Cancers caused by playing in 'Dead Creek,' other exposures, suit claims

Kelly Holleran Jan. 19, 2010, 5:00am

Four people who have either been diagnosed with cancer or who have had spouses die from the disease filed a lawsuit against five corporations, saying their illnesses were caused because of the companies' wrongful release of chemicals into the ground.

Both plaintiffs, Robert Pennington and Cleveland Rives Sr., claim their spouses, Cynthia Pennington and Susie M. Rives, died of biliary tract cancer because they were exposed to PCB, dioxins, furans and other hazardous substances after they lived and played near defendants Solutia's, Pharmacia Corporation's, Pfizer's, Monsanto AG Products' and Cerro Flow Products' facilities.

The two remaining plaintiffs – Patricia Rush and Lawrence Willis – say they, too, developed cancer. Rush claims she developed biliary tract cancer after growing up near the defending companies' premises while Willis claims he was diagnosed with brain cancer after he played in Dead Creek and ate fish caught from bodies of water near the defendants' facilities.

Because of their exposure to the chemicals, the plaintiffs say they or their deceased spouses suffered physical pain and mental anguish and incurred medical costs and lost wages.

According to the complaint filed Jan. 8 in Madison County Circuit Court, Pennington and Rives have been deprived of their wives' services, society, companionship, comfort, instruction, guidance, counsel, support, love and affection. In addition, they incurred funeral and burial costs, the suit states.

Plaintiffs argue that three release sites - a 90 acre landfill operated by Sauget and Co., a 314-acre W.G. Krummrich Plant and property owned by Cerro Flow Products - have released PCBs and other various substances, including dioxins and furans, since Monsanto began operations in 1917.

"It has been known for many years that PCBs, dioxins, furans and other chemicals discharged into the environment by Defendants create a health hazard," the suit states.

The chemicals released by the defendant companies discharge into surface waters, including the Dead Creek, resulting in the contamination of soil and dust. They are also discharged into the air and have migrated into adjoining neighborhoods exposing the plaintiffs to cancer-causing properties, the suit claims.

Cerro, which owns land adjacent to the Monsanto Facility, recycles copper. Part of that work entails scrapping PCB transformers, draining wastewater and PCB oil into the Dead Creek and landfilling substances on its facility. In turn, those activities cause large quantities of the toxic substances to be released into the environment, according to the complaint.

At Sauget and Co., millions of tons of the toxic substances were disposed of in its landfill, residents allege.

The combined activities of the three companies released the deadly substances into the environment through smokestack emissions, wind erosion, smoke from fires in waste piles and airborne releases, according to the complaint.

In their seven-count suit, the plaintiffs allege negligence, wrongful death, strict liability, battery, nuisance and willful and wanton misconduct.

They are seeking general and punitive damages of more than $300,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Richard L. Saville Jr., Ethan A. Flint, D. Todd Matthews and Andrew J. Balcer of Saville and Flint in Alton and Lon Walters and Christian DiMartino of The Walters Law Firm in Kansas City will be representing them.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 10-L-18

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