Benzene lawsuit asserts 51 years of exposure

Michelle Massey, East Texas Bureau Aug. 22, 2007, 9:45am

MARSHALL -- While employed as a laboratory technician, operator, pipe fitter and mechanic, Robert Oakley states he unknowingly suffered 51 years of exposure to toxins and carcinogens, specifically benzene-containing products.

Diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia on August 17, 2005, Oakley believes his sickness is from occupational exposure of benzene and maintains his employers were aware or should have been aware of the exposure hazards relating to benzene.

Acute myelogenos leukemia (AML) risk factors include types of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, tobacco smoke and exposure to large amounts of benzene. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society states that, "most people who have these risk factors do not get AML - and most people with AML do not have these risk factors."

Robert and his wife Irene Oakley, filed suit against 11 defendants including Air Products and Chemicals, Atlantic Richfield Company, BP Corporation North America, Occidental Chemical Corporation, Radiator Specialty Company and United States Steel Company.

Working as an operator and lab technician from 1954-1969 for Houston Chemical, Butler Chemical, Hooker Chemical and Occidental Chemical Corporation, Oakley alleges exposure to toxins and carcinogens including solvents, naptha, toluene, benzene and benzene-containing products such as Liquid Wrench and Raffinate.

His alleged exposure continued through his employment for Air Products and Chemicals as an operator, pipe fitter, mechanic, and in the maintenance department from 1970-1988. The complaint specifically states exposure to benzene from 1954-2005 from manufacturers, Radiator Specialty Company and United States Steel Corporation, the Houston Ship Channel and the city of Groveton.

Commercially produced since 1849, benzene is primarily used as a solvent in an industrial setting. It is naturally occurring in crude oil and a by-product of oil refining. Benzene is present in the air through forest fires, car exhaust, and industrial emissions. General exposure occurs through congested traffic, pumping gasoline, inhalation of tobacco smoke, and through contaminated food or water. Benzene was listed as carcinogen in the 1980 edition of the Annual Report on Carcinogens. In 2003, there were 65 U.S. manufacturers and 32 U.S. suppliers of benzene (SRI 2003).

The lawsuit faults the defendants for negligence, gross negligence, malice, failure to warn regarding occupational exposure, strict liability, defective product and conscious indifference to the plaintiff's rights, safety, and welfare. Continuing, the lawsuit asserts that the defendants knew the products were carcinogenic and poisonous but did not provide any information or precautions regarding its properties to the plaintiff.

The plaintiffs' state they should have been protected under the Hazard Communication Standard and the defendants' actions violated the Hazardous Substances Act.

Damages sought by plaintiff Irene Oakley include loss of society, consortium, companionship, love, affection, support and care of her husband. Punitive and exemplary damages are sought by Robert Oakley and include medical expenses, pain and suffering.

Represented by Lance Lubel from the law firm of Heard, Robins, Cloud and Lubel of Houston Texas, plaintiffs filed suit on August 16 in the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Texas-Marshall Division.

Plaintiffs have requested a jury trial. Currently, the defendants have not responded to the allegations.

Judge John Ward has referred the case to Magistrate Judge Charles Everingham.

Case No. 2:07-cv-00351.

More News