IBM Sued Over Ground, Water Contamination

Claims about the damaging effects of chemical leakage date back to the earliest IBM plants in the 1920s.

IBM is being sued over environmental concerns in two New York towns where the company opened some of its first factories.

The suit, filed Thursday in Broome County, N.Y., contends that tons of chemicals released into the soil, air and groundwater over the years is now causing high rates of cancer, birth defects and other diseases.

Six law firms, including Masry & Vititoe, made famous in the film "Erin Brockovitch," filed the lawsuit on behalf of about 90 plaintiffs in the towns of Endicott and Union.

IBM was first incorporated in Endicott, N.Y, in 1911 under the name Computing Tabulating Recording. It changed its name to International Business Machines in 1924. Endicott, which is in Broome County, was the site of some very early facilities where devices like typewriters were made.

Interest in chemical exposure in Endicott became intense after the discovery of a subterranean plume of trichloroethylene in 2003 came from IBM's microelectronics plant. The plume is similar to a cloud, in that it spreads out from the original source -- although in the case of a subterranean plume, it follows the flow of underground aquifers.

The complaint alleges that due to such contamination, home and business owners in Endicott have had to be install "vapor remediation systems" to reduce the toxic compounds building up in their homes and businesses. This, they said, cuts into business and reduces land values, while increasing health risks.

The complaint also alleges that between 1924 and 2002, the company allowed chemicals to escape the Endicott plant "with conscious indifference to the health and safety of residents" and that IBM "should have known" the chemicals it released would remain volatile in the soil for "substantial periods of time."

That's easy to say now, said consultant Charles King of Pund-IT. "Some of the issues around some of the chemicals used in the manufacturing process makes it easy to look back in hindsight and say, 'Things should have been done,'" he told InternetNews.com.

IBM fired back at the allegations in a statement issued to the press.

"As we explained to plaintiffs' lawyers before they filed this case, these suits have no basis in science or law, and IBM will defend itself vigorously," IBM Michael Maloney said

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for property devaluation and loss of business value and income, with interest; damages for personal injuries, medical monitoring, nuisance and trespass; for punitive damages as allowed by law; and for attorneys fees.

King said that cases like this are difficult because of their complexity, which means a long battle.

"Historically, it's a tough case to take to jury because of the complexity," he said. "It's not an open-and-shut case at all, especially when you get into issue of underground pluming becomes subterranean and poisons water tables."

"I suspect it will take quite a few months or years to get to court," he added.



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