Several current and former Camden County residents have developed cancer and other illnesses as a result of toxic contamination emanating from a former Sherwin-Williams paint manufacturing plant in Gibbsboro, they claim in a federal class-action lawsuit.

The suit alleges that between 1930 and 1978, the Cleveland, Ohio-based company used and produced hazardous materials including arsenic, lead, and benzene at three sites in the 2-square-mile town. Those substances then migrated into nearby soil, water, and air, the suit claims.

Although no townwide cancer assessment directly linking the residents' illnesses to the contamination has been conducted, the Environmental Protection Agency now lists the three former Gibbsboro facilities as Superfund sites, meaning they are contaminated by hazardous waste and require cleanup.

Contacted Wednesday, Mike Conway, director of corporate communications and investor relations at Sherwin-Williams, said, "the company just received the complaint and has no comment at this time."

For nearly 40 years, Sherwin-Williams manufactured paint, varnish, and lacquer at a site adjacent to Hilliards Creek in Gibbsboro. The company disposed of waste at the nearby Route 561 Dump Site and burned paint waste and solvents at the United States Avenue Burn Site, according to the EPA. The company took over the three sites in 1930 from John Lucas & Company, which had manufactured paint products there since the mid-1800s.

Sherwin-Williams is conducting field sampling at the Gibbsboro sites as part of a 1999 administrative order of consent with the EPA, which is developing long-term cleanup plans for each of the three locations.

But the complainants say the damage is already done.

Sandra Keating of Blackwood claims she was diagnosed with kidney disease after exercising in the area near the paint plants for three years. Lauren Procajlo, who has since moved to Voorhees, contends she contracted Hodgkin's lymphoma from the contamination. A young girl identified only as "EL" developed leukemia, while another called "LL" has neuroblastoma.

"A Fortune 500 company should've done what they should've done way back when, once they found out about this contamination," said attorney Craig Mitnick, who represents the plaintiffs.

The suit chronicles environmental tests stretching back decades that show polluted soil and water at the three Gibbsboro locations.

In 1975, the state Department of Environmental Protection found elevated levels of barium, lead, arsenic, and phenol in groundwater samples. In 1983, DEP found benzene and other compounds in an oily substance on the main site. EPA discovered unsafe concentrations of lead and arsenic in sediment and surface water samples in 1995, the suit said.

Lead, arsenic, and benzene are known carcinogens, according to the American Cancer Society.

Mitnick claimed that Sherwin-Williams knew about the toxic contamination in 1975 when manufacturing was still occurring at the sites, but did not do enough to remedy the situation.

Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages as well as the full remediation of all three sites.