I.B.M. Offers $10,000 to Owners of Contaminated Houses
September 3, 2004
By ANTHONY DePALMA
The I.B.M. Corporation announced yesterday that it was
willing to pay $10,000 each to the owners of nearly 500
contaminated homes in the upstate village of Endicott if
the owners give up their right to sue for property damages
caused by industrial pollution.
Residents have complained that ventilation systems I.B.M.
has installed in their homes since 2002 to prevent toxic
vapors from building up in the basements have hurt property
values. Last year they asked Attorney General Eliot Spitzer
for help in protecting home values.
Mr. Spitzer's office negotiated with I.B.M. for a year to
develop the payment program, which is modeled after a
similar effort in Rochester. Endicott officials think the
payments will help revive the village, compensate
homeowners for lost real estate values and allow residents
to improve their homes, creating spillover economic
benefits. Homeowners would not be required to use the money
for home improvements.
The owners of the 480 houses and a handful of commercial
properties that were offered the ventilation systems are
eligible to receive payments. Owners would give up the
right to sue for property damages but would still be able
to sue for personal injury.
The program could cost I.B.M. more than $5 million, and
will be another costly step in the company's efforts to
remediate hazards it helped create in this upstate village
just west of Binghamton, where it got its start nearly a
century ago. Other manufacturers also contributed to the
pollution, but only I.B.M. is helping clean it up.
Last month, I.B.M. agreed to a consent order with the state
to clean up the remaining pollution, a byproduct of
chemicals called volatile organic compounds that were used
Residents of Endicott had a mixed reaction to the
announcement of the payment program.
"My gut reaction is that sounds like a buyout," said Edward
M. Blaine, the director of a community outreach program who
has owned a house in there for 31 years.
Mr. Blaine, 52, said he was not sure that he would accept
the money and give up his right to sue if he cannot sell
his house at market value. "If I had to say yes or no right
now I'd probably say no," he said. "I need to think about
Joseph T. Havel has no doubt. "I'm not taking it," Mr.
Havel said. "It's like a payoff, isn't it?"
Mr. Havel is a taxidermist who used to work in his basement
until state environmental officials discovered that the
plume of groundwater contamination was giving off vapors
that were seeping into the many basements, including his.
He has since abandoned the basement and built a workshop in
"If I tried to sell my house right now, I probably wouldn't
get any more than $60,000," he said. "People across the
street from me have been trying to sell for over a year."
He said the house had an assessed value of $102,000.
David A. Munro, an assistant attorney general who worked
with I.B.M. to develop the program, said there was no
evidence that property values had declined since the vapor
problem was discovered.
Rose Sotak, a real estate agent whose parents owned a house
in Endicott that they have willed to her 18-year-old
daughter, Kristin, said sales records indicated that prices
had actually increased from 1 to 5 percent a year in the
last few years.
Ms. Sotak said she would accept I.B.M.'s offer and put the
money toward Kristin's college tuition.
"The way I look at it," Mrs. Sotak said, "I.B.M. will be
paying over $5 million, which will be great for the economy
Samme Chittum contributed reporting for this article.