General Mills Must Face Contamination Lawsuit

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) – Homeowners who blame their health issues on a toxic vapors from an old chemical plant may have a case against General Mills, a federal judge ruled.
     Karl Ebert is the lead plaintiff in the class action, which alleges that a GM chemical plant in the Como neighborhood of Minneapolis dumped “thousands of gallons of hazardous substances per year by burying it in perforated drums in the ground” from 1947 to 1962. The plant operated from 1930 to 1977.
     General Mills has been remediating the site since 1984, but the class claims to have only learned about the vapor contamination threat around their homes in 2013.
     The homeowners sought an injunction requiring General Mills to fully remediate the property surrounding their homes, but General Mills said its remediation efforts, including the installation of vapor mitigation systems (VMS), required dismissal of the class action.
     U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank refused to do so on Thursday, citing testimony from the plaintiffs’ expert witness, Lorne Everett.
     “Dr. Everett states that: ‘[t]o mitigate the threat to these residents, each home in the class area at a minimum requires a vapor mitigation system. … Such systems must be operated for the foreseeable future, until the source(s) of these toxic vapors can be identified and fully remediated,'” Frank wrote, emphasizing the text himself.
     The doctor’s statement regarding the remediation of the source of the vapors suggests a threat of future or ongoing harm to the plaintiffs, the court found.
     General Mills also argued that costs incurred by the homeowners in response to the vapor contamination were not necessary and therefore not recoverable under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA).
     Judge Frank once again disagreed, citing numerous allegations from the plaintiffs in his opinion, including:
     “Plaintiffs incurred out of pocket costs to evaluate the release or threat of hazardous substances inside their house [sic] and to evaluate structural issues concerning approaches to interim mitigation measures.
     “[A plaintiff] purchased an air filtration system to ‘prevent, minimize or mitigate damages.’
     “Plaintiffs’ specific type of costs were incurred as ‘removal’ and ‘response costs’ as described in relevant CERCLA provisions.
     “The response and removal costs were necessary and reasonable; and
     “All cost-incurring actions were taken to protect plaintiffs’ families from vapors.”
     The plaintiffs’ negligence claim regarding a drop in the value of their homes also survived the motion to dismiss, as Judge Frank concluded – contrary to General Mills’ argument – that a precise valuation of the drop is not necessary at this stage of the litigation.

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