First Acreage Residents’ Suit Blames Pratt & Whitney

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Four households in The Acreage filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday night alleging that defense contractor Pratt & Whitney’s pollution is responsible for the childhood cancer cluster, which has caused upheaval in the bucolic central Palm Beach County community, reports the Palm Beach Post. The suit filed in West Palm Beach U.S. District Court, seeks damages on behalf of approximately 10,000 homeowners in and near The Acreage.

This initial class-action could pave way for more lawsuits because last week, health officials admitted that The Acreage does have elevated levels of child and teen brain cancer. So far, the cause is undetermined.

Wednesday’s suit doesn’t allege that any of the plaintiffs has become ill, but it says the cancer cases and publicity have caused their property values to nosedive, says the Palm Beach Post, and Pratt & Whitney is to blame. Beginning in the late 1950s, the company handled and stored pollutants, including cancer-causing PCBs, and allowed hazardous chemicals to permeate The Acreage from its Beeline Highway plant, allege the plaintiffs.

The company has previously been the focus of toxic leaks and spills at the Beeline property, dating back to at least 1979.  But Pratt & Whitney has denied harming the public, and last summer, a spokesperson said that “there’s little to no migration of groundwater impact off our site,” said the Post.

Although he doesn’t have cancer, one of the suit’s plaintiffs said Wednesday night that he developed a skin ulcer after he settled in his Hamlin Boulevard home about four years ago. After five surgeries, it hasn’t healed yet.

“I moved out here, and I didn’t have anything,” said Edwin Reyes, 47. “It seems like it’s part of the water. It’s like it’s related to this cluster in a way,” quoted the Post.

Reyes said he has a reverse-osmosis filter under the sink but still doubts the water’s safety, particularly in his shower.

State health officials have identified 13 families in The Acreage whose children or teenagers were diagnosed with brain or central nervous system cancers or tumors from 1994 to 2008. Health officials have said they don’t know the cause, and that one might never be found.

Community residents previously speculated that nearby Pratt & Whitney jet engine plant and/or area citrus groves could have tainted the well water. Since the groves used potentially dangerous pesticides for many years, soil contamination was also a concern. Last summer, well tests conducted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) did not disclose any toxins, but four wells did find levels of alpha particles, radium-226 or radium-228, that exceed drinking water standards.

Radium-226 and radium-228 are naturally occurring radioactive metals that could cause cancer at increased levels. The four wells in which elevated levels of radium-225 or radium-228 were detected did not appear to be near places where residents had reported brain cancer in children. The DEP said the contamination might require homeowners with affected wells to install water treatment systems. The DEP considered area ground water safe at that time.

State environmental officials have said only one chemical has migrated off Pratt & Whitney’s property, about 6 miles north of The Acreage’s northernmost edge. That chemical, 1,4-dioxane, moved about 800 feet into the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area, the DEP said in July, reported the Palm Beach Post.

Twenty-four contaminants are still thought to be on Pratt’s property, according to a DEP permit.

Wednesday’s complaint alleges that Pratt & Whitney’s pollution included “acidic and alkaline rinse waste water” as well as oil, sodium cyanide, construction debris, solvents, asbestos, fuels, paints, pesticides, mercury and laboratory chemicals, said the Post.