Sixty-four military families have now filed suit over fears of pesticide contamination near their homes at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

Five separate lawsuits were filed earlier this year by 44 families who said they were not told about the contamination near their homes. On Dec. 8, two more lawsuits were filed on behalf of 20 additional families.

The lawsuits name as defendants Forest City Residential Management and its former subsidiary, Ohana Military Communities, which is owned by military housing developer Hunt Companies.

All of the families leased residential housing at the base sometime from 2006 to 2014. The lawsuits are seeking damages from the defendants that own and manage privatized housing at the base. Ten other unidentified defendants are also named in the suits.

The view from Cara Barber's former home in Kaneohe at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Barber is worried the presence of pesticides contributed to her daughter's health problems.
The view from Cara Barber’s former home in Kaneohe at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Barber was the lead plaintiff in the initial lawsuit against Forest City in 2014. Courtesy of Cara Barber

“Since at least 2006, defendants have systematically failed to warn military families of pesticide contamination at MCBH and knowingly and intentionally exposed military families at MCBH to unsafe conditions including higher rates of cancer and other adverse health outcomes without disclosing these risks to military families or taking sufficient steps to protect military families from such risks,” the new claims allege.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Kyle Smith and Terrance Revere, declined to comment, and a spokesperson for Ohio-based Forest City said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

The new cases were filed in 1st Circuit Court in Honolulu.

The concerns about potential soil contamination date to 2006, when Ohana Military Communities (then a subsidiary of Forest City) was demolishing homes and buildings. The developer discovered high levels of organochlorine pesticides left over from termite treatments.

Forest City completed a state Department of Health-approved pesticide management plan, which allowed for higher levels of carcinogenic pesticides than the Environmental Protection Agency generally recommends to remain in the surface soil. It was assumed that military families would not live on the base longer than six years, given the frequency or relocations.

But residents also began to report problems with asthma, cancer and birth defects.

Cara Barber, the wife of a Marine Corps veteran who lived on the base for several years, was the lead plaintiff in the initial lawsuit against Forest City in 2014. Barber’s case was later settled out of court.

Meanwhile, Forest City and Hunt Companies have been seeking to prevent Barber’s attorneys — Smith and Revere — from representing some of the other current and former residents of military housing who have submitted mediation demands.

Goodsill Anderson Quinn and Stifel and another law firm, Cox Fricke, argue that Smith and Revere should be disqualified because they violated conflict of interest and professional conduct rules by allegedly soliciting clients in the contaminated soil case.

Another complication: The earlier lawsuits have been shifted from 1st Circuit Court to the U.S. District Court in Hawaii, a matter that is under dispute.

It’s possible that additional cases might be filed. In the meantime, the jurisdiction debate could be settled by February, at which time discovery in the court cases could commence.

It’s unclear how much the plaintiffs are seeking, as there are no dollar amounts indicated in the court filings. Damages for emotional distress are also sought.

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