To what extent did a Merck subsidiary pollute groundwater and soil in Beachwood, Ca.? Why was potentially damaging language about a clean-up plan written by a Merck consultant not included in a final draft sent to local authorities? And were residents actually harmed?
These questions lie at the heart of a federal lawsuit that alleges Merck's Baltimore Aircoil unit polluted a neighborhood for years with Chromium 6, a carcinogen linked to cancer and birth defects, causing sickness and death (this is the same pollutant that Erin Brockovich made famous). Lawyers for about 2,000 plaintiffs say a wood treatment process at the site leached the toxin into the soil and the company failed to notify residents of the danger, The Merced Sun-Star writes. The drugmaker denies the allegations.
One highly debatable issue is whether evidence exists that there was a direct path from the contaminated groundwater and soil to local residents. Interestingly, Merck's remediation firm wrote a 2007 draft clean-up plan saying the toxic groundwater could contaminate some area drinking wells without a clean up, but that language was removed from a final draft sent local authorities.
The finding never made its way into official documents before it was made public, the paper writes and now, Merck lawyers argue the same pathway model shouldn't be admissible. The omission, the plaintiffs' lawyers tell the paper, is part of a pattern by Merck of intentionally manipulating the public record to avoid litigation about the possibility of sickness caused by pollution.
Merck's attorneys maintain there was no evidence pollution caused any illness and there was never any manipulation of documents. "There's no doubt that there was contamination at the site," Merck lawyer Stephen Lewis tells the paper, but that doesn't automatically mean Merck was responsible for causing anyone to become sick.
Meanwhile, the paper adds new filings from March 15 reveal pollution modeling by Merck's consultant, Arcadis, showed the plume of polluted groundwater had contaminated a public drinking well run by the Meadowbrook Water Co., according to plaintiffs' lawyers.
Arcadis made the final decision to omit that section, according to Merck lawyer Morgan Gilhuly, who tells the paper that "the model described in that draft report was a model of hypothetical events that never occurred. In fact, no contamination ever reached Meadowbrook well No. 2, which is the well in question."