Famous environmental activist Erin Brockovich reaches out to victims of Dieldrin-tainted wells
Nationally recognized environmental toxic torts law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, P.C. and Morgan & Morgan, P.A., one of the leading personal injury and consumer law firms in the South, are set to host an Oct. 24 community meeting in DeLand, Florida, to address the concerns of residents over chemical contamination of local water supplies.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. and will be held at the First Assembly DeLand Church, 551 S. Kepler Rd.
Erin Brockovich, the consumer advocate whose story was told in Julia Roberts’ Oscar-winning motion picture “Erin Brockovich,” will speak at the meeting about Dieldrin, the toxic insecticide that has been found in tainted wells in DeLand and in some Miami-Dade communities.
Brockovich currently is visiting people in affected communities on behalf of Weitz & Luxenberg, where she works as an environmental consultant. Longtime residents of these neighborhoods are concerned about the effects of Dieldrin on their property values and on their health.
Dieldrin is a now-banned toxic chemical compound that was used as a pesticide. Dieldrin is considered to be a “persistent organic pollutant,” meaning it is difficult to purge from the environment and can accumulate in soil and water supplies.
Dieldrin contamination has been identified in the well water of communities in DeLand and Miami-Dade County. Local authorities have had to staunch the use of tainted well water by supplying filters and connecting homes to municipal water mains.
The Oct. 24 town hall meeting is intended to answer residents’ questions about Dieldrin and the impact that it may have on their property values and health.
Fervor rages over tainted wells
More than 150 people visited a DeLand church Sunday afternoon, but instead of spiritual guidance they were seeking information about a class action lawsuit filed over pesticide contamination in their water.
Since March, 53 wells in and around the DeLand Country Club Estates area have tested positive for high levels of dieldrin, a pesticide once used in crops and golf courses across the state and for termite treatments.
Another 43 property owners are awaiting results, state officials said this weekend. Dozens of others residents are waiting to have their water tested.
Nancy Tondorf is among those waiting to hear whether the water her family has used for drinking and bathing is contaminated.
Tondorf said she thinks about it every morning when gets up and looks at the coffee pot she has used daily for years. Her family already has switched to bottled water for ice cubes “and every other thing.”
Like Tondorf, residents at the meeting were concerned about the health of their families and loss of property value.
Although the residents haven’t been notified, Volusia County officials already have decided to reduce property values on the affected homes because of the contamination.
The lawsuit, seeking more than $10 million in damages, was filed in late May by Joshua R. Gale, a DeLand attorney. It was filed on behalf of Brian and Janice Potter of DeLand, and at least 29 additional clients who have agreed to be represented by Gale’s firm, Wiggins, Childs, Quinn and Pantazis. A well at the Potters’ home was the first home in the quiet neighborhood off Orange Camp Road to test positive for dieldrin.
Shell Chemical, a subsidiary of Shell Oil, and the DeLand Country Club are named as defendants in the suit. Gale said Shell was the exclusive manufacturer of dieldrin for 20 years. The pesticide was banned for all uses except termite treatment in 1974 and banned for use in termite treatment in 1987.
The suit alleges the pesticide was used on the golf course and migrated into nearby wells, exposing the Potters and others to high levels of dieldrin in water they use for drinking, cooking, bathing and watering their yards. It claims “negligence, wantonness, nuisance and trespass” on the part of the oil company and the country club and seeks property damages.
The lawsuit, originally filed in circuit court in DeLand, was moved to U.S. District Court in late June at the request of Shell, Gale said. Gale filed a motion on Thursday to ask for the case to be moved back to DeLand.
Residents in the area near the contaminated wells have raised concerns about multiple cancer cases in the neighborhood. But though federal officials consider dieldrin a “probable human carcinogen,” dieldrin has never been found to cause cancer in humans, David Krause, Florida’s state toxicologist, said recently.
That includes a study where 18 male participants were administered doses 100,000 times higher than the health advisory level set by the state and had “no adverse effects,” Krause said.
Studies did find dieldrin could cause tumors in the livers of mice, but at levels much higher than the drinking water standard, Krause said.
The level set by state officials for dieldrin is 0.002 micrograms per liter. Levels of the pesticide found in the water in Country Club Estates range as high as 0.099 micrograms per liter.
Bonita Sorensen, director of the Volusia County Health Department, has said the state is “trying its best to determine the extent of the contamination.”
For those whose wells exceed the state standard, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will pay for a carbon filtration system or connection to the city of DeLand’s public water utility.
Five homes have been connected to city water and the department is waiting for word from other homeowners whose wells tested positive, department spokesman Lisa Kelley said Sunday.
Barbara Costello chose to have the filtration system installed at her home after her water tested positive, but she still has concerns.
Costello said she’s “trying to be philosophical” knowing that she’s probably exposed to “so many kinds of carcinogens every day” in the environment. But, she said she worries about the financial damages.
Tondorf’s home is for sale and she fears she’s already feeling impacts.
“We haven’t even had anyone looking once word about this got around,” Tondorf said.
Residents whose wells test positive for the pesticide, but below the state standards, said they have been told they would be responsible for the costs of their own filtering system or hook-up to city water.