Dr. Pietro U. Capurro, the Cecil County physician accused of defaming the Galaxy Chemical Co. and driving it out of business, repeatedly denied in testimony today that the had ever specifically linked the chemical plant's emissions to the unusually high number of cancer deaths in the small northeastern Maryland valley where the plant is located.
"I knew Galaxy was polluting and disturbing people. I knew there were malignancies," the Italian-born physiysysician testified. ". . . I don't know for sure if Galaxy causes cancer but I know people (were) dying."
The Galaxy Company and its owner, Paul J. Mraz, are seeking to recover $2.1 million in damages from Capurro, claiming that the nationwide publicity resulting from Capurro's studies of cancer deaths in the Little Elk Valley caused business to drop off dramatically. Creditors foreclosed on the firm late in 1975.
In court today Galaxy's attorney, George W. Constable, repeatedly asked Capurro what he meant when he wrote, in a 1974 article, "In a community where the residents were chronically exposed to a mixture of solvent vapors in the atmosphere, the annual death rate due to malignancies appears to be about 7 times the rate otherwise expected."
"Weren't you implying that Galaxy" (which emitted solvent vapors as part of its chemical recycling process) "was the cause of the excess cancer rate?" asked Constable.
"It's not that I'm implying, it's what's happening," Capurro responded. ". . . We have two problems. One is the plant. The other is the increased malignancies . . . it's up to other people to take whatever inference they want."
A minute later Capurro, whose testimony frequently was animated and whose broken English was at times difficult to understand, told Constable, "The truth was suggestive. Why do you blame me for what was happening in the (Little Elk) valley? Smething else was to blame . . ."
Capurro moved to the valley slightly north of Elkton in 1967, and began to complain soon thereafter of noxious odors coming from the Galaxy plant. In the ensuing years, the doctor spearheaded a number of attacks on the firm including a 1972 lawsuit that was tried in this same Caroline County courtroom.
As a result of that lawsuit, which alleged that the fumes from Galaxy caused illness among nearby residents, Capurro, his wife and eight other people shared a $34,932 award of fast enough.
Earlier, the Galaxy firm had been shut down briefly in 1971 when a local judge ruled that clean-up procedures there, mandated by the state Department of Health, were not proceeding fast enought.
The fact that the cancer death rate in the Little Elk Valley during the past nine years has been far above what should have been expected for a similar group of people has not been contested by either side in the case.
In fact, the chief expert witness for the Galaxy firm. Dr. William P. Radford of the University of Pittsburgh, testified that not only was the general cancer death rate high, but that the number of lymphatic cancers - one of the rarer forms of the disease - was extraordinarily high.
However, Radford contended, Galaxy could not be blamed for causing the problem, since lymphatic cancer remains dormant for a minimum of eight years and an average of 14 years. The Galaxy plant moved from weekend operations to full-time work in 1955.
After asserting that Galaxy should be exonerated. Radford suggested that the possible cause of the excess cancers might be two paper mills that once operated in the area - one of which occupied the same location where Galaxy later opened its plant.
Under persistent cross-examination by Capurro's attorney, Wilbur C. Preston Jr., Radford never deviated from his basic contention that Galaxy had moved to the Little Elk Valley too recently to be implicated in the area's cancer deaths.
However, Preseton did bring out the fact that Radford's own studies of elevated cancer death rates among steelworkers had been criticized is imprecise and faulty That was the same type of criticism Radford had made of Capurro's studies.
Today's court session began on a somewhat surprising note as Capurro called to the stand not by his own attorneys but by Constable. Even under the questioning of his adversary. Capurro would say that he had made his 1974 studies only in an effort to get state and U.S. authorities to study the area's cancer death problem. He was not out to specifically implicate Galaxy, Capurro said.
"I was worried that those chemicals may have damaged those people somehow . . . I was asking for a more responsible health department," Capurro said.
In the wake of Capurro's findings, the Maryland Health Department did form a task force to make a two-year study of the cancer death situationt in the valley The report of this group was released shortly before the trial began. It noted that an abnormal number of the valley's residents had died of cancer, but stopped short of attributing this to any specific cause.
The task force recommended that "measures be taken (in the area) to eliminate polllution with known toxic or (cancer-causing) substances."