11: In this handout from NASA, an oil slick from the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling platform is seen off the coast of Louisiana May 11, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. Executives from BP, Halliburton Co and Transocean Ltd will be on Capitol Hill May 21, 2010, for a second day of questioning from lawmakers about the oil well spill off the coast of Louisiana. The well is leaking an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf.

What does exposure to perchlorate do to the body? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the thyroid that is affected most.

“Perchlorate has been known… to cause thyroid disease and the chemical is regulated under the Safe Drinking Act.”

In addition, the CDC breaks down other side-effects of Perchlorate.

  • When perchlorate enters the body it can block the thyroid gland from taking up iodine. The thyroid gland needs iodine to make the thyroid hormones that regulate how the body uses energy.
  • Deficiency of iodine or conditions that prevent its use in making thyroid hormone lead to decreased amounts of thyroid hormone circulating in the blood, which can manifest as symptoms of hypothyroidism.
  • Maintaining sufficient intake of dietary iodine is important for good thyroid health. A good source of iodine is iodized salt.
  • Only a small amount of iodized salt, about half a teaspoon per day, will supply an adequate amount of iodine.
  • Perchlorate is a chemical most commonly used in rocket fuel. The chemical is also used in explosives and fireworks. A combination of human activity and natural sources has led to the widespread presence of perchlorate in the environment.
  • People are exposed to perchlorate by drinking water or eating food containing perchlorate or by working in the manufacture of products containing perchlorate.

This is not the first time Halliburton has had to pay out a large settlement. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Halliburton agreed to pay $1.1 billion to compensate those affected by the spill and to recognize the role Halliburton played in failing to provide a cement seal adequate to keep the well from spurting out into the ocean and killing all nearby wildlife — including stocks of fish vital to the local economy — en masse.

This most recent Halliburton settlement, however, is likely to be a high-figured one as so many people are involved. The case is important because chemicals in drinking water literally poisons people, and the lack of regulation, indeed, the deregulation of Halliburton and other energy companies in the United States, means that the health of citizens is being put at direct risk for the sake of mining fossil fuels.

[Images by Spencer Platt, James Nielsen, NASA / Getty Images]