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Brain cancer settlement boosts Gavers foundation

McCULLOM LAKE – The Gavers Community Cancer Foundation is set to get at least $400,000 in unclaimed funds from a settlement in the McCullom Lake brain cancer lawsuits.

A U.S. District Court order divides $815,099 plus interest among five McHenry-area nonprofit agencies. The money comes from $1.5 million paid by Modine Manufacturing Co. to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing it of causing a brain cancer cluster by polluting air and groundwater.

Steve Gavers, a cancer survivor who founded the charity in 1999 to promote cancer awareness and raise research funds, had trouble containing his excitement over the news. His volunteer-run foundation has donated more than $2.5 million to Centegra Health System, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and other groups.

“You never know what’s going to happen. I couldn’t believe what [board members] were telling me. It’s huge. Anybody could have gotten it,” Gavers said. “Man, can you believe this?”

Gavers said the foundation would reveal later next month what it planned to do with the donation.

Three former McCullom Lake next-door neighbors diagnosed with brain cancer sued Modine and chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas in 2006, claiming that decades of air and groundwater pollution from their plants in neighboring Ringwood caused their illnesses. Another family filed a class-action lawsuit to seek medical monitoring and damages for other McCullom Lake residents.

Thirty-two individual lawsuits now allege that carcinogenic vinyl chloride from the Rohm and Haas and Modine plants caused brain and pituitary tumors in McCullom Lake and the neighboring Lakeland Park subdivision in McHenry. Racine, Wis.-based Modine denies any culpability, but settled the class action by setting up a medical monitoring and property fund and settled with individual plaintiffs for undisclosed sums.

Philadelphia-based Rohm and Haas, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., continues to fight the cases in court.

Twenty percent of the remaining settlement, or about $160,000, will go to the McHenry County Community Foundation, established in 2001 to grant seed or expansion money for “unmet” county social, cultural, educational and charitable needs.

Two school foundations that raise funds for Johnsburg District 12 and McHenry High School District 156 will get 10 percent, or about $80,000 each, but must first prove to the court that they are registered as charities with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Mary Kay Losch, a board member with the McHenry High School District 156 Foundation, called the award great news.

“We are always looking for ways to find dollars to support our purpose to enhance the education process that isn’t paid for by our taxes,” Losch said.

The remaining 10 percent will go to Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a group co-founded in 2009 by McCullom Lake Village President Terry Counley to pair village residents who need help with home and property maintenance with volunteers willing to help. Counley, who called the monetary gift “absolutely awesome,” said the group is about 60 days away from getting its nonprofit tax status.

“We have a lot of things pending – a lot of people have applied for assistance, and there are a lot of things in the village waiting to be done,” Counley said.

The three groups have until the end of the year to prove their status to the court – any money unclaimed will go to the Gavers foundation, according to the court order signed Wednesday. Illinois law requires that nonprofits be registered with the Attorney General’s Office in order to receive unclaimed settlement funds.

More than 700 eligible people applied for vouchers good for up to $2,024 in medical monitoring costs, but only 114 had been used by the time the first deadline expired in August 2009. Two of the 32 plaintiffs were diagnosed through the voucher program.

The federal judge in March 2010 denied certification for the class-action lawsuit against Rohm and Haas to go to a civil trial. Her decision is on appeal in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Philadelphia state judge hearing the first of the 32 individual lawsuits abruptly ended the first trial in October and dismissed the jury five weeks into the case. He cited concerns over “changes” in the expert report of a plaintiffs’ epidemiologist, who concluded that a cluster of deadly glioblastoma multiforme brain cancer exists in the McCullom Lake area.

The state judge is deciding whether to grant the plaintiff’s motion for a mistrial or Rohm and Haas’ motion to dismiss.

By the Numbers

$815,099 is available for disbursement from a settlement in the McCullom Lake brain cancer class-action lawsuit, not including interest.

50 percent is going to the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation.

20 percent is going to the McHenry County Community Foundation.

10 percent each is going to three area nonprofits, provided that they show proof of registry with the Attorney General by year’s end.

32 plaintiffs are alleging in lawsuits that exposure to industrial waste gave them brain and pituitary tumors.

On the Net

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

To learn more about the Gavers Community Cancer Foundation, visit www.gavers.org.

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