Residents of the Southeast Como neighborhood were granted a class-action lawsuit against General Mills, attorneys announced on Wednesday, following their concerns of a potentially harmful vapor seeping into neighborhood homes.
Three residents were looking to sue the company last fall, claiming a former General Mills facility on Hennepin Avenue dumped TCE, also known as trichloroethylene, and put their health and homes’ value at risk. The claims were given class-action status, uniting the property owners and their claims against the company, according to a court order by U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank on Feb. 27.
Jackie Milbrandt, one of the three residents, said receiving the class-action certification was a good step toward resolving their concerns.
“This gives me a huge amount of hope that actual cleanup that needs to happen is actually going to move into action,” she said.
However, attorneys told residents at a Southeast Como neighborhood meeting on Wednesday that General Mills will likely appeal the court decision for a class-action lawsuit, forcing the residents to carry their claims forward individually.
According to a complaint filed by the residents in U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota last year, General Mills dumped 15,000 gallons of TCE near its former Hennepin Avenue property over the course of nearly two decades.
If they wouldn’t have been granted class-action status, the residents would have had to proceed with their claims against General Mills individually — a more expensive option.
Now, the owners of nearly 400 area residential properties are automatically entered into the lawsuit, but they can opt out once court-ordered letters are sent from attorneys in the upcoming months.
Prolonged exposure to TCE can lead to birth defects and kidney and liver cancers.
A study from the Minnesota Department of Health found the number of birth defects in the neighborhood was normal compared to the rest of the state.
A different report from the health department released about a year ago showed cancer rates in the area are also normal.
Though vapor mitigation systems were installed on some of the affected properties, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Milbrandt thinks there should be more aggressive cleanup actions.
“I have, what I consider, a Band-Aid on my house,” Milbrandt said. “But we have no idea if it’s effective or not.”
The trial is set to take place in two parts. The first will decide if General Mills did something wrong and whether more cleanup is necessary. The second will decide whether residents are awarded for alleged damages.
If damages are awarded, residents will receive them individually based on how TCE affected their properties, said Shawn Collins, one of the lawyers prosecuting the suit.
Dates have not been set for starting either part of the trial, lawyers said, but the first phase will probably happen in early 2016.