The claims of three Frederick County farm families who are suing a nearby aluminum smelter for $1.6 million in damages went to the jury yesterday after nearly four weeks of testimony and arguments over the effects of fluoride gas emissions on the families' dairy farms.
The Circuit Court jury left the courtroom about 12:40 p.m. carrying armloads of evidence including stacks of meteorological reports and photos of cows' teeth to help them determine whether Eastalco Aluminum is liable for alleged damages to dairy catle, crops and ornamental plants and to the families themselves.
After nine hours of deliberation, the jury retired for the night, planning to resume this morning.
The trial ended with nearly seven hours of closing arguments that ranged from statistical analyses to biblical exhortations.
"You ask how you have despised my name -- by putting polluted food on my altar," the farm families' attorney, Arden E. Shenker, quoted from the book of Malachi. Shenker said he came across the Bible verse in his leisure reading the night before.
The farm families' homes are "their altars -- which need not be sacrificed at the behest of Eastalco," he said.
Earlier, however, Eastalco's attorney, Benjamin Rosenberg, told the jury that the evidence in the trial was "overwhelmingly clear and overwnelmingly compelling" that Eastalco has done no economic damage to the farm families.
In his closing argument, Rosenberg noted that relatively high concentrations of fluorides had been present in cattle feed and forage on the farms even before the aluminum plant opened in 1970.
The company's attorney also pointed out that the three families had pulled out of Eastalco's program to monitor fluoride emissions. "They no longer participate in the monitoring program because their lawyer told them not to," he argued.
Shenker, in his closing argument, described at length how the three farm families had moved to their farms and worked to make them what they are today. And then he spoke of how these men and women were affected by the plant's fluoride emissions.
Shenker said that one farmer, William B. Zimmerman Jr., had been forced off his tractor and had taken refuge in his house because of the pollution from the factory. Norma Putnam, on another farm, often stayed inside to avoid what she believed were harmful consequences of the emissions.
"Why," asked Shenker, "should she be locked in her house as a prisoner of what is out there?"
Shenker said the evidence in the case showed how the fluoride harmed the many cows on the farms -- in some cases making them lame, and affecting their ability to produce milk and offspring. Because Eastalco officials allowed this to occur, he said, the families are entitled to damages.