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Lawsuit blames Whirlpool for cancer cluster

Tom Jackson • Mar 29, 2013 at 8:30 PM

Attorneys Joe Albrechta and John Coble filed the suit Thursday in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Tim Lagrou, of Fremont, and his son, Hayden Lagrou. Tim Lagrou’s wife, Christina Lagrou, was 23 when she died of cancer in 2006, the suit says.

Other plaintiffs in the suit include members of the Gill and Strayer families, including Alex Gill, a boy who the suit says suffered neurological damage from toxic substances at Whirlpool Park.

The suit says Christina Lagrou was born and raised within 1,500 feet of Whirlpool Park and her mother used the park, including when she was pregnant with Christina. Members of the Gill and Strayer family live within 1,500 feet of the park. The suit blames Christina Lagrou’s cancer and other cancer cases in Clyde on toxic substances allegedly dumped at Whirlpool Park.

The court documents also note that U.S. EPA testing at the park last year showed the presence of PCBs and metals and a layer of dirty sludge. The suit, assigned to Judge John Dewey, seeks class action status to represent many people in the Clyde area.

Defendants in the lawsuit are Whirlpool; Grill Mill LLC, the current owner of the former park; and unknown companies accused of placing toxic chemicals in the park. Whirlpool closed the park years ago and sold it to Grist Mill.

The suit seeks damages on behalf of the plaintiffs and punitive damages of $750 million for the plaintiffs and members of the class action.

Whirpool responded with a statement from spokeswoman Kristine Vernier: “We are currently reviewing the lawsuit filed today. As a member of the community for over 60 years, with more than 3,000 employees in the area, we are also very interested in figuring out the facts behind this ongoing issue.”

“We are working closely with the current property owner, the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to address the issues at the former Whirlpool Park through the Ohio EPA Voluntary Action Program,” Vernier said. “We have submitted a Phase I Property Assessment Report and Phase II Work Plans for comment and approval by both agencies.”

Further testing is expected at the former park after the plans are approved. 

Other attorneys involved in the case suggested the lawsuit may be premature. Several families affected by the Clyde Cancer Cluster have hired a different set of attorneys from a Salt Lake City, Utah, law firm, Dewsnup, King and Olsen. Those attorneys haven’t filed a lawsuit yet, but they’ve been conducting tests and collecting documents.

Alan Mortensen, a member of the law firm, has said further testing hasn’t been carried out yet at Whirlpool Park, and his firm has no relationship with the attorneys who filed the lawsuit Thursday.

“It is the Cancer Cluster Families’ hope that the lawsuit filed by the Albrechta firm is based upon solid expert opinion and science and will assist in finding the cause of what has been causing their children to get sick and in some cases die,” Mortensen said. “The Cancer Cluster Families believe that if the lawsuit filed by the Albrechta firm was done prematurely or with speculative opportunism based upon the work that has been done by the Cancer Cluster Families, their experts and attorneys, the Sandusky County Health Department, the Ohio EPA and the United States EPA, that it may be detrimental to their ultimate search for the truth.”

Fremont attorney Thomas Bowlus, who represents Grist Mill LLC, said he is “surprised and disappointed” Grist Mill has been listed as a defendant, and he denied Grist Mill and its co-owner, Jonathan Abdoo, have any liability for contamination at Whirlpool Park. Bowlus said the suit seems premature.

Grist Mill was told the property was clean when it purchased the parcel. When Grist Mill first learned the property was contaminated, it immediately began working with Whirlpool, the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA to conduct further testing with an eye toward eventual cleanup, Bowlus said.

The only data showing contamination is the initial tests the U.S. EPA carried out last year, Bowlus said. 

“There’s nothing to establish the causal connection between that and the cancer in anybody,” he said. “They haven’t connected the dots as far as any exposures.”

Coble said the timing of a class action lawsuit is always tricky, but his clients were ready to move.

“Once they knew who had caused this problem, they wanted to go after it and start getting more answers,” Coble said.

Maning Grist Mill LLC as a defendant is a normal part of the process, Coble said, although he added: “They may well have a claim within this suit against Whirlpool.” 

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