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$8.1 Million Settlement Is the Right Thing to Do, Says Attorney

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Chicago, ILKraft Foods has agreed to pay $8.1 million for contaminating 124 homes in a neighborhood in Attica, located near one of its plants. "I think ultimately in our case Kraft did the right thing," says veteran pollution lawyer, Norm Berger, whose firm Varga, Berger, Ledsky, Hayes & Casey commenced the action on behalf of class representatives two years ago; however, he adds, "We had to punch them in the nose to get it done."

The plaintiffs, who Berger describes as "just good hardworking people" became aware that the ground and air in and around their homes might be contaminated with carcinogens in 2008 when Kraft informed the group that chemical testing revealed a problem in a Kraft plant manager's home several years prior.

"Kraft had kept those sample results basically to themselves for three years," says Berger. "Then it said, they had found it in another home and they would like to look at more homes."

Kraft had purchased the plant from P.R. Mallory, an American manufacturer of batteries and light bulbs, and according to Berger, knew for many years the area was contaminated.

"We found out in discovery that the plant (P.R. Mallory) had sent letters to Kraft, which was the purchaser of the facility as earlier as 1989," says Berger. "We also saw that there was very high ground water contamination in the area as early as 1994 or 1995."

The contaminants found in the neighborhood ground water were listed as tetrachloroethylene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene, and all considered to be potential carcinogens.

The $8.1 million was settled for "damage to property" and "interference with use and enjoyment of the property." Plaintiffs have reserved the right to file future personal injury suits.

Whether or not residents go forward with claims that the chemicals damage their health Berger says, "remains to be seen" and adds, "There are clearly incidences of disease and we are looking into those."

People who live in the area and are members of the class include firefighters, schoolteachers and people who work at the Kraft plant. They range in age from young families to retired people like Mary Bowles.

"She bought that house to retire in, and relax in, and spend time with her grandchildren," says Berger. "It was the nest egg she wanted to give to her children."

Norm Berger is a founding shareholder in the environmental law firm of Varga, Berger, Ledsky, Hayes & Casey. Berger has more than 30 years of courtroom experience and has specialized in environmental law for his entire career, first as a government enforcement lawyer and then in private practice in 1996. Berger is known for helping families and neighborhoods that have been affected by reckless corporate polluters.


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