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Lawyers looking at Nestlé groundwater contamination; cell tower as possible causes
Some 1,320 years of service from former Nestle employees at the shuttered Ripon coffee was represented in a 2009 reunion at the Fisherman’s Galley in Modesto. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Ripon parents determined to find the cause of cancer in four children and three adults gathered Wednesday in a town hall-style meeting.

They heard from lawyers who are looking into the defunct Nestlé Food Corporation plant that operated southwest of the Main Street and Highway 99 interchange on Industrial Avenue producing decaffeinated coffee until it closed in 1994. Also speaking at the gathering in the Ripon Christian Schools auditorium was a representative from a brain tumor association that talked about the potential dangers of cell towers and cell phones.

A second town hall meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. this evening in Ripon’s city council chambers with representatives of Sprint and the City Council scheduled to be on hand to answer questions. Sprint last week shut off the cell tower at the Weston School campus that some parents believe could be the source of the cancers. Sprint has indicated it plans to relocate the tower to another site in Ripon.

The decaffeination process involved a closed loop system where solvents were distilled and recycled. Beginning in 1957, trichloroethylene (TCE) was used to extract caffeine. They switched from TCE to methylene chloride (MC) in 1970. Nestle used MC in the process until 1986.

Nestle stopped using toxic chemicals in the decaffeinated coffee making process in 1986. The firm started pumping tainted groundwater shortly thereafter to prevent it from spreading. The cleanup cost the company $6.5 million. The Nestle plant produced decaffeinated coffee from 1948 to 1986 and instant coffee from 1948 to 1994. The plant site was sold to Cal Freight in 2005.

In 2002 Nestle agreed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento to pay the City of Ripon $450,000 for fibers for placement on city wells and $500,000 to help the city develop new water wells. City wells were contaminated when wastewater leaked or spilled from city pipes.

Three attorneys from the Los Angeles Cochran Law Firm and a spokeswoman from the Brain Tumor Association of California were present at Wednesday’s gathering including some 80 parents.

Attorney Marcelis Morris said the problem at the Nestle plant has been active for over 30 years – stressing someone had to know about the situation where it has filtered chemicals into the community’s drinking water. 

“You can’t just pump it out,” he stressed.  “At a minimum they can stop it from spreading. We owe it to the people to find out what is causing the cancers in Ripon.”

A partner in the law firm, Brian T. Dunn, added, “We would not file a lawsuit unless we were 100 percent sure in the case.”

They noted that their firm has looked at every water test Nestle has done from 1986 to the present day on their old site, noting they have to dig into the records for answers.  Dunn said that this toxicity in Ripon and the concern for the cell tower is not unlike what has been experienced in other communities across the country with a lot of the same similarities.  

“Our concern is that there are some people who should have seen this coming and nothing was done about it,” Dunn added. “We have to keep other families from going through this (trauma) and seeing it swept under the run.  The right thing to do – the moral thing – is to say we have a problem.”   

Attorney James Oates said the only way to address this is through a civil issue.  

“What we have found out in the water issue is that they knew about it,” comparing it to Monsanto corporation at a little town in Alabama in the 1950s when PCP got into a stream and contaminated an area three miles away. It brought the largest settlement in U.S. History, he noted.

Ellen Marks of the Brain Tumor Association of California warned not only of cell towers but also of cell phone use especially in the hands of children that has been said to cause forms of cancer. Marks pointed to a release by the American Academy of Pediatrics that cell phones should be used in speaker mode or with the use of hands-free kits. The academy also said that users need to avoid carrying a phone against their bodies, like in a pocket, sock or bra and avoid making calls in cars, elevators, trains and buses as the cell phone works harder to get a signal through metal so the power level increases.  Also, it was added that laptops should be put on desks, not on laps.

Marks also said that the land-line phones can be a better choice in communicating as no radiation involved. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics cautioned that research shows that children’s brains, eyes and bone marrow absorb from three to 10 times the radiation than adults adding that risks of brain tumors are highest for those who first used a cell phone under the age of 20.


 To contact Glenn Kahl, email