Helena Chemical Company Wins Defamation Suit
LAS CRUCES, N.M., April 8 /PRNewswire/ — A Dona Ana County jury today ruled in favor of Helena Chemical Company in its defamation suit against Arturo Uribe and awarded the company $75,000 in punitive damages based on 7 counts of defamation and injury to the company’s reputation. In its decision, the jury agreed that Mr. Uribe had repeatedly defamed the company, by stating the company caused health impacts including cancer and birth defects as well as had the potential to cause explosions. The jury also agreed that Mr. Uribe harassed employees verbally, by following them with a video camera, and by interfering with the company’s ability to communicate with the public about the nature of its operations and environmental performance.
“This ruling is very important to Helena and our neighbors — it was only without interference from Mr. Uribe’s pattern of lies that we were able to discuss the true nature of our operations,” said Louis Rodrigue, VP of Southern Business Unit for Helena. “We had the opportunity to provide factual information to a jury in open court and they agreed that Mr. Uribe has been spreading falsehoods about our operations and injured our reputation. The truth is Helena is not adversely impacting air quality, drinking water quality or the health of the citizens of Mesquite.”
In thorough testimony by company staff, local community members and officials, Helena was able to demonstrate that the air and water quality surrounding the facility are not a risk to human health. During the trial, the jury also heard and evaluated evidence that Mr. Uribe presented images that implied that Helena could cause deaths or birth defects to a community, instilling unsubstantiated and unnecessary fear.
The information shared included an independent study completed by the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health on behalf of Helena, and four years of air monitoring data from the New Mexico Environment Department and Mesquite Water District. Among the information the jury heard was the following:
- The Mesquite drinking water supply is safe. While nitrate levels in the shallow ground water near the warehouse are elevated, drinking water is not affected. The nitrate levels, in fact, are less than one-third of the nitrate levels found in the water of a nearby wetland administered by the Mesquite Water District. Nitrates are part of the human diet — a piece of bacon has double the amount of nitrates found in shallow ground water, according to expert medical testimony.
- The air quality in Mesquite is considered good according to national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. A scientific study commissioned by Helena in 2008 demonstrated the air quality around the facility was in the safe range of the EPA Air Quality Standards. The New Mexico Environment Department’s two air-monitoring sites in Mesquite showed no days during a four year monitoring period in which air quality in Mesquite was at unsafe levels.
- Helena’s operations pose no health risk to the residents of Mesquite. Based on a review by an accredited toxicologist, the jury was told there are no health risks to the community or Helena employees from warehouse operations.
In contrast, the jury also reviewed evidence of public presentations by Mr. Uribe that utilized unsubstantiated imagery to represent Helena’s operations, including images of disasters.
“The jury’s decision in this case is a win for the community in Mesquite and we hope it finally gives them the peace of mind that we are not causing health impacts as falsely stated by Mr. Uribe. The falsehoods and rumors spread over the years may have affected our reputation, but not our commitment to the community. We are grateful that we received damages because it holds Mr. Uribe accountable for his irresponsible, reckless and untruthful comments and actions,” said Rodrigue.
A portion of the damages received by the company will go to a charitable organization that services southern New Mexico.
“Today we open a new and important chapter for our operation and we look forward to continue serving our community in the same transparent way we have. Helena will not allow any individual to discredit our work nor harass our employees and make the community feel unsafe with no reason or validity,” said Rodrigue.
Facility manager Jeff Elmore concluded by saying, “this case was about stopping malicious lies that have caused harm and we are moving forward. We are confident we can have a healthy dialogue with our community and openly discussing legitimate concerns.”
SOURCE Helena Chemical Company