Every once in a while our Chicago personal injury lawyers come across a story that epitomizes the need for civil accountability for practices which endanger our public health. Today’s Chicago Tribune reported that the Illinois Department of Public Health conducted a study of cancer rates in Crestwood between 1994 and 2006, after an April 2009 Tribune investigation revealed the town’s secret use of a contaminated water well for its drinking water. The state’s researchers found an extraordinarily high rate of kidney cancer in men, lung cancer in men and women, and gastrointestinal cancer in men.
The tainted water well in Crestwood, from which the suburban residents unknowingly drank contaminated water for more than two decades, contained perchloroethylene (PCE), an organic solvent widely used in the dry cleaning industry, and also a probable human carcinogen.
In the State’s report to titled, “Incidence of Cancer in the Village of Crestwood, 1994-2006,” the researchers found that “it is possible that the historical presence of PCE and its degradation products in the Crestwood water contributed to the increase of these cancers.”
However, the researchers noted that “due to methodological and data limitations, the assessment could not establish with certainty this relationship, nor rule out such a possibility.” A number of other risk factors, such as smoking, diet, hereditary background and workplace exposure to harmful chemicals, are also known to be associated with these cancers, but researchers were not able to evaluate their relative presence in the Crestwood area. The report finds that “future monitoring of the area’s cancer incidence is needed to evaluate possible changes in cancer incidence following the discontinuation of the contaminated drinking water.”
Still, experts note that the situation in Crestwood is different from other cases where exposure to toxic chemicals is questionable. Here, according to Ken Runkle, a state health department toxicologist, “We are dealing with a situation where we have known exposure. That means we can view these elevated cancer levels in a different light.” Meaning there is a higher probability of the causal relationship between the contaminated water exposure and the development of cancer.
Indeed, kidney cancer in particular is associated with exposure to perchloroethylene (PCE) — the dry cleaning solvent, and known carcinogent, found in the Crestwood drinking water well. Some forms of lung and gastrointestinal cancer have also been linked to PCE exposure.
In response to the Tribune report, Senator Dick Durbin, Representative Bobby Rush, and Illinois Governor Quinn urged federal and state officials to investigate the Crestwood situation and, in particular, the relationship between the high cancer rates and the contaminated water well.
Litigation is already pending relating to the Crestwood contaminated well, but as more people get sick and realize that their cancer may have been caused by the negligence of their public officials, more personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits are expected to follow.
For a Free Consultation with one of our experienced Chicago personal injury attorneys at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.