Residents want water testing

More than 300 McCullom Lake residents have signed up to get their wells tested for carcinogenic vinyl chloride at Rohm and Haas’ expense.

Of 515 surveys sent out last month by village government, 325 came back wanting the free test, while only 11 responded no, Village President Terry Counley said. Rohm and Haas offered in August to pay for it, more than four years into a series of lawsuits blaming pollution from its Ringwood plant for causing a brain cancer cluster.

“I’d say it’s a very good sign. We’re all in this boat together over here, and we need the answers,” Counley said.

Counley must select a water testing company from a list of firms accredited by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Only people who signed up will get their wells tested, and Counley said he would like to get it done before winter.

Three former village next-door neighbors diagnosed with brain cancer filed the first lawsuits in April 2006, alleging that decades of seepage from a closed 8-acre waste pit fouled their air and groundwater with vinyl chloride and other chemicals.

Thirty-two lawsuits as of today blame the pollution for brain and pituitary tumors in McCullom Lake and the Lakeland Park subdivision in McHenry.

The first of the lawsuits went to trial Sept. 20 in Philadelphia and is expected to take eight to 10 weeks.

Rohm and Haas is willing to pay up to $50,000 to test McCullom Lake wells for vinyl chloride. Plant special projects manager Tom Bielas made the offer in an Aug. 19 letter responding to a request for help from McHenry County Board Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake.

Koehler began seeking outside help to investigate the situation in 2009, three years and 23 plaintiffs into the lawsuits. He did so at the behest of County Board member Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, in the wake of several of her childhood friends and older sister falling ill and joining the lawsuits. Hill grew up in Lakeland Park.

Koehler said he was enthusiastic about the number of residents who want well testing to determine whether their water is clear of vinyl chloride today.

“I look forward to seeing the results and hoping that everything is all well and clear with the wells in McCullom Lake,” Koehler said.

While county government secured the funding, it is up to Counley to arrange the testing, out of fears that no one will trust the testing if the county is in any way involved, he said.

One month after the first lawsuits, the McHenry County Department of Health concluded that local brain cancer rates were not above normal, and that contaminated groundwater never reached the village.

But Northwest Herald investigations since 2007 have concluded that the health department’s work was rushed, fatally flawed and biased in favor of Rohm and Haas, which got to review the health department’s work before its public release. Health officials still stand by their analysis.

Rohm and Haas’ offer does not apply to Lakeland Park, which has long been on McHenry city water. Bielas’ letter only offers to test McCullom Lake wells for vinyl chloride, not vinylidene chloride or trichloroethylene, which the lawsuits allege broke down into vinyl chloride.

Bielas also offered up to $5,000 to test the village’s air, and another $50,000 to commission an independent assessment of “various theories of vinyl chloride exposure” in the village. Counley said he does not plan to take Bielas up on those offers – he does not think $5,000 will cover air testing costs, and said that residents will not believe an outside analysis paid for by the company.

By the numbers

515 – The number of surveys sent out to determine how many McCullom Lake residents are interested in free well testing.

325 – The number of residents who asked for free well testing.

$50,000 – The amount that Ringwood chemical manufacturer Rohm and Haas is willing to pay for the testing.

32 – The number of lawsuits filed since 2006 blaming pollution from the plant for causing a cluster of brain and pituitary tumors in the McCullom Lake area.

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