Scientists working for lawyers suing Du Pont Chemicals told more than 300 Pompton Lakes (NJ) residents that contamination in their town was the same as, if not worse than, that depicted in the movie "Erin Brockovich."
The four scientists, including a physician, a cancer specialist, a hydrogeologist, and a toxicologist said the cancer rate was 16 times more than the national average among borough residents ages 18 to 65.
"Some of the reasons you are having the health problems you have is because of the contamination," said Dr. James Dahlgren, a physician at UCLA, who studied medical records of borough residents. "Something's going on in Pompton Lakes that's causing a higher incidence of cancer."
State Department of Environmental Protection officials have said the chemicals found in a municipal well -- lead, zinc, mercury, and members of the chloroethylene and chloroethane families -- all meet drinking water safety standards set by the government.
Chloroethylenes are believed to cause liver or gastrointestinal problems. Chloroethanes are known to be carcinogenic. The explosives manufacturing plant, which opened in 1902, closed in 1994.
The two-hour meeting at the Wayne Manor Inn was arranged by the Edison law office of Lombardi and Lombardi as a briefing for their clients. About 1,600 families joined a class action lawsuit four years ago against Du Pont, arguing that pollution from the chemical manufacturer caused health problems in family members and lowered property values.
A trial is scheduled to begin in early April in Superior Court in Paterson.
In 1997, Du Pont and 427 Pompton Lakes residents and former residents agreed on a $38.5 million settlement in a separate case. But executives at the Wilmington, Del., corporation have maintained that the drinking water in Pompton Lakes is safe. They said municipal wells are too far from a plume of contamination to be affected by it.
David Woodhouse, a hydrogeologist, disagreed. He told the audience that chemicals from Du Pont seeped throughout the township over decades. "I think the whole town is contaminated," he said. "I think if you drill anywhere in town, you'll find contamination."
Some Pompton Lakes residents who attended the meeting said they have been living with this for a long time.
"It's a lot that we already know about," said Angelo Ingallinesi, a Pompton Lakes homeowner since 1974. "We heard about the other lawsuit. We know people here who are sick when they've been perfectly healthy."
Virginia Docherty, who grew up in a house on the Du Pont site, agreed. "Everyone on my mother's side has had cancer, and most of them worked there," she said. "I hope this will get them to clean up the town."