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By  | March 15, 2009 | 0 Comments | Filed under: About Trichloroethylene (TCE)

Did chemical exposure cause cancers for McCullom Lake residents?

The chemicals listed in the McCullom Lake brain cancer lawsuits sound more like tongue twisters or the stuff of science fiction than health hazards.

However, the existence of vinyl chloride, vinylidene chloride, and trichloroethylene in groundwater flowing from two Ringwood manufacturers is not fiction, but fact. Vinylidene chloride, also known as 1,1-DCE, has been traced to the closed landfill at Rohm and Haas, and trichloroethylene, or TCE, has been traced to Modine Manufacturing Co.’s closed disposal pit.It also is scientific fact that both chemicals, which do not occur naturally, break down into vinyl chloride, which studies since the 1960s have tied to certain cancers.
Vinyl chloride is not something you would want to ingest. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer list vinyl chloride as a known human carcinogen. The EPA sets the minimum safe level in drinking water at zero – in short, no amount is safe.
But does vinyl chloride cause brain cancer? The answers fall along predictable lines in the lawsuits.

To the defendants’ attorneys and the experts they have retained, such as Duke University neuropathologist Dr. Darrell Bigner, vinyl chloride can be linked to other cancers, such as extremely rare liver angiosarcoma, but its link to brain cancer is inconclusive.
“It is my opinion that the [chemicals in the lawsuits] would not cause brain or pituitary [tumors] in humans even after lifelong exposure to maximum tolerated doses,” Bigner wrote in his report in support of the defendant companies.
The absence in the village of cases of liver angiosarcoma, of which only a handful are reported in the U.S. each year, is proof that vinyl chloride never reached McCullom Lake residents, defense toxicologist Dr. James Whysner said.
“If [vinyl chloride] were causing cancer in McCullom Lake Village, it would be a cluster of liver cancers not brain cancers … the evidence has been deemed sufficient by Federal agencies that VC causes liver cancer, whereas the evidence for brain cancer has been characterized as weak and inadequate,” Whysner wrote.
Experts retained by plaintiff attorney Aaron Freiwald have cited years of studies of vinyl chloride workers in North America and Europe as proof that vinyl chloride causes brain cancer. Furthermore, Freiwald does not hesitate to cast doubt on studies that contradict. In one 1991 study cited by defendant experts, the epidemiologist publicly recanted his conclusions that vinyl chloride can cause brain cancer after the study’s funder – the Chemical Manufacturers Association – objected.
To date, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry lists brain cancer as a possible effect of vinyl chloride exposure.Dr. Gary Ginsberg, a toxicologist retained by Freiwald, has concluded that residents were exposed to vinyl chloride over decades. But much of that exposure was not drinking it, but inhaling it – because vinyl chloride rapidly evaporates, Ginsberg said victims breathed it in as they drank, showered and bathed.“[Vinyl chloride] air concentrations inside McCullom Lake Village homes for a 25-year period are estimated to be, on average, well above regulatory thresholds of concern … in other words, the air concentrations estimated for McCullom Lake Village homes are far above the levels regulatory bodies would consider safe and would likely be mitigated,” Ginsberg wrote in a July 2007 report.But other experts said the jury still was out on whether vinyl chloride definitively causes brain cancer. Dr. James Ruffer, radiation oncologist at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, said modern medicine still did not know much about why people got brain cancer. Ruffer is not involved in the litigation.“Besides ionizing radiation and some very rare genetic causes, the jury is out as to what causes brain tumors in people,” Ruffer said.But to Dr. James Dahlgren, a nationally known environmental toxicologist not involved in the litigation, the jury is in, and vinyl chloride is guilty as charged.

Dahlgren was invited by Centegra Health System to address vinyl chloride’s toxicity, specifically because of the McCullom Lake cases, at an Oct. 24 symposium on neurology.

“To say that the jury is out on brain cancer and vinyl chloride is wrong,” Dahlgren said. “And I can say that because there are lots and lots and lots of studies.”

Although Dahlgren steered clear of assigning any culpability to either Rohm and Haas or Modine, he said that vinyl chloride from the breakdown of volatile organic compounds would be a prime suspect in the illnesses.“If there was exposure, it certainly is one of the most likely candidates,” Dahlgren said.

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Putting a face to this Nightmare



Modine Manufacturing tentatively has settled out of court in the McCullom Lake brain-cancer cases agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum to the 22 plaintiffs and $2 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.
If approved by a U.S. District Court judge, the settlement announced Friday would end Modine’s financial liability in the lawsuits, which tied pollution from its Ringwood manufacturing plant to brain-, nerve- and pituitary-cancer victims. That would leave Rohm and Haas, which operates a plant just north of Modine’s, and subsidiary Morton International as the only remaining defendants.
Modine does not, in any way, admit liability with the settlement, said James Rulseh, vice president of the company’s American operations. The lawsuits alleged that Modine contaminated groundwater and air with trichloroethylene, a chemical used as an industrial-strength degreaser, which in turn broke down into carcinogenic vinyl chloride





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