Nevada County couple sue Newmont Mining Corp., alleging health issues from toxic soil at North Star Mine property

A Nevada County couple who were caretakers at the 750-acre former North Star Gold Mine site in Grass Valley filed suit this week against property owner Newmont Mining Corp., seeking damages for alleged negative health impacts from undisclosed toxic chemicals in the soil at their home.

Shane and Heather Slattery, in a complaint filed Tuesday in Alameda County Superior Court, allege that both of their two daughters - Ashlynn, 2 1/2, and Shaylynn, 4 - are suffering from possibly lifetime neurological difficulties as a result of exposure to high levels of lead, cadmium and arsenic at the home they leased from June 2012 to May of this year from Newmont property manager Jim Simmons.

According to the Slattery's attorneys, the couple were charged rent of $1 per month in exchange for the caretaking duties, but were never informed about the unsafe levels of the chemicals.

"It is appalling that Newmont Mining Corp. rented a home to a family which the company knew was polluted, and which should never have been rented to this family," said Daniel Callahan, of the Santa Ana-based Callahan & Blaine law firm. "Newmont Mining Corp. knew that it was placing these children into harm's way; now, two little girls' lives have been forever changed because of their exposure to these chemicals."

Newmont spokesman Omar Jabara said Thursday that "at this time we have not been officially served with the claim."

While he could not comment on the allegations in the case because it is pending litigation, Jabara gave the following background:

"In 2011, Newmont purchased the (750-acre) property, which included a house," he said. "Our manager for the property knows Heather Slattery and her family through the church they both attended, and offered to rent them the house for $1 a month when she informed him they needed a place to live."

Jabara said Newmont "intends to defend against this claim seeking a financial settlement."

Callahan said the Slatterys are seeking both compensatory damages for the alleged health problems and punitive damages for the alleged improper and illegal rental, as well as attorneys' fees.

They are alleging 10 causes of action, including: landlord's failure to disclose latent defects, landlord's violation of statutory duty, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, breach of implied warranty of habitability, negligent maintenance of the premises, premises liability, maintenance of nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress and injury from intentional/reckless conduct.

Jabara said the allegations will be addressed at trial.

"These will all come out in court," he said. "We don't want to prejudge."

The lawsuit comes just four days after Nevada County's launch on July 10 of a 30-day public comment period for Newmont's North Star Water Treatment project.

The 70-acre project is adjacent to where the Slatterys lived on Allison Ranch Road, but Callahan and co-counsel Bryan Garcia said it was coincidental that the timing of the lawsuit was so close to the water treatment project public comment period.

According to Callahan and Garcia, the Slatterys were first alerted to the problems in November 2014, when they got the results of Ashlynn's routine blood test for lead given by her pediatrician.

The level was much higher than normal, according to the attorneys. In January, Newmont sent out its own experts to run tests on the soil at the caretakers' home; Callahan's firm did its own tests in February.

The attorneys claim the cadmium, lead and arsenic levels exceeded certain state and federal standards for human health.

They also claim that Newmont knew much earlier about the contamination, referring to soil samples tested as early as 2006 and as late as August 2014, when they say state authorities issued a final cleanup and abatement order.

Callahan, meanwhile, acknowledged that Shane Slattery disclosed to the attorneys that he has had a criminal record in Nevada County relating to misdemeanor charges several years ago.

He said those were "irrelevant to the current situation and would be inadmissible in any court because they would be seen as prejudicial."

In The Union archives, there are also kudos for Shane Slattery. In 2011, Shane and his wife - at that time, his girlfriend Heather Gereau - were lauded as heroes in running a massive cleanup effort at a homeless camp.

Garcia said Gereau also disclosed her criminal history, which dates back to 2003; he said that case was also not relevant to the current suit.

Garcia said the Slatterys "did everything they could to get off the property" as soon as they realized the problem, but were unable to relocate until May due to a local shortage of housing and their lack of jobs other than the caretaker positions.

In the intervening months between the times of the soil testings and their finding a new home, he said, they "minimized the risk by keeping the kids out of the home all day and making sure they weren't exposed at night by staying inside."

Garcia said the suit was filed in Alameda County because the attorneys were unable to find a California office for Newmont where they could serve the complaint.

In the case where there is no California corporate office, state law allows plaintiffs to file in any county they choose, according to Garcia.

Jabara's office for Newmont Mining Corp. is listed as being in Greenwood Village, Colo.

To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email or call 530-477-4239.

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