Kamis, 03 Januari 2008

Locals want more from IBM for pollution (AP)

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. - Residents and businesses in central upstate New York sued IBM Corp. for more than $100 million Thursday saying pollution from the company's former microelectronics plant in Endicott endangered people in the area.

The state Department of Health has documented higher rates of certain cancers and heart defects in areas affected by pollution south and southwest of the former plant, although health officials have been unable to pinpoint a cause for the illnesses.

IBM began negotiating in 2004 with the plaintiffs, who rejected IBM's offer in November of $3 million to settle more than $100 million in claims.

An underground plume of trichloroethylene first detected in 2003 has penetrated nearby homes and shops as a toxic vapor, said Gerald Williams, one of the attorneys for the 94 plaintiffs.

Exposure to TCE, a metal cleaning solvent, has been linked to illnesses ranging from kidney cancer to brain damage. When exposed to water, TCE turns to a vapor that can travel through the soil and enter basements or houses through cracks in the foundation.

"IBM, with the guidance and direction of the government, is taking steps to do what it can to correct some of these problems. But this is a lawsuit for compensation. These chemicals were in the ground and the air for decades," Williams said.

As a "sophisticated scientific business entity," IBM had the scientific expertise to know that the chemicals it used and discarded would endanger residents of the region known as the Southern Tier, according to the complaint.

The 43-page lawsuit claims IBM behaved "wrongfully, wantonly and recklessly with conscious indifference and disregard to the health and safety" of local residents.

IBM said it would fight the lawsuit.

"As we explained to plaintiffs' lawyers before they filed this case, these suits have no basis in science or law, and IBM will defend itself vigorously," the company said in a statement.

IBM operated a plant at the site from 1924 until it sold the property in 2002, producing circuit boards, integrated circuits, computer systems and other information technology products.

Under a cleanup required by state regulators, IBM has built hundreds of extraction and investigation wells since 1979 to monitor groundwater pollution in the Southern Tier.

After the vapors were detected, the company installed ventilation systems in more than 440 properties, mostly homes. IBM said it also has paid local homeowners another $2.2 million under a program negotiated by the state attorney general's office

Williams said none of the remediation can completely protect residents. So the lawsuit seeks to compensate them.

Residents have suffered permanent physical, emotional and developmental injuries; they have incurred medical, hospital and other health care expenses; and they have experienced loss of income, wages, employment benefits, diminished quality of life, and limitations in their ability to enjoy life as a result of the exposure, according to the lawsuit.

The suit details each plaintiff's allegations, including those of nine cancer victims and three children with congenital heart defects, Williams said.

Attorneys are organizing nearly 1,000 potential plaintiffs into at least five more groups to file claims in coming months, Williams said.

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