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Published: 11/15/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

‘Toxic sludge’ discovered at park in Clyde area, cancer patients’ families shocked, lawyer says

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Steve Keller, who lost his grandson Kole to cancer, listens as attorneys discuss the EPA’s discovery of toxic sludge in the former Whirlpool Park in Clyde. Steve Keller, who lost his grandson Kole to cancer, listens as attorneys discuss the EPA’s discovery of toxic sludge in the former Whirlpool Park in Clyde.
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CLYDE, Ohio — While earlier tests revealed the presence of cancer-causing PCBs at a park for children of Whirlpool Corp. employees, attorneys for families of Clyde-area children who have contracted cancer say the latest EPA findings came out of the blue.

Soil borings conducted for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found “toxic sludge” at the former Whirlpool Park that was in some places more than 9 feet deep, said Alan Mortensen, an attorney hired by some of the families. The 27-acre park is near Green Springs, about five miles southwest of Clyde in Sandusky County.

RELATED: Site assessment report

“It’s remotely located, but where they did the boring is troubling,” Mr. Mortensen said. “First of all, it’s troubling that they would landscape a park for children using toxic sludge and then invite the kids of the county to come and play at this park for several years.”

He said the area of the park where the sludge was found “slopes down into the pond and the pond is what they used to fill the [swimming] pool every year, so they would pump the water out of the pond into the pool. That’s a big concern to the family members.”

Mr. Mortensen, a Gibsonburg native who said he swam at the pool as a child, and Dustin Lance are attorneys with Dewsnup, King & Olsen, a personal injury law firm based in Salt Lake City. They were retained about 2½ months ago by nine of the 36 or so families who have children who contracted, and in some cases, died of, cancer. All lived within a 12-mile radius of Clyde.

Simply put, they want community members to know what’s going on and they want answers.

“This community has to be made safer,” said Steve Keller, whose grandson, Kole, died of cancer. “... Nothing infuriated me more than when the state came in and said there was nothing there because I’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of hours, at the northwest EPA in B.G. I knew there was a lot there, and now we all know there’s a lot there.”

Testing done on behalf of the U.S. EPA by Weston Solutions, Inc. of Middleburg Heights, Ohio, revealed the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly known as PCBs, at unacceptable levels for residential properties and at “levels exceeding the U.S. EPA requirements for PCB spill cleanup.”

PCBs are man-made chemicals that were banned in 1979 after it was learned they cause cancer and other adverse effects on health.

Attorney Alan Mortensen is a Gibsonburg native who swam at the park's pool as a child. Attorney Alan Mortensen is a Gibsonburg native who swam at the park's pool as a child.
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Mr. Mortensen said other cancer-causing toxins were found at the park and at other dumping sites in Sandusky County that the Ohio EPA previously had said were not contaminated.

“The results of these findings is that these are all carcinogens … and can cause the cancers that we’ve seen in the children in Clyde,” he said. “PCBs are recognized as one of the most dangerous carcinogens.”

Just when the toxins were dumped at the site remains in question.

Whirlpool Corp. Spokesman D. Jeffrey Noel said the company wants answers as well.

“Since we have owned this property, and we purchased it 59 years ago back in 1953, it was a park. It has been a park since we owned it,” Mr. Noel said. “According to all our records and all our information, it has continuously been used as a park until the date we closed it and sold it in 2008.”

County records show the property was purchased in 2008 for $212,000 by Grist Mill Creek LLC, of Fremont. A company representative could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Noel said Whirlpool has tried unsuccessfully to gain access to the site to determine what compounds are present, how they got there, when they got there, and how they could best be remediated, but the current owners have not allowed them access under “reasonable terms.”

He said the property owners want Whirlpool to indemnify them of any liability if it’s found that the toxins were dumped at the site before they purchased the land in 2008.

“We’ve got 3,200 reasons to get this issue resolved. That’s our employees,” Mr. Noel said. “We’ve been in that community for 60 years, and we intend to be there for decades to come. ... We want to do the right thing for the community. We want to follow the right processes.”

Still, a U.S. EPA spokesman said in a statement on Wednesday that Whirpool will conduct an assessment at the park and said the federal agency will oversee it. No other details or a timeframe were released.

Warren and Wendy Brown show a picture of their daughter Alexa, who died of cancer at the age of 9. Mr. Brown, Sandusky County's administrator, said Wednesday he promised his daughter her death would not be in vain. Warren and Wendy Brown show a picture of their daughter Alexa, who died of cancer at the age of 9. Mr. Brown, Sandusky County's administrator, said Wednesday he promised his daughter her death would not be in vain.
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The EPA notified local officials about the agency’s preliminary sampling results and the need for further assessment at Whirlpool Park. The U.S. EPA posted the technical report online in late October.

Mr. Mortensen said neighbors, including a 62-year-old woman suffering from cancer who grew up and lived next door to the park, said they saw dumping going on when the park was owned by Whirlpool.

“We know that it was used as a dump site,” he said. “We know from witnesses that have called the hot line that it was during the time that Whirlpool owned the park and that it was intentionally put there and used for landscaping at the park.”

Mr. Mortensen said some of the affected children played at the former park, but that does not seem to be the primary link.

“There is not a common denominator with the children but the super majority of the mothers of the children swam there, lifeguarded there, played there,” he said.

He said that prompts him to question whether the PCBs were passed from the women when they were pregnant through the placenta to their children before they were born.

Mr. Mortensen said the families hope that by working with federal officials they can finally get some answers. Whether that leads to litigation is unknown at this time, Mr. Mortensen said, although it could take a lawsuit for them to gain access to some information.

When asked where the new information leaves things in his mind, Sandusky County Administrator Warren Brown held up a picture of his 9-year-old daughter, Alexa, who died in 2009 after battling cancer.

“I’m not going to make any comments, but I want you to focus in on that,” he said. “We’re going to get some answers. When Alexa lay on her death bed, I told her her death would not be in vain. We are going to get some answers.”

The lawyers have set up their own hot line for residents to call with information: 419-552-1988.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-724-6129.



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