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Children Seek Cost of Monitor - Gelman Sued on Tests

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Children seek cost of monitor

Gelman sued on tests



Five children have sued Gelman Sciences Inc., for the costs of future health care after their parents lost a similar claim last year.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court, is intended to be a test case, said Donnelly W. Hadden of Detroit, the lawyer for the children and for their parents.

Like their parents before them, Christopher Campbell, 19, Clarissa Fox, 17, Sarah Fox, 14, James Scott Polk, 11, and Anna Elizabeth Polk, 7, believe that exposure to an organic solvent in their well water may have harmed their health. The solvent, 1,4-dioxane, is present in the groundwater because it was disposed of for 20 years by Gelman Sciences in lagoons and sprinklers across Wagner Road from the Westover subdivision in western Ann Arbor.

Their parents sued Gelman Sciences in 1988 and were told by the court in 1990 that there wasn’t any proof of health damage from the exposure, but that they could later sue for damages if they developed illnesses that were directly caused by the pollution.

“Well, how do you find out about health problems? You monitor,” Hadden said.

The five children named in the suit Tuesday are asking at least $10,000 each to cover the cost of continued monitoring of their health.

“I’m surprised that this lawsuit would be filed when claims for other members of these same families were properly dismissed in the other suit,” said David H. Fink, attorney for Gelman Sciences.

Hadden said courts in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey have recognized damages for the cost of health monitoring and he intends to put similar case law on the books here. If the circuit court dismisses the suit "we’ll have an immediate appeal and we’ll find out what the law will be," Hadden said.

In March 1990, Circuit Judge Patrick J. Conlin dismissed a portion of the parents’ suit against Gelman Sciences in which the families sought damages for the fear of future health effects. Conlin said the group hadn’t proved any current health problems and no court would pay damages for “an unsubstantiated fear.”

The 12 adults in that suit won a jury award of $119,000 in November 1990 for their loss of enjoyment of their property. The jury gave nothing for loss of property value.

After that verdict, Elizabeth Polk said she believes the tingling sensation in her hands and the chronic nosebleeds that her daughter suffers are a result of exposure to the solvent. The Polk family was advised not to drink the water after the solvent was detected, nor could they cook with it or even bathe in it. Since December 1986, the home has been connected to the city of Ann Arbor’s water supply, which comes from the Huron River.

Hadden said none of the children in the case has known health damage from the exposure.