- Toms River families affected by cancer linked to industrial pollution pursued a class-action lawsuit against Ciba-Geigy Corporation, Union Carbide Corporation, and United Water Toms River.
- The Ciba-Geigy Corporation operated a dye manufacturing plant in Toms River, leading to groundwater contamination.
- Union Carbide Corporation’s waste disposal practices on the Reich Farm contributed to the contamination of the aquifer, affecting the drinking water supply.
- Climbing childhood cancer rates in the 1990s raised concerns among residents and prompted investigations.
- Studies found associations between environmental exposures and childhood cancer cases in Toms River.
- A cash settlement was reached in 2002 with some families, while others pursued a class-action suit for further justice.
The Toms River Cancer Cluster has left an indelible mark on the community, as families have grappled with the devastating impact of cancer on their loved ones. Since the 1990s, Toms River families affected by cancer linked to industrial pollution have embarked on a quest for justice and accountability. This article aims to shed light on the history of the Toms River Cancer Cluster, the companies involved, the environmental impact, the rising childhood cancer rates, and the pursuit of a settlement that would provide solace and recognition for the affected families.
The Ciba-Geigy Corporation: A Legacy of Pollution
For nearly four decades, the Ciba-Geigy Corporation operated a dye manufacturing plant in Toms River from 1952 to 1990. However, the waste products generated during the manufacturing process posed significant environmental hazards. These waste products were either stored in 47,000 drums or treated and pumped through a pipeline into the Atlantic Ocean. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection mandated groundwater monitoring and drum removal at the plant site in 1980, and in 1983, the site was designated as a Superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA discovered that the waste on the site was leaching into the groundwater, leading to contamination concerns.
Union Carbide Corporation’s Role in the Crisis
The Reich Farm, located in Toms River, became entangled in the cancer cluster crisis due to the actions of Union Carbide Corporation. In 1971, the owners of the Reich Farm leased part of the property to an independent waste hauler. Disturbingly, it was later discovered that 4,500 waste drums bearing Union Carbide labels had been dumped on the land, with waste products poured into trenches. From 1972 to 1974, Union Carbide undertook efforts to remove the drums, trench waste, and contaminated soil. Tragically, the land above the aquifer, which served as the main source of drinking water for the township, had been contaminated. The Dover Township Board of Health closed 148 private wells near the Reich Farm in 1974 due to contamination, permanently connecting the affected homes to an alternative water supply.
The Alarming Rise in Childhood Cancer Rates
In the 1990s, Toms River witnessed a concerning increase in childhood cancer cases, prompting alarm and demands for investigation from the affected families. In response to these concerns, the New Jersey Department of Health conducted a study in 1996, which revealed that between 1979 and 1995, 90 children in the township were diagnosed with cancer. This number exceeded the expected rate, indicating a higher incidence of leukemia, brain cancer, and central nervous system cancers compared to the national average. Families were outraged and called for government intervention to uncover the underlying causes of the cancer cluster.
Uncovering the Links: Environmental Exposures and Cancer
To evaluate the relationship between environmental exposures and the cancer cases, the New Jersey Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted a study. The findings included:
- No single risk factor was solely responsible for the rise in childhood cancer cases.
- An association was found between prenatal exposure to contaminated water and leukemia in female children.
- An association was found between prenatal exposure to air pollution from the Ciba-Geigy plant and leukemia in female children diagnosed before the age of 5.
The Pursuit of Justice: A Cash Settlement and Continued Battle
In January 2002, Union Carbide, Ciba Specialty Chemicals (formerly Ciba-Geigy Corporation), and United Water Toms River reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with 69 families whose children had been diagnosed with cancer. However, this settlement did not acknowledge liability. Some families declined the settlement, opting to pursue a class-action lawsuit for further justice. The families’ spokeswoman, Linda Gillick, emphasized that the monetary compensation could never fully reflect the pain and suffering endured by the affected families. Tragically, the settlement provides little consolation for the 15 families who lost their children to cancer and for those who continue to face new cases of childhood cancer.
The Toms River Cancer Cluster remains a poignant chapter in the community’s history, highlighting the devastating consequences of industrial pollution on public health. The efforts of affected families to seek justice and accountability have shed light on the need for environmental regulations and responsible corporate practices. While the cash settlement reached with some families provided a measure of recognition, it is essential to continue advocating for comprehensive solutions that address the long-lasting impact of the cancer cluster. By amplifying the voices of the affected families and promoting awareness, we can strive for a future where communities are safeguarded against the harmful effects of industrial pollution, and those affected by such tragedies find solace, justice, and healing.