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Kickstarter campaign starts for McCullom Lake brain cancer documentary

The filmmaker who is wrapping up a year of shooting on a documentary about the McCullom Lake brain cancer cases has started a Kickstarter campaign to help cover post-production costs.

The campaign for the aptly-titled documentary “McCullom Lake” also includes a trailer, although no release date has been set. Filmmaker Nathan Delack said the funds collected through the online crowdfunding platform will help with the film’s completion, publicity and distribution to film festivals and other venues. Delack has set a 30-day fundraising goal of $35,000.

“I’ve always wanted to produce a documentary that would do a few things – it would bring attention to some sort of injustice, a story out there that needs to be told, and that by producing the documentary we would affect some sort of change,” Delack said.

Thirty-three people filed suit against the Rohm and Haas specialty chemical plant in neighboring Ringwood, alleging that decades of air and groundwater contamination from the plant caused a cluster of brain and pituitary tumors in McCullom Lake and the Lakeland Park subdivision in McHenry.

The first three lawsuits in 2006 were filed by three former McCullom lake next-door neighbors who contracted brain cancer within a short period of time. Two of them had a brain tumor so rare that it should only appear once in a population of 300,000 like McHenry County.

Rohm and Haas – since 2009 a subsidiary of Midland, Michigan-based chemical giant Dow Chemical Co. – acknowledges that a plume of vinyl chloride and other volatile organic compounds have leaked into groundwater from years of dumping by the plant’s previous owners into an 8-acre unlined waste pit. However, the company vehemently denies that pollutants reached or sickened neighbors. Past and present owners of the plant have been working for the past two decades to clean up the contamination plume.

Rohm and Haas settled out of court with the plaintiffs late last year, shortly after the first of the 33 plaintiffs was set to get a new trial after a four-year delay.

The original lawsuits also named the neighboring Modine Manufacturing plant, alleging that its contribution of trichloroethylene to the plume made it culpable for illnesses. Racine, Wisconsin-based Modine settled with the plaintiffs in 2008 for undisclosed amounts. The plant, which manufactures heat-transfer products, is in the process of closing, with the loss of 135 full-time jobs.

The lawsuits caused controversy from the start in the small village of 1,000 people. Many in McCullom lake worried about their safety and their property values, and others were skeptical about the allegations and the lawsuits’ merits. Plaintiffs also felt like they had to fight two battles – one against the chemical company and the other against a county government and health department that they alleged sided with business over sick constituents.

Air and water testing paid for by Dow, secured at the insistence of a village president tired of government mishandling of the situation, has found no traces of any contaminants known to have come from the Ringwood plants.

Delack said the film will help reach out to people who used to live in the area but moved away years ago and are unaware of the situation.

“By releasing ‘McCullom Lake,’ we’re hoping that more people find out what was happening,” Delack said.

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