An Illinois chemical plant is denying allegations that toxins it dumped into the groundwater in the 1960s and 1970s is linked to a cancer cluster. Rohm & Haas Chemical Co. insists that the several brain cancer cases occurring among current or former residents near their Illinois plant are an unfortunate coincidence. However, the numerous plaintiffs, some with wrongful death claims, in Branham v. Rohm & Haas Co. disagree. The case is set for trial in Philadelphia and is anticipated to be an eight to 10 week trial.
In addition to the negligence claims against the Illinois plant, the plaintiffs have also accused the company of fraud and covering up the potential dangers of their dumping practices. The lawsuit involves an eight-acre sludge pond located about 50 miles northwest of Chicago that was the dumping site of the plant’s chemicals. The sludge pond was constructed without any liner to prevent these chemicals from leaking into the groundwater. Nearby residents used well water, or groundwater, on a daily basis for everything from drinking to showering and cleaning.
According to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, the toxins in the contaminated water eventually broke down into vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, which was then released into the air whenever the contaminated water was used. While over 30 plaintiffs have individual claims filed against Rohm & Haas, each relies on the same theory of negligence – that their cancers were caused by exposure to groundwater that was contaminated by toxins dumped by the chemical plant into the unlined sludge pond.
It will be interesting to see how the jury responds to the chemical plant’s claims that there is no scientific evidence linking the vinyl chloride carcinogens to the plaintiffs’ brain cancer. It is expected that the allegations of fraud, if shown to be valid, will not earn the defendants any sympathy from the jury.
It should be noted that while the case has been brought against Rohm & Haas as the current owner of the chemical plant, the dumping was done by Morton Chemicals, the former owner. Rohm & Haas purchased the plant from Morton Chemicals in 1999, which was almost 15 years after the vinyl chloride contamination was discovered. So while Rohm & Haas were not directly involved in the groundwater contamination, as the current owner of the plant they are liable for any negligence arising from the dumping.
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