Como residents concerned with toxic vapors talk with Brockovich associates

1:13 PM, Dec 8, 2013   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS - There's frustration over a dangerous chemical under a Minneapolis neighborhood and what to do next.

General Mills faces two class-action lawsuits, filed this week, regarding the dumping of that chemical.

On Saturday those homeowners were told a class action suit may not be the way to go.

The area being tested is Minneapolis' Como neighborhood. Letters went out to homeowners and businesses in November.

The chemical, known as TCE, was used as a cleaning solvent at a former General Mills facility. It was dumped decades ago into the ground. While the groundwater was cleaned up, TCE vapors are now coming up through the ground, and into those homes and businesses.

A team of associates of Erin Brockovich visited the Como neighborhood Saturday. They think the vapors are a problem so serious, they're now offering legal representation.

More than 75 people packed a room at Van Cleve Park to listen to Bob Bowcock, a colleague of Brockovich. He discussed with them things they should consider now that the state is testing their Como homes for TCE contamination.

Bowcock said, "Sadly nobody really knows the extent of the soil vapor intrusion."

There are many unknowns. So Bowcock, with Integrated Resource Management, told them a class action lawsuit may not be in their best interest and asked them to consider individual representation with his firm's partner litigation team, Girardi Keese, instead.

He explained, "Class actions represent each of you as equals. You're called similarly affected or similarly impacted and the problem that I have with those is your house is different than his house. Your impacts are all different and you're all unique individuals."

Bowcock says TCE can break down into other chemicals including what he called a more toxic chemical, vinyl chloride.

He said, "The test results I'm seeing, while they're very high for TCE, don't show those break down chemicals."

Resident Steve Sworski, who lives just across the tracks from the former General Mills site, said numerous people on his block have had cancer, including his wife. Sworski said, "We've got all kinds of cancer. I don't know where they're coming from."

Maggie Dwyer lived in the neighborhood 40 years and had cancer twice.

"We can just go house by house and you can see who's passed away from cancer," Dwyer said.

But it's important to emphasize it's not known if some or any of the cancers were caused by the contamination.

Many residents are worried about the unknowns. Many are still deciding what to do.

Bowcock's team said it will bring lawyers to town at a future date to talk to residents on an individual basis.

General Mills issued a statement Friday talking about the testing they are doing with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the vapor ventilation systems they will install in homes.  The statement said they want to quote, "make this right for any impacted homeowner."

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