I-Team: Number of plaintiffs in Clark County cancer cluster lawsuit grows


LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Claims about exposure to toxic chemicals at the Clark County Government Center continue to grow. It’s a story the I-Team first broke about 50 people suing Clark County, the City of Las Vegas and several companies.

Since our story aired three weeks ago, the number of plaintiffs grew from 50 to 100. Now, it’s expected to reach 150.

The I-Team has more exclusive interviews with those affected.

These are people who say working at the government center made them sick. Some of the plaintiffs are loved ones of former employees who died.

“It’s like living a bad dream,” said former employee Nick Romano.

He says he suffers from liver damage, thyroid disease and other illnesses.

“If I had gone one more year to my next yearly exam, I might not be here speaking to you right now,” said current employee Eliza Chavez.

For her, it was uterine cancer.

“We just sat there and watched her waste away,” recounted widower Owen Bush.

He lost his wife, Kim, to ovarian cancer at just 49-years-old.

“I was able to be with her, you know, every day until she passed,” Bush said.

What they have in common? Work inside the government center.

We asked Bush if he believes his wife’s cancer was connected to the building, to which he replied:

“Now that they have their scientists, their medical people that are doing the research, yes, I do.”

Kim passed away in 2013.

Lawyers say they’ve now uncovered a cancer cluster linked to the building. Their research dates back to the early 1900s, when the land was used by the Union Pacific Railroad. According to a newspaper clipping, by 1952, a tar pit at the site was a known hazard. The railroad then set fire to the pit and its waste materials. By the 70s, that was covered in dirt.

The lawsuit also points to several nearby spills.

Numerous documents that followed refer to contamination and recommendations for more testing and cleanup. Records reveal the City of Las Vegas sold the land to Clark County, and in the 90s, the government center was built.

Chavez says she began having flu-like symptoms when she first started working there in 2001.

“I knew that I felt better when I left work,” she recalled.

Romano points to a black substance from a vent, which he says he collected and later turned over to lawyers for testing. That’s one reason they say they’ve confirmed that employees are exposed to toxins.

In January, they filed a lawsuit against Clark County, the City of Las Vegas and several companies, like Monsanto.

Their goal: compensation for alleged victims and to get the building shut down.

As of Feb. 3, there are 115 plaintiffs. The legal team anticipates at least 200 by the end of February, with ongoing additions to the lawsuit.

According to the team, half of the plaintiffs had cancer; some of them had multiple cancers. These were:

  • Breast cancer
  • Uterine cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Peritoneal cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Bone cancer

Illnesses in the other half include:

  • Kidney disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Respiratory issues
  • Neurological issues (memory loss, migraines, vertigo, brain issues)
  • Graves’ disease
  • Strokes
  • Gallbladder removal
  • Thyroid issues
  • Stomach and colon issues
  • Diabetes
  • Heart issues
  • Premature hysterectomies
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hair loss
  • Dental issues
  • Lymph node issues
  • Aneurysms

Eleven are dead, some of whom passed away at young ages. Ten were cancer victims, and one died from liver failure.

Romano says he medically retired in 2019.

Chavez says she still works there because she’s just a couple of years from retirement. We asked if she had any fear speaking since she’s a current employee.

“Yes, I did. I almost backed out today,” she shared. “I feel like God saved me for a reason or a purpose, and if I can help others, then I want to do that. So I was glad to be able to tell my story.”

Bush said, “Of course she is already gone. But if they can stop other things from happening…”

Both Clark County and the City of Las Vegas say they don’t comment on pending litigation.

A spokesman for the railroad says:

Union Pacific is reviewing the complaints made in the suit.  As we understand it, the claims allege exposure to certain chemicals at the company’s former Las Vegas Railyard, which was sold to the City of Las Vegas many years ago.  Prior to the sale, Union Pacific performed environmental work under the direction of the Nevada Department of Environmental Quality.

Tim McMahan, Union Pacific spokesman

The I-Team also reached out to other defendants and did not receive a response in time for this report.

If you are a current or former employee of the government center or a surviving member of a deceased employee, the legal team says you are eligible to join the lawsuit. There is a one-year minimum exposure. The hotline is (702) 565-5500. The team will amend the lawsuit to include new plaintiffs as they sign up.

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