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Published: Wednesday, 9/4/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

CANCER CLUSTER IN CLYDE

Whirlpool sees lawsuit by residents as ‘reckless'

Company files motion to dismiss class action

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Representatives from AECOM, HzW Environmental, and the U.S. EPA look at the samples and send sections to independent labs. Representatives from AECOM, HzW Environmental, and the U.S. EPA look at the samples and send sections to independent labs.
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Whirlpool Corp. has fired back at a group of 27 eastern Sandusky County residents devastated by the cancer diagnoses of their children, calling their attempt to pin the blame on the company a “reckless disregard for the facts” that is “unfounded and irresponsible.”

In a motion filed last week in U.S. District Court in Toledo to dismiss a federal class-action suit brought by relatives of victims in May, Whirlpool claimed it has been singled out simply because it is the largest employer in Clyde, Ohio, where the investigation into the mysterious eastern Sandusky County cancer cluster began several years ago. The investigation was expanded to include most of eastern Sandusky and a small part of northern Seneca counties.

The corporation’s lawyers claimed the suit is “nothing more than a request to launch an enormous fishing expedition and an attempted end-run on the rigorous analyses applied by the governmental agencies that already have looked for and been unable to find the cause of the alleged increased childhood cancer rates.”

The Ohio Department of Health has stated repeatedly, though, that the childhood cancer cluster in that part of the state is confirmed — not alleged — and that it has been caused by an unknown pollutant in the environment. That agency and others remain baffled about the type of pollutant and the most likely pathway of exposure.

Alan Mortensen, a Utah attorney representing the families, called Whirlpool’s motion “a procedural tool that is almost always used by big companies in hopes that the victims would not be allowed to conduct discovery, obtain important documents, depose key witnesses, and ultimately hold wrongdoers accountable.”

One of the plaintiffs, Sandusky County Administrator Warren Brown, who lost his 11-year-old daughter, Alexa, to cancer in 2009, called the exchange of words “all part of the process.”

Whirlpool Park which is closed to the public. Whirlpool Park which is closed to the public.
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A Web site Whirlpool has created to present its side of the cancer investigation, whirlpoolforclyde.com, states the company has taken its responsibility seriously as an employer of more than 3,000 area residents. The Web site said Whirlpool has been in the Clyde area 60-plus years.

In a statement about its motion, Whirlpool said it empathizes with families of children who have become sick or died.

But it claims the lawsuit filed by the 27 residents — one of two stemming from the cancer investigation — makes allegations “that are not based in any scientific or medical fact, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ reckless disregard for the facts can create unwarranted stress and fear in the Clyde community.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiff attorneys raised questions about a chemical compound found in attics of at least five homes within a mile of Whirlpool’s plant. They also cited concerns about toxins found earlier at the former Whirlpool Park south of Clyde, as well as other potential exposure pathways.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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