With cancer being one of the biggest health scares in our country, it is frightening to think that something as seemingly innocent as a local park might be the cause of it. Whirlpool Park in Clyde, Ohio, so named because it was built by Whirlpool Corp. for its employees and their families, has been accused of being the cause of the numerous recent cancer cases which have led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to designate the eastern Sandusky County as a cancer cluster.
Tim Lagrou’s wife was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005 and died in October 2006 at the age of 23, leaving Tim and their one-year-old son. Lagrou and two other families have now filed a $750 million class action lawsuit in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court against Whirlpool Corp., the original owner of the park, and Grist Mill Creek, the company which has owned the park since 2008. The lawsuit alleges negligence on the part of the two companies which allegedly handled, disposed, and concealed toxic waste.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested soil in Whirlpool Park and found PCBs, carcinogenic toxins, buried under the basketball court and what used to be the tennis court.
The park closed in 2006 (the same year Lagrou’s wife died) as interest in the park waned. It was bought by Jonathan and Robert Abdoo of Grist Mills Creek in 2008 with the intention of building on the site.
Thomas Bowlus, an attorney for Grist Mills Creek, said the Abdoos were first made aware of toxic materials on the site after the EPA launched its investigation in 2012. According to the lawsuit though, Grist Mills Creek either already knew, or should have known about the toxic chemicals. The lawsuit alleges that the company breached its duty of ordinary care to neighbors by permitting the toxic materials to remain in the park.
The class action includes people who visited or used the park between 1953 and 2008 and anyone who owns property within 4,000 feet of the park. Information from Whirlpool is needed to determine the exact number of potential class members but the plaintiffs believe there could be as many as 1,000.
The lawsuit is seeking $25,000 for the named plaintiffs (the Ohio state maximum for compensatory damages) and $750 million in punitive damages for the entire class. Joseph Albrechta, who represents the plaintiffs in the suit, said that the $750 million number “was thought about very carefully”. According to Whirlpool’s website, they make $19 billion annually in sales, meaning the $750 million would comprise just two weeks of sales for them. For the families however, that amount would go a long way in helping them restore the financial losses incurred by the park’s toxicity.
The lawsuit is also seeking the instigation of a medical monitoring fund and a park cleanup fund.
Whirlpool has announced that it will further test the land in the spring.
At least 35 children within a 6.7 mile radius in eastern Sandusky County have been affected by cancer since 1996. Four of those children have died, although the Ohio EPA has been unable to determine a cause.
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