In 1980, the Brafford family of Edgemont learned their house, or the land around it, was probably giving them cancer. That’s what they claimed in a lawsuit against Susquehanna Corporation, the Chicago company that ran Edgemont’s uranium industry.
Before the Braffords moved in, someone used sand-like radioactive tailings from the mill owned by Susquehanna’s subsidiary, Mines Development, as fill material around the home’s foundation. The tailings gave off potentially cancer-causing radiation far in excess of regulatory limits.
Susquehanna tried to get the Braffords’ lawsuit tossed out. When that didn’t work, the giant holding company paid the family to drop it.
That was 1984. The same year, the author of a Life magazine story on Edgemont claimed the amount of the settlement was “believed to be in excess of a quarter of a million dollars.”
Andrew Reid, who was a member of the Braffords’ legal team and was quoted in the Life story, remembers the reaction of the Susquehanna lawyers.
“They were yelling bloody murder on that one,” said Reid, of Colorado, in a recent interview with the Journal. “They were afraid everybody in Edgemont was going to sue them.”
So, two months after the Life article was published, Susquehanna Corp. dragged the parties back before a judge who granted a petition to put a confidential seal on the settlement agreement.
The flood of additional litigation feared by the company never materialized. By the time another Edgemont family, the Bollwerks, sued Susquehanna in the early 1990s, claiming the company concealed information about the health risks associated with working in the mill, the corporation had divested itself of the subsidiaries that owned the mill and associated mines. Thus, a judge ruled, Susquehanna could not be held liable and the lawsuit was thrown out.
Few other legal challenges to Susquehanna were ever mounted, which meant the Brafford settlement was perhaps the only time that the holding company was held accountable for the radioactive waste, abandoned mines and human health risks it dumped on Edgemont after nearly 20 years of dominating the town’s uranium industry, and taking big profits from the minerals in the land and the people who dug them up.
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