Law firm made famous by Erin Brockovich suing over New York industrial site

Thursday, March 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BROCKPORT, N.Y. (AP) _ The law firm that backed Erin Brockovich in her environmental crusade against a powerful California utility plans to sue General Electric Co. and a 3M Corp. subsidiary on behalf of more than 100 families in this upstate New York town.

Masry & Vititoe said it has been inundated with 1,800 requests for legal help over the last year since Brockovich's fight to expose widespread water contamination in Hinckley, Calif., was celebrated in a hit movie.

Her efforts helped lead to a $333 million settlement against Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for injuries to residents of Hinkley. In the film, she was portrayed by Julia Roberts.

The lawsuit, expected to be filed later this month in Rochester, will seek millions of dollars in compensation for alleged illnesses, deaths and property damage in a neighborhood near an industrial site once occupied by GE and 3M subsidiary Dynacolor Corp.

The 31-acre site, already the subject of three other lawsuits, is now occupied by Kleen Brite Laboratories and Agrilink Foods, but neither company was likely to be named in the lawsuit. GE manufactured small appliances on the property from 1949 to 1987, and Dynacolor processed photographs in mass batches from 1961 to 1978.

Brockovich said she was troubled by levels of cyanide and heavy metals found in soil, water and sediment samples taken last month from back yards in the neighborhood and a polluted tributary of Brockport Creek.

``This is likely to be direct evidence of significant environmental contamination of a long-standing nature,'' she said in Thursday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. She plans to visit the site herself in March.

Masry & Vititoe said it learned of the problem through an e-mail from a resident of Brockport, a college town 25 miles west of Rochester, and hired a Buffalo-area environmental laboratory to take the samples.

State officials maintain that the polluted sediments in and around the tributary are not dangerous to human health as long as direct contact is avoided.

GE and 3M declined to comment until the lawsuit is filed, but GE spokesman Mark Behan repeated past assertions that the company and New York state ``have worked together diligently to address all the issues at the Brockport site for many years and we continue to do that.''