IBM Sued for Cancer Cluster

Civil action accuses Big Blue of decades of dumping toxic chemicals at historic plant.

The birthplace of Big Blue is now the focal point of a massive lawsuit contending IBM released over decades toxic and hazardous contaminants into the environment of New Yorks Village of Endicott and the town of Union. IBM opened its first plant in the area in 1924.

The lawsuit, filed Jan. 3 in Broome County, N.Y., by a band of law firms representing about 90 plaintiffs, claims the hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic and hazardous chemicals—including TCE (trichloroethylene)—released into the soil, air and groundwater are now vaporizing into the homes, businesses and churches of Endicott and Union.

As the result, the lawsuit claims, medical problems stemming from IBMs actions include congenital heart defects in infants and kidney cancer in adults. A recent New York State Department of Health Study found the two illnesses occur at a significantly higher rate in Endicott than the rest of the state.

The defendants are seeking unspecified damages for property devaluation and loss of business value and income, including interest; for personal injuries, medical monitoring, nuisance and trespass in an amount that exceeds the jurisdiction limits of all lower courts; and for punitive damages.

"[IBM], a sophisticated scientific business entity whose business involved, in part, use of and knowledge about organic chemicals, knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that the volatile organic chemicals that had wrongfully discharged," the lawsuit states, "would remain volatile in the soil for substantial periods of time, exceeding decades, and would migrate, as vapors, into the homes, businesses, schools and churches located above the contaminated groundwater plume."

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Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the lawsuit is the first in a series of civil actions against IBM that will be filed in the coming months. The complaints include wrongful death, personal injury, property damage, business and income loss, medical monitoring, nuisance, and trespass.

IBM spokesman Mike Maloney told eWEEK the lawsuit has "no basis in science or law, and IBM will defend itself rigorously."

IBM sold its Endicott plant, which manufactured circuit boards, integrated circuits, printers and computer systems, in 2002 but retains extensive operations in the area. In 1979, IBM began a groundwater mediation program, and in 2002 the company launched a vapor ventilation initiative, including more than $2 billion in grants to local property owners for ventilation systems.