While Southeast Como neighborhood residents’ concerns about harmful vapors in their homes continue to linger, a lawsuit against General Mills is moving forward.
On Friday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota heard the case against General Mills, in which a few neighborhood residents claim the company put locals’ health and the value of their homes at risk by dumping TCE, also known as trichloroethylene, in the area for 15 years.
At Friday’s hearing, General Mills argued that it was not the only company that previously dumped toxins in the neighborhood, noting that the site was an industrial area when the company occupied it in the mid-1900s.
The residents’ lawyers said at the hearing they aren’t looking to prove that the company’s dumping was the only source of the TCE pollution, but instead that it was the main source.
The three residents are seeking a class-action lawsuit, which would unite all residents who live in the affected area with the same claim. If approved, the lawsuit could include nearly 400 homes, and residents would have the option to opt out.
The case’s judge, U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank, will make the decision of classifying the case as a class-action lawsuit, along with choosing which homes are included in the case, based on expert testimonies.
The decision will come in 60 days, he said at Friday’s hearing.
If the case doesn’t receive class-action certification, residents wishing to sue will need to pursue individual lawsuits. But Michael Hayes, a lawyer representing the residents, said that option would be too expensive for most residents.
Additionally, General Mills asked that the judge dismiss two expert testimonies on Friday, citing that their methods of research on the area were “unreliable.”
Though the residents will continue with the case, Frank encouraged both sides to settle outside of court.
“Let’s find a way to save time and money without the court,” he said at the hearing.
Neighborhood leaders hear resident concerns
Nearly a year after the state’s department of health and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sent letters to Southeast Como residents informing them of the potentially harmful vapor intrusions in their homes, permanent cleanup efforts haven’t started.
Ward 2 City Councilman Cam Gordon, who represents parts of the University area and Southeast Como neighborhood, said residents have continuously expressed concerns about their health and the value of their homes and are asking when permanent cleanup will begin.
“[Residents] want to see the big solution, where they actually get rid of [TCE vapors] permanently,” he said.
Last week, the Southeast Como Improvement Association held its first TCEducate lecture series in hopes of increasing residents’ knowledge about the issues surrounding the TCE contamination.
SECIA neighborhood coordinator Ricardo McCurley said the lecture series will cover topics like cleanup tactics and the legal process of class-action lawsuits.
He said the discussions aim to help educate residents and make them feel more comfortable about the situation.
“Something like this that is affecting your home, your health [and] the health of your loved ones is a very difficult thing to talk about,” McCurley said.
SECIA will hold its next lecture late next month.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is currently reviewing General Mills’ plan to clean the area and find the source of TCE. The working plan, which includes opportunities for residents’ input, doesn’t include cleanup strategies until late 2015.
McCurley said SECIA wants residents to have sufficient information about the work plan so that they can make educated comments on it.