Dodge case details health risks of toxic materials
The Daily Record News Group
CITY -- While radiation releases have been targeted by many of those
who have sued the Cotter Corporation over the years, some of those
same people have claimed heavy metals such as molybdenum and lead
have also taken their toll.
brittle bones, developmental disabilities and worn-down teeth --
as well as lung-cancer deaths among non-smokers -- have been blamed
on air, land and water allegedly fouled by the mill.
year a jury awarded $16 million - a figure that is up over $43.5
million with interest -- to a group of Canon City residents who
claimed their families' lives were destroyed by Cotter pollution.
The list of ailments blamed on the mill is lengthy and both a doctor
and a scientist agreed with the jury's determination that the injuries
stemmed from the mill.
to what is now known as the Dodge case, Cotter had been held responsible
by the courts for polluting the land, water and air, but not for
physical injuries suffered by those who lived near the 52-year-old
uranium processing mill.
part of the Dodge suit - currently being appealed by Cotter - a
doctor and a biochemist hired by the plaintiffs' lawyers said there
was little doubt about the connection between Cotter and health
has been among the chief culprits, they said.
have discovered that here are at least 23 plaintiffs with chronic
pains throughout their body and at least four who have been diagnosed
with gout," University of California biochemist Martyn T. Smith
said in a report referring to some of the more than 500 people who
have sued Cotter.
of these plaintiffs are remarkably consistent and the symptoms described
are extremely similar to those observed in people with molybdenum
poisoning," he said.
some of arthritis/gout sufferers were middle-aged or older, some
fact that aches and pains are being produced in relatively young
people and whole families living in Lincoln Park is highly indicative
of a case of environmental heavy-metal poisoning," Smith wrote.
Dodge family - former owners of the Ponderosa-look-alike Dal DeWeese
property on Elm Avenue - are perhaps the best examples of that argument.
Joseph and Thelma Jean Dodge, who bought the property in 1972 and
raised four children there, have seen those symptoms in all their
children. The family raised most of its own food - including produce,
meat, milk and eggs - on the land.
Dodge also watched his wife die of leukemia in 1992 after years
of eating meat, produce and dairy products grown at their home.
Jean Dodge was also diagnosed with gout prior to her death and her
retired husband limps on legs marred by bony growths attributed
to metal poisoning. During a 1993 interview with plaintiff doctor
Edward P. Radford, Dodge reported breaking ribs on three separate,
unusual occasions. Dodge reported breaking the ribs during routine
activity - once while leaning against a window sill. Radford's report
was entered into evidence in the lawsuit.
daughters Desiree Chrysler, Yvonne Pegararo and Rhonda Butson, also
reported arthritis and gout symptoms. So did their son, Patrick
Shane Dodge. Desiree Chrysler also reported that her teeth were
"wearing down" and that her tooth enamel was chipping
off. Her husband, Dan Chrysler, reported similar symptoms and their
children reported an abnormal number of cavities.
wrote, "There is evidence, therefore, that in addition to the
abnormal bone growth in these families, calcification of bones and
teeth is impaired and leads to greater fragility of calcified structures,
resulting in a much greater sensitivity to bone fractures or broken
teeth," Radford said. "In view of the well-known effects
of molybdenum on the process of calcification, these problems are
highly likely to be caused by exposures to molybdenum from effluents
from Cotter operations."
also questioned the high number of Lincoln Park children with learning
disabilities and/or behavior problems. He noted that in one school
year, 16 Lincoln Park children were placed in special programs while
the area north of the river -- with four times the population as
the south side -- had 34 such students.
is an important matter because it is now known that in the atomic
bomb survivors, even low doses of radiation to fetuses, especially
during the first trimester of pregnancy, can interfere with normal
development of the nervous system, leading to cognitive and behavioral
abnormalities after birth," Radford wrote in his report.
federal civil jury hearing the case awarded Joseph Dodge $1.5 million
dollars and his adult children won similar judgments. The highest
award, however, went to the family of 29-year-old Brett Luna, who
was born in 1973 with a severe cleft lip and palate and learning
disabilities. After winning a $2.9 million judgment, Donald Luna
said the money will be used to care for his son, who will never
be able to care for himself.
won't be around forever," said Donald Luna, whose sister also
had a child born with some of the same problems as his son. The
Lunas now live in Denver but lived in south Canon City when their
children were conceived and born.
to Dodge, his family lived what they thought was an idyllic, self-sustaining
life until the pollution took its toll.
grew most of our own food - we had cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens
- they ate the grass coming out of that ground," he said. "Sometimes
my kids would drink three gallons of milk a day."
then the animals started dying.
had 18 horses and eight of them got cancer," he said. "I'd
never seen a horse get cancer."
performed on the Dodge's soil, water and home finally shed some
light on the mystery.
the places we grew food tested really hot." he said. "Even
the area where the wild asparagus grew along the ditch."
on the attic of the home turned up 1,600 parts-per-million of Pb-210,
a radioactive lead isotope, he said. "If it's above 400 parts-per-million,
you are supposed to tear down the structure and get rid of it. We
raised our family there."
1992, Thelma Jean Dodge felt ill and Joe took her to a Salida doctor,
who immediately checked her into a hospital with leukemia.
took her straight to St. Mary Corwin in Pueblo without stopping
at home," Dodge said. "She died there 44 days later without
ever going home. She had a form of leukemia that is caused by radiation."
said his grown children have never gotten over their mother's death.
was an extraordinary woman," he said. "Cotter destroyed
said damage from the radiation caused permanent genetic changes
that may doom future generations.
all my grandchildren have birth defects," he said.
report also attributed the death of Dorothy Platt, a plaintiff who
died of lung cancer in 1993 before the case went to trial, to airborne
Platt had never smoked, and thus it was very unlikely for her to
develop a bronchial cancer in the absence of exposure to airborne
carcinogens such as those discharged by Cotter Corporation,"
he wrote. "Not only has she been exposed to airborne radioactive
dusts, including uranium, thorium and other radioactive elements,
but there had also been exposure to arsenic and nickel compounds,
which are known to contribute to increased risk of bronchial cancer."
agreed, saying, "I believe it is more probable than not that
Mrs. Platt's lung cancer was caused by the inhalation of contaminants
originating from the Cotter site."
Boughton, the former chief chemist at Cotter who eventually sued
the company and who later died of what the coroner called radiation-caused
cancer, also grew vegetables at his Cedar Avenue home. Scientists
who tested the home and land found metal and radiation levels high
enough to warn the Boughtons to sell their cattle and quit using
the land for agriculture. Deyon Boughton, Lynn's widow, said molybdenum
was found in the turnips growing in their garden.
later accused us of injecting the turnips with molybdenum,"
she said. "I don't know how you would do that."
has steadfastly denied injuring anyone in its 52-year history. Company
president Richard Cherry, in a recent interview, said, "The
fact is, there is no contamination," and called stories of
mill pollution "another part of ancient history."
executive vice president Rich Ziegler said there should be no fear
on the part of neighbors.
have developers calling me every year wanting to buy property from
us," he said.