Lawsuit alleging cancer advances

Families near Pelham Bay landfill claim infants’ cancers caused by chemicals at dump. Sanitation closed its 81-acre landfill in Pelham Bay, Bronx in 1979 following 16 years of operations and increasing complaints over odors and a yellow mist emanating from the site. In 1983, the state declared the dump an inactive hazardous waste site prompting the City to sue 15 corporations in 1985, alleging that the corporations illegally dumped hazardous chemicals. Later that year, Sanitation signed a consent decree with the state, admitting that the groundwater was contaminated and that it had allowed illegal dumping. The City was later awarded several million in clean-up costs.

Bronx residents began to complain to the City of a link between the landfill and local residents’ cancer. The concerns generated two City studies; both found no increased incidences of cancer in adjacent Bronx neighborhoods when compared to the rest of the city.

Despite these findings, 23 families sued the City, alleging that diagnoses of acute lymphoid leukemia, Hodgkin’s and other cancers were linked to the landfill. The families submitted an expert’s study that found the levels of acute lymphoid leukemia to be 3.4 times higher in children living closest to the landfill, and toxicologists’ reports listing the human carcinogens found at the landfill and potential routes of exposure.

On motion of the City, the lower court dismissed nine cases as untimely, but found the families’ claims sufficient to state a cause of action. On appeal, the City argued that the families’ expert evidence failed to use generally accepted scientific methods by not considering race and therefore the evidence was inadmissible. The City also argued that the families failed to specify the levels of exposure of the carcinogens, and could not show a link between Hodgkin’s and acute lymphoid leukemia and the landfill’s carcinogens.

The First Department disagreed, finding the families’ evidence admissible since toxicology and epidemiology were accepted sciences and noting that flaws in the experts’ analysis could be brought out at trial. The court found all but one case timely since the families discovered the potential cause of the cancer within five years of the diagnoses.

The case now goes back for trial.

Nonnon v. City of New York, 2006 NY Slip Op 4373 (App Div, 2d Dep’t) (June 6, 2006).



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