Current and former residents of Watertown's north side neighborhood have been building a public case against the company New York Air Brake, over former chemical dumping they say has made them sick. The law firm of famous environmental attorney Erin Brockovich has taken interest in the case. Now, a lawsuit is shaping up, and the state Department of Health is planning its own investigation.
The environmental investigator in the suit said at least 300 people have signed on so far. He said he'll initiate the suit in the next few weeks, and it will name former Air Brake owner SPX, New York Air Brake itself, and Allied Signal, that company's former incarnation.
Meanwhile, the state Health Department will honor a request for a study of the area's disease patterns. Former north side resident Carol Molinari made that request late last year. Two of her children, along with two other neighborhood kids in about a five-year period, were born with the same rare birth defect. Molinari said she's not optimistic yet. “I can tell you this: it took them 11 months to decide to do the study, so I don't know how long it's going to take them to, quote, 'do the study,' and how long it will take to get the results of the study,” she said. “So there's still too many unknowns. To me, it's a stepping block. Let's go to the next step.”
The Health Department has set a meeting for next Tuesday to gather public input as it plans the study.
People who grew up on the north side say Air Brake's dumping of chemicals like trichloroethylene, or TCE, into neighborhood streams triggered neurological illnesses and cancers. State environmental officials say regulations in the 1980s stopped the practice, and a cleanup has eliminated any health risk, but some contend an ongoing danger remains.