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Published: Friday, 3/29/2013

SANDUSKY COUNTY

Class-action suit alleges cancer cluster, park ties

Filing blames Whirlpool for toxins

BY VANESSA McCRAY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
The suit against Whirlpool blames area cancer cases on polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at this old park near Green Springs. The suit against Whirlpool blames area cancer cases on polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at this old park near Green Springs.
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FREMONT — A class-action lawsuit filed Thursday in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court alleges a link between a northwest Ohio cancer cluster and toxins found at a former Whirlpool Corp. park.

The suit against Whirlpool blames area cancer cases on polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at the old park near Green Springs.

It seeks punitive damages of $750 million for 10 named plaintiffs in the Green Springs and Clyde area, as well as other class members, including everyone who died from exposure to PCBs or other toxins in a cancer cluster region defined in the suit as including parts of Sandusky, Ottawa, and Erie counties. It also seeks compensatory damages of more than $25,000 for each plaintiff and other class members.

“Now is the time to initiate a lawsuit. Now is the time to begin to answer these serious and important questions,” said attorney Joe Albrechta, of the Fremont and Toledo law firm Albrechta and Coble, which filed the suit, at a Thursday news conference.

The suit states Whirlpool “knew or should have known that dumping” or allowing toxic materials at the park “would injure its neighbors.” Grist Mill Creek LLC of Fremont, listed as a defendant, purchased the park property in 2008.

The suit alleges Grist Mill Creek “failed to decontaminate” the site. One of the company’s principals, Jonathan Abdoo, had planned to build a home there but those plans were halted after the contamination was discovered, attorneys previously reported.

Whirlpool spokesman Kristine Vernier said in a written statement the company is reviewing the lawsuit and is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to address issues at its former park.

“As a member of the community for over 60 years, with more than 3,000 employees in the area, we are also very interested in figuring out the facts behind this ongoing issue,” the statement said.

A reporter’s request for an interview was denied.

At least 35 children in the cluster area have been diagnosed with cancer; four of those children have died. Last year, the U.S. EPA found elevated levels of PCBs, considered probable human carcinogens, at the park. Ohio Department of Health spokesman Tessie Pollock said there’s been no cause or specific site linked to the cancer cases.

Grist Mill Creek attorney Tom Bowlus denied liability, called the suit “premature,” and said it does not establish a connection between the park site and cancer cases.

“They haven’t shown that anyone was exposed to it or how it would cause cancer in anybody, much less the plaintiffs,” he said.

The property owner has cooperated with Whirlpool as well as state and federal agencies to assess site contamination, Mr. Bowlus said.

The class-action suit is not connected with the work of Alan Mortensen, a Salt Lake City attorney who represents 12 clients from the area, including families who have lost children to cancer. He has not filed legal action, but the families hired an environmental consultant to try to determine the cancer cluster’s cause.

Mr. Mortensen said his clients have no involvement with the suit.

Attorney John Coble, of Albrechta and Coble, said his clients wanted to initiate the suit now and also “get to the bottom” of the problem and fix it as best as it can be fixed. More answers and information will come through the discovery process as the court case progresses, he said.

Among the plaintiffs is Tim Lagrou of Fremont, whose wife Christina died in 2006 at age 23 from large cell lymphoma, the suit states. Mrs. Lagrou visited and was raised near the former park, and her mother used the park while she was pregnant with Mrs. Lagrou, according to the suit. It alleges her death is the result of exposure to toxic chemicals at the park.

Mr. Lagrou said she was in good health until less than a year before her death.

“It just kind of hit me, maybe this had something to do with it,” he said at the news conference for the suit. “The whole time she was sick, she would ask me why.”

The class-action suit seeks to include those who have been harmed by exposure to PCBs or other toxins, those who visited the former park between 1953 and 2008, and those who own nearby property. The suit also asks for the creation of medical monitoring and cleanup funds.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.



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