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Rohm and Haas to pay for testing

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McCULLOM LAKE – Rohm and Haas is willing to pay for testing McCullom Lake’s air and groundwater for vinyl chloride contamination.

The manager of the company’s Ringwood plant made the offer in response to a request from County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake. The Aug. 19 letter from Plant Manager Tom Bielas offers to cover the $50,000 projected cost of testing all of the village’s private wells for vinyl chloride, as well as pay $5,000 toward testing the village’s air.

Koehler revealed the letter at Wednesday’s meeting of the County Board Public Health and Human Services Committee. He said the tentative deal would go a long way toward giving village residents peace of mind that their air and water is safe today from contamination blamed in 31 lawsuits for causing a brain cancer cluster.

“It’s a good gesture on their part, and obviously, they would like to know, as we would like to know, if there was anything that was done to the water,” Koehler said. “It’s a nice, neighborly act.”

But plaintiffs’ attorney Aaron Freiwald said he believed that the gesture was a public relations move that had little to do with public safety and a lot to do with the fact that the first lawsuit goes to trial in a Philadelphia court in about three weeks.

“I’m very skeptical of the motives of the company and the county, as this proposal comes literally on the eve of trial and more than four years after we started with all of this,” Freiwald said. “They have always had each other’s interests in mind and have not shown any sincere concerns for the people of McCullom Lake.”

The families of three former village next-door neighbors diagnosed with brain cancer filed the first lawsuits in April 2006. They allege that air and groundwater pollution from the Rohm and Haas and neighboring Modine Manufacturing plants caused a cluster of brain and pituitary cancers in the village and the Lakeland Park subdivision in neighboring McHenry. Modine settled out of court in 2008.

Rohm and Haas also is offering another $50,000 to commission an “independent expert assessment of the various theories of vinyl chloride exposure in the village.” Vinyl chloride is a colorless gas with numerous industrial uses. It is recognized as a carcinogen by international health agencies, with some studies linking it to brain cancer.

The company’s proposal requests that either county government or the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency select certified firms to do the testing “to assure that such results are both independent and credible.” But county government’s independence and credibility in the matter is severely strained.

Within a month of the first lawsuits, the McHenry County Department of Health concluded before village residents and county government that brain cancer rates in the area were not above average and that the companies’ pollution never reached village wells.

Northwest Herald investigations since 2007 have concluded that the health department’s work was rushed, scientifically unsound and biased in favor of Rohm and Haas. The health department and county government still stand by the work, but Koehler said Wednesday that the health department would have no involvement in securing the proposed testing.

McCullom Lake Village President Terry Counley applauded Koehler’s effort to ask the company for funding. But Counley said that he would prefer for the IEPA, with the village’s input, to find the testing companies because residents do not trust the county or the health department in the matter.

Counley last month began fighting for the county to pay for well testing, but officials told him that the village needed to help pay for it. He said that he was “100 percent convinced” that Rohm and Haas’ offer was a public relations move, but he also said that he welcomed the funding.

“I’m not going to turn it down – I’d be out of my mind,” Counley said. “I’ve turned over every rock to find the money to pay for the well testing. If I had the money, I’d pay for it myself.”

Rohm and Haas spokeswoman Maureen Garrity said the company’s offer was not a public relations maneuver but a response to the county’s request for assistance and a measure of the company’s commitment to public safety. She said the company sympathized with area brain cancer victims, but that testing would back up its innocence.

“Our position all along is there has been no scientific link between the cancers and what happens at the Ringwood facility,” Garrity said.

By the numbers

$50,000 – The total amount that Rohm and Haas has pledged to test McCullom Lake’s private wells for vinyl chloride at an estimated $125 per well for all 400 homes.

$5,000 – The amount Rohm and Haas pledged to test the air in McCullom Lake for vinyl chloride.

$50,000 – The total amount the company volunteered for an independent analysis of “the various theories of vinyl chloride exposure in the village.”

31 – The number of plaintiffs since 2006 who allege that pollution from the Ringwood specialty chemicals plant caused a cluster of brain and pituitary tumors in McCullom Lake and the Lakeland Park subdivision in McHenry.

On the Net

To read and watch the Northwest Herald’s ongoing investigation of the McCullom Lake brain cancer cluster, visit NWHerald.com/mccullomlake.

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