U.S. Water News Online
TOMS RIVER, N.J. -- A class-action lawsuit has been filed
against a chemical company blamed by many residents for contaminating
drinking water supplies.
The suit, which accuses the former Ciba-Geigy Corp. of polluting
local water supplies in the 1960s and 1970s, asks that the company's
corporate successors pay punitive damages, compensatory damages, and
medical-monitoring expenses for people who drank the water.
Filed in Superior Court, the suit cites a Feb. 29 public-health
report that concluded that residents may have been exposed to traces
of dye and nitrobenzene from Ciba-Geigy that seeped into three wells
used by the Toms River Water Co., which is now known as United Water
It names Linda S. Breen of Toms River, George D. Trustin of Forked
River, who used to live in Toms River, and Laura Piccirillo of Toms
River as plaintiffs and seeks unspecified amounts of compensatory and
All three were "exposed, via ingestion, inhalation and dermal
contact, to said contaminants," the suit said, although one of their
lawyers acknowledged that none were stricken with cancer or any other
illness they blame on the water.
The lawyer, Michael Gordon, said the suit was aimed at getting
Ciba to pay for medical monitoring since it is the one responsible
for their exposure.
"The Feb. 29 report ... confirmed many of the suspicions and
beliefs of many residents of Toms River regarding the role of
Ciba-Geigy in the contamination of groundwater, and it is time they
are held accountable to the citizens of Toms River for their
conduct," said Gordon, one of four attorneys to file the suit on
behalf of three individuals who they say represent a class of people
harmed by the chemicals.
Officials of Ciba-Geigy Corp., now known as Ciba Specialty
Chemicals Corp., could not be reached for comment.
Organic dyes, epoxy resins, and specialty chemicals were
manufactured for nearly 40 years on the site, which was formerly
known as Toms River Chemical Co. Solid and liquid waste from the
manufacturing was dumped in 20 different places at the site,
contaminating soil and groundwater.
Declared a federal Superfund site in 1982, the land has come under
increased scrutiny since 1996, when the state revealed an unusually
high rate of some childhood cancers in the town.
Between 1979 and 1995, 90 Dover Township children were diagnosed
with cancer, or about 23 more than researchers would have expected.
The state is conducting an epidemiological study in hopes of
learning whether something in the environment caused the high cancer
That study, which began in March 1996, is being made by the
federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and state
health officials. It is examining nearly 200 families -- 40 that have
children with cancer.
According to the state's Feb. 29 health assessment, which was
conducted as part of the overall study by the state and the federal
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, cancer-causing
chemicals contaminated drinking water wells in the mid-1960s.
"Although the nature and length of exposures is not known, there
is evidence that these wells were contaminated with dyes and
nitrobenzene. Dye production involved the use of a number of
chemicals, including known and probable human carcinogens," the
Linda Gillick, the mother of one childhood cancer sufferer, told
the Asbury Park Press of Neptune that she worries the lawsuit will
chill what has been a productive exchange of information between the
parties to date.
"I only hope that everything that has been needed in the childhood
cancer-cluster investigation from Ciba" has been obtained already,
said Gillick, who heads the Citizens Action Committee on Childhood
A group of 60 Dover Township families has hired lawyer Jan
Schlictmann, who won fame representing families in Woburn, Mass., who
sued W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods over water contamination. The case
was the subject of a best-selling book called A Civil Action,
which was made into a movie starring John Travolta.
But the group, which uses the name TEACH -- Toxic Environments
Affect Children's Health -- has agreed not to sue Ciba, Union
Carbide, or United Water Toms River while the companies and citizens
exchange information about the contamination.
Gordon said that in his experience, litigation works better in
getting defendants to provide information.
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