Portageville is located in both New Madrid and Pemiscot counties (screenshot courtesy of Google Earth).
Two counties in Missouri’s Bootheel suffer from cancer mortality rates drastically higher than the state or national average.
On the border between them lies a manufacturing facility in Portageville that for more than 50 years has pumped out parts for cars — and according to some residents, also released carcinogenic metals and chemicals into the local drinking water.
SRG Global Coatings LLC, the company that owns the factory, has denied any misconduct or negligence. But in recent weeks, attorneys and environmental experts have sought records from the city of Portageville, which is in both New Madrid and Pemiscot counties, and held a public forum with residents about possible exposure to toxic materials.
They filed a lawsuit earlier this year against SRG and asked the court to grant class-action status for possible plaintiffs.
“SRG has acted with complete indifference and conscious disregard for the health and safety of…class members who have been exposed to hazardous chemicals and metals that are carcinogenic and/or hazardous to human health,” says the lawsuit.
While the allegations against SRG are new, southeast Missouri is no stranger to its biggest industries causing massive environmental harm.
The region, starting just south of St. Louis and into the state’s Bootheel, encompasses the Missouri’s old lead belt, where mining and smelting operations poisoned children and left waterways contaminated. An aluminum smelter and coal plant have filled the air above New Madrid County with triple the limit of sulfur dioxide set by environmental regulators.
Seven of the 10 Missouri counties with the highest cancer mortality rates are located in southeast Missouri, including three in the Bootheel.
Filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri in February on behalf of Portageville resident Michelle Peeler and other unnamed plaintiffs, the lawsuit against SRG contends that contaminants have migrated from its manufacturing facility into the groundwater the town draws from for drinking. Those contaminants include hexavalent chromium, chromium, nickel and per- and polyfluorinated substances, or PFAS.
According to a flier from an environmental consulting group that held a town hall late last month in Portageville, those contaminants can increase individuals’ risk of developing several types of cancers, increased cholesterol, skin problems and issues with their respiratory, reproductive or gastrointestinal systems.
Already, New Madrid and Pemiscot counties suffer from cancer mortality rates 40% and 60% higher than the national average, respectively, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Peeler and other Bootheel residents allege SRG withheld information from residents about the extent of the contamination, the lawsuit says.
Initially, the lawsuit sought damages on three counts, but the judge assigned to the case dismissed a charge. It requests class action status, compensatory and punitive damages and orders from the judge requiring that SRG disclose any studies or reports it has performed related to the contamination and that SRG resolve the problem.
Neither the plaintiffs’ attorneys nor SRG and its attorneys immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday afternoon.
The lawsuit against SRG claims the company was negligent in failing to sample soil and drinking water for contamination, warn plaintiffs, prevent migration of the contamination plume and characterize and remediate the pollution. It also claims the facility has created a nuisance in the community.
SRG denied the allegations in its answer to the lawsuit, filed in April.
The company said in its filing that it did not cause any damages to the plaintiffs, has always followed regulations governing its operations, used state of the art technology and acted “reasonably, in good faith,” and with “skill prudence and diligence.”
“Plaintiff’s claims are barred, in whole or in part, because the injuries and damages alleged were not known to SRG, nor did SRG have reason to know of the alleged risk of harm,” the company’s response says.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys have issued a subpoena to the city of Portageville for a number of records, including documents related to the contamination and communications with SRG and state environmental regulators.
According to a case management order filed by Senior U.S. District Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr., the case is expected to be in discovery for more than a year and go to trial in October 2025.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.