Frederick residents and Randy White’s family are again claiming in court that Fort Detrick’s negligence caused the illnesses and deaths of their relatives.
In a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, they argue that the government withheld “crucial information” from people living and working near the installation and “recklessly and negligently” handled toxic chemicals, causing injury and death by exposure.
The plaintiffs are seeking $750 million for wrongful death and pain and suffering.
Massachusetts lawyer Mike Hugo has been representing the family of Randy White, founder of the Kristen Renee Foundation, in its legal actions against the Army.
Hugo said they are unsure how many people may eventually be part of the class-action suit.
The legal action is intended to protect the 106 families and individuals whose claims of health problems were denied in February, though many more people may have had health issues without filing claims.
The lawsuit is split into three groups of people.
Angie Pieper, sister of the late Kristen Renee White Hernandez, is representing Hernandez’s estate and people whose deaths were “caused by toxic exposure on or emanating from” Fort Detrick, according to court documents.
Frederick resident Louise M. Mason is representing herself and people “suffering from diseases caused by toxic exposure on or emanating from” Fort Detrick. Mason declined to comment Thursday.
Brandon F. White, Randy White’s son, is representing himself and people “suffering from fear of diseases caused by toxic exposure on or emanating from” Fort Detrick. Brandon White lives in Tampa, Florida.
Hugo said they have found military families and veterans whose health has been affected by contamination at the installation. He expects to see more affected active military and veterans as the case progresses.
He also said he has identified people who know their illness was directly caused by contamination at Fort Detrick. He declined to provide details.
Fort Detrick garrison spokeswoman Lanessa Hill said the post continues to monitor more than 100 groundwater wells both on and off post for contaminants. A portion of those are monitored on a quarterly basis.
“These wells allow us to have a good approximation of what is going on in and around Area B at any time,” she said in an email.
The 106 claims the Army denied a total of $3.8 billion in restitution for wrongful deaths and illnesses stemming from toxins near Fort Detrick.
The claims included one $50 million claim that White filed, claiming that Hernandez’s death from a brain tumor was caused by living near the post.
Those who received denials had six months to take legal action and sue the Army.
The state health department reported last fall that it was unable to find a cancer cluster near Fort Detrick, though local activists and residents argued the state’s review was not thorough enough.
Jen Peppe Hahn, a member of the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board, was one of those residents.
She believes the range of data the state examined — cancer cases in the Fort Detrick area between 1992 and 2011 — leaves out many potential cases in the 1970s and 1980s.
A developer’s $37 million lawsuit against Fort Detrick was dismissed in January. The developer, Waverley View Investors LLC, owns a property totaling 92.8 acres near the installation.
A representative of Waverley View declined to comment on current plans for the property.
According to court records, the developer failed to show that the Army was bound to environmental cleanup actions at Fort Detrick.
Pieper, Mason and White’s current class-action lawsuit against the Army similarly argues that Fort Detrick was responsible for maintaining its property “in such a way as to not cause harm.”
Hill said the Army plans to widen its geographic sampling area this fall and start looking at groundwater in the Carroll Creek area, and potentially the Waverly View property, to test for contaminants.
As of Thursday afternoon, a court hearing had not been set.