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$750-million settlement is reached in plumbing lawsuit

Three major chemical companies agreed Monday to pay homeowners at least $750-million for allegedly faulty plumbing.

The proposed agreement, which followed months of negotiations, was reached 10 minutes after the start of a hearing on procedural issues in the lawsuit filed in 1993 against Shell Oil Co., Du Pont Co. and Hoechst Celanese Corp.

The lawsuit alleged that the polybutylene systems, which were installed in the 1980s in up to an estimated 9-million U.S. homes, leaked and caused millions of dollars of property damage.

According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of all homeowners with alleged property damage from the plumbing, consumers were never told the pipes and fittings would corrode and ultimately leak when exposed to chemicals such as the chlorine found in most U.S. drinking water.

Polybutylene is a resin product developed by Shell to make plumbing pipes. Du Pont and Hoechst Celanese helped produce resins used to make fittings for the pipes, which were promoted for their durability.

Shell attorney Daniel Hyde said the settlement is not an admission of liability by the companies.

Michael Caddell, a lawyer for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, which filed the class-action lawsuit, said, "The settlement we have reached is the largest property damage class-action settlement in history."

But the agreement could face opposition from attorneys for thousands of homeowners who have filed separate suits over the plumbing and who questioned whether the $750-million is adequate compensation.

Harris County District Court Judge Katie Kennedy reserved a ruling on whether to grant preliminary approval to the agreement.