Three neighbors, on one block and in one year, all were diagnosed with brain cancer. They live in the small McHenry County village of McCullom Lake where 31 residents have been diagnosed with brain tumors and brain cancer.
The latest victim, a 32-year-old lawyer, was diagnosed just last week with brain cancer. CBS 2′s Dave Savini investigates whether something in the air and water made them sick.
“People knew and they didn’t say anything,” said 48-year-old Sandy Wierschke as she choked back tears.
We spoke to her in her hospital room as she prepared for surgery to remove a brain tumor. She and her husband Tim blame a chemical plant near their McCullom Lake home for her disease.
“They’ve had spills,” said Tim Wierschke. “They had a tanker with the valve left open, that poured the toxic chemicals onto the ground.”
The company accused of dumping waste and burying toxic barrels was originally owned by Morton Chemical, then sold to Rohm and Haas, and has been owned by Dow since last year.
It is facing multiple lawsuits for allegedly allowing a cancer-causing compound called vinyl chloride to infiltrate the McCullom Lake community.
Sandy Wierschke says she believes she was breathing it and drinking it.
“I drank a lot of water,” she said. “I thought it was healthy for me.”
Sandy lived in her home for 17 years and says she did not know about the exposure.
“I was not told about anything,” she said.
Sandy is one of 18 residents with brain cancer in a village of only 1,100; significantly higher than the reported national rate of only seven cases out of 100,000 people. On one street alone, all three neighboring homes have family members with brain cancer.
“All three, malignant brain cancer diagnosed in the same year,” said Attorney Aaron Freiwald. “It’s unheard of.”
Freiwald has filed 31 cases involving brain cancer or brain tumor victims who believe the chemical company is to blame.
He says nobody notified the residents when 1,000 gallons of the dangerous chemical spilled in the area.
“They certainly didn’t tell anybody downstream from here in McCullom Lake,” said Freiwald.
He points to confidential documents from 1973 that show owners at the time, Morton Chemical, knew a lagoon filled with chemical waste was a problem.
“In fact, it says right here, ‘obviously we don’t want to muddy the waters. I don’t want you to contact the State at all,’” said Freiwald, reading the company document.
That angers Bryan Freund, another victim. A slow, growing cancer is inside his head right now.
“Yeah, essentially a time bomb,” said Freund who wants a criminal investigation into the company. “It makes me think of all of the victims, and it really makes me feel a sense of hatred that I never knew before.”
Sandy Wierschke says this, “basically ruined my life.”
The first of the 31 lawsuits is currently underway. The judge has issued a gag order preventing the company from doing an interview.
Dow chemical officials have said they do not believe the cancers are related to its operation, and that vinyl chloride is linked to liver, not brain cancer.
Click here to read The Center For Public Integrity’s investigation into vinyl chloride dangers.