Pharma firm sued over cancer cluster

When jury selection commences in City Hall Courtroom 243 tomorrow, the first of what’s thought to be the largest series of brain-cancer-cluster cases ever will officially be underway. Philadelphia-based Rohm and Haas bought Morton Chemical for $5 billion in 1999, thus becoming a defendant seven years later when 31 people from a small town of 1,000 residents filed suit.

They claim an Illinois plant caused air and groundwater contamination by dumping millions of pounds of chemical waste, including vinyl chloride, outside of Chicago and “knew as early as 1973” that chemical waste had leaked into the groundwater but didn’t notify state or federal agencies for nearly a decade.

The first case, that of the since-deceased Franklin Delano Branham, is being held in Philadelphia because that’s where Rohm was headquartered when the suit was filed.

The next 30 won’t be scheduled until after this case, expected to take 9-12 weeks.

“There are lots of situations where people could wonder how good of a neighbor the company next door has been,” said Aaron J. Freiwald, the attorney representing plaintiffs who seek unspecified damages. “This is a terrible example of one that acted in their corporate interest, and a disturbing number of people from a small community are sick.”

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