Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year blamed poor farming practices for the illnesses that afflicted livestock on his Gilbertsville farm, Wayne Hallowell still thinks otherwise.
In a lawsuit filed recently in Montgomery County Court, Hallowell and another area dairy farmer claim toxic emissions from a nearby chemical plant have slowly poisoned their animals over several years, causing low milk production, abnormal births and sudden, horrible deaths.
Hallowell and Merrill Mest are asking for at least $50,000 on each of six counts against the Cabot Corp. and Cabot Performance Materials, including negligence, interference with business and outrageous conduct, according to the suit.
Neither Hallowell nor Mest could be reached for comment last week. Norristown lawyer Andrew L. Braunfeld, who filed the suit, declined to comment, as did Wilcox and Savage, the Virginia environmental law firm handling the case.
Cabot spokeswoman Janet Howard said company policy is not to comment on matters of litigation.
Hallowell was the unofficial leader of a group of three farmers in the Gilbertsville area who complained to the EPA in 1996 about their suspicions that chemical contamination was wreaking havoc with the livestock. They said poor milk production, lameness, tooth loss, digestive disorders and genetic problems in their cows were being caused by pollution.
One farmer said the problems went back to the 1980s when some calves were born missing tails or necks. Another said he lost more than 1,000 pigs, some of which turned a purplish-red color before rapidly decomposing. Another said strange red streaks were appearing in the soil and causing corn crops to fail.
In December, a two-year study by EPA investigators concluded that faulty farming practices, not widespread environmental contamination, were responsible for the mysterious problems that have affected Hallowell, Mest and other farmers in the Gilbertsville area. The report said there was no evidence to support suspicion that unusually high levels of fluoride found in the farmers’ wells and fields were killing animals and stunting crop growth.
But the lawsuit says Cabot routinely emits “various poisons, harmful chemicals and other…toxic substances, including…fluoride.” Cabot produces powdered tantalum and niobium, metallic elements used in electronics, military/defense, chemical processing, and the medical, aerospace and energy industries, according to the suit.
Hallowell’s 121-acre dairy farm is on Congo Road, about a mile east of the Cabot plant. Mest’s farm is about four miles east of the plant, according to the suit.
Cabot’s pollution, particularly fluoride, migrates to the farms, where it is absorbed by plants, which are then eaten by the livestock, according to the suit.
The EPA report acknowledged elevated levels of fluoride in well water tested from Hallowell’s farm but said the levels were not high enough to cause production or genetic problems with cattle or pigs. The report said the use of herbicide-damaged crops as the principal components of feed could have been responsible for the pig deformities.
Since the EPA report was issued, Hallowell has reached an agreement of sale with a Willow Grove developer to sell the farm that has been in his family since 1950. The Rosen Group wants to build 90 single family homes on the land.
The agreement of sale is contingent on the developer receiving subdivision and land development approvals from Douglass Township.