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Suit filed against BioLab

LAWRENCEVILLE - Attorneys representing more than 2,000 clients filed a lawsuit against BioLab in Gwinnett County on Thursday, the two-year anniversary of a fire at the Conyers facility that caused a plume of dangerous chemical smoke to drift over the city.

Roger Orwell, a lawyer representing about 600 of the clients, said the lawsuit was filed as a precaution. Clients who claim their health and livelihoods were negatively impacted by the fire want to be certain a two-year deadline by which a personal injury lawsuit must be filed in Georgia doesn't lapse, in case a judge elects not to grant them class-action status in another court.

In the early morning hours of May 25, 2004, a fire broke out at building 14 of the BioLab complex on Old Covington Highway in Conyers. BioLab manufactures pool and spa products and is headquartered in Lawrenceville.

The fire substantially destroyed the building, which was used to store dangerous chemicals and hazardous and toxic materials. A gas cloud containing chlorine and other chemicals drifted over Conyers and caused evacuations in portions of the city.

The appropriate venue for a trial, whether in Gwinnett, Rockdale or federal court, has yet to be determined by the judges. However, attorneys for the plaintiffs want to try the case in federal court as a class-action lawsuit.

"We believe given the diversity of jurisdiction that exists between the parties that the case properly should be heard by federal court," Orwell said. "We've had a number of hearings centering around jurisdiction. Once that issue is decided, and we feel it will be decided within the next few months, we'll proceed aggressively with discovery and trial."

No fatalities resulted from the BioLab fire, but plaintiffs allege the chemicals caused skin rashes, burning eyes or lung problems, some resulting in lasting damage to their lungs or skin.

- Staff writer Doug Sams contributed to this article.