A federal jury on Thursday found that a former subsidiary of the drug maker Merck & Co. contaminated the air and water in a central California subdivision, potentially exposing thousands to a cancer-causing chemical.
In a verdict in U.S. District Court in Fresno, the jury decided that hazardous levels of hexavalent chromium leaking from a manufacturing plant spread into the air where residents of Merced's Beachwood subdivision could have been exposed to them for 25 years.
Jurors also found that residents could have been exposed to the chemical—which was made famous in the film "Erin Brockovich"—through water in an irrigation canal, where they swam and fished, and through floodwaters, which flooded the subdivision in 2006 and picked up contaminated soil from the plant.
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A new jury will now be called to determine which of the 2,000 individual plaintiffs were actually harmed by the chemical exposure and to determine punitive damages.