Two Montgomery County farmers who have complained for years that pollution from a nearby chemical plant caused death and disease in their dairy herds have filed suit against the company.
Merrill Mest of Schwenksville and Wayne Hallowell of Gilbertsville say excessively high levels of fluoride released by Cabot Performance Materials in Boyertown were absorbed by vegetation on their farms and subsequently entered the systems of their animals, poisoning them.
The farmers are suing Cabot despite a report last year from the federal Environmental Protection Agency absolving Cabot of blame, suggesting instead that the problems could have been caused by poor farming practices.
In addition, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) praised Cabot yesterday for working toward compliance with state emissions regulations.
But Gary Bryant, an environmental lawyer from Norfolk, Va., who represents the farmers, dismissed the EPA’s findings.
“We know that the EPA looked into some of the problems they were having, but we don’t believe they did as thorough a job as they needed to do,” Bryant said yesterday.
“The experts we’ve consulted, who have done a thorough investigation, have determined there is no doubt that the problems that Hallowell and Mest have experienced were the result of fluoride poisoning.”
The plant uses hydrofluoric acid in its chemical process in the manufacture of electronics components. The process releases a form of fluoride into the air.
Representatives of Cabot could not be reached yesterday. Spokeswoman Janet Howard said recently that the company does not comment on litigation.
Since at least 1993, farmers around Cabot’s plant in northwestern Montgomery County have voiced concerns that their animals, which were dying, turned purple and suffered other maladies such as tooth loss, stillbirths, joint problems, weight loss, and poor milk production. Hallowell in particular has been vocal about an unusual number of deaths and deformities in his cows, although the milk produced was found to be safe.
The suit, filed last week, contends that Cabot has for years emitted poisons, including fluoride, into the atmosphere. The pollution, the suit says, “has migrated and continues to migrate” from the plant to the farms. Mest’s property is about four miles east of Cabot; Hallowell’s is one mile east.
The suit contends that Cabot has emitted “more fluoride than was permitted by the relevant governmental authorities.”
The DEP has not cited Cabot over emissions of fluoride. Jim Rebarchak, a DEP air quality expert, said yesterday that Cabot notified the agency of some excessive air levels of fluoride around the plant in the mid-1990s and took corrective measures.
“They have had the occasional violation in the past, and they have cooperated with the department when there have been those problems,” he said.
Rebarchak added that no federal rules limit how much fluoride can be released.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says human exposure to excessive amounts of fluoride can cause lung, skin and bone damage.
Hallowell and Mest contend that dairy livestock are particularly susceptible to fluoride poisoning and that Cabot was negligent for not notifying the public that the chemical was being emitted.
Hallowell says he has an agreement of sale with a developer who wants to turn the farm into a housing development.