Families Settle for Childhood Cancer Claims In Toms River, N.J.

A settlement has been reached between 69 families in Toms River, N.J., and two chemical companies and a water company the families blame for environmental pollution they claim led to dozens of cases of childhood cancers.

A settlement has been reached between 69 families in Toms River, N.J., and two chemical companies and a water company the families blame for environmental pollution they claim led to dozens of cases of childhood cancers. The three companies -- Ciba Specialty Chemicals Corp., Union Carbide Corp. and United Water Resources Inc. -- agreed to the settlement, but admit no guilt.

The settlement is the culmination of a case that began in 1995 following the public release of New Jersey cancer registry data, which suggested a higher than expected incidence of some forms of cancer among some groups of children in Toms River. Between 1979 and 1995, 90 children in the area were diagnosed with cancer, an abnormally high number, according to state officials. (Since 1995, another 28 children in the area have been diagnosed with cancer.)

The disclosures led state and local officials to embark on a $10 million epidemiological study to determine if there was an environmental cause for the high cancer rates. The final report is scheduled for release tomorrow. Both sides say that the timing of the settlement, coming days before the release of the report, is a coincidence.

The settlement concludes more than three years of discussion between the families and the companies. The final settlement requires court approval for family members who are still minors. The settlement was reached through alternative dispute resolution, which is based on an open exchange of information between all parties in an effort to resolve the matter without litigation.

Representatives of the Toms River families said they were satisfied with the settlement terms - which will remain confidential - and believe the settlement will bring a measure of closure to the families.

The case began in 1997, when the families brought their concerns about a possible link between environmental contamination and the high rate of childhood cancer to the attention of the companies. Ciba Specialty Chemicals and Union Carbide are in the process of remediating two Superfund sites in Toms River - the Ciba-Geigy Superfund site and Reich Farms site, respectively. United Water Resources is the parent company of the public water supply company, then known as Toms River Water Co.

Instead of immediate litigation, however, the families and the companies entered into a "Tolling/Standstill Agreement," effective Feb. 1, 1998, that established a period of time that encouraged communication in an effort to reach a settlement. With the assistance of numerous technical, scientific, and medical experts, the parties exchanged detailed factual, scientific, and technical information and studied the scientific basis for the childhood health concerns.

Although no agreement that any of the companies were responsible for the environmental conditions that caused the medical complaints cited by the families, all involved agreed that a settlement would best advance the community''s interest.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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