79-year-old sues for butadiene exposure

David Yates Aug. 30, 2007, 7:30am

A worker at Firestone's synthetic rubber plant in Orange for 43 years, Edward Blankenstein, 79, says he was "negligently" exposed to butadiene during his long tenure.

Blankenstein claims butadiene, a key chemical used in synthetic rubber production, caused him to develop Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a progressive blood and bone marrow disorder. He is suing the Huntsman Petrochemical Corp., along with a dozen other oil companies currently manufacturing and distributing the chemical.

Blankenstein and his wife, Martha, filed their personal injury lawsuit with the Orange County District Court on Aug. 27.

The American Cancer Society defines Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) as a group of conditions caused by abnormal blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. "In MDS, the bone marrow cannot produce blood cells effectively and many of the blood cells formed are defective."

The ACS Web site listed smoking, radiation exposure and benzene exposure as the top three known causes of MDS.

According to the plaintiffs' original petition, Blankenstein was first exposed to butadiene in 1963 when he went to work at the Firestone Synthetic Rubber and Latex Co. plant in Orange.

In his suit, Blankenstein says companies such as Huntsman, BP Amoco, ExxonMobil and Texaco manufactured, processed and supplied butadiene, "negligently" exposing him to a harmful chemical that had not been "adequately" tested.

"Butadiene … was a producing cause of Blankenstein's MDS and such products were unreasonably dangerous as marketed and therefore defective," the suit said, adding that the defenedants failed to test butadiene "for chronic health effects, making them liable to plaintiffs for actual and punitive damages."

The suit goes on to allege that the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers, an international non-profit trade association with 39 corporate members, which include several of the defendants, "conspired to slow (butadiene) health-effect research" – a common law duty violation.

In addition to punitive and actual damages, Blankenstein is suing for past and future mental anguish, medical expenses, physical impairment and disfigurement. His wife is suing for loss consortium.

According to the IISRP Web site, rubber comes from two sources: nature and man. Natural rubber is siphoned from cultivated trees on plantations in Asia and Africa. Synthetic rubber is man-made and is produced around the world in manufacturing plants that synthesize it from petroleum and other minerals.

"As Ralph Wolfe's poetic prose confirms, rubber is as indispensable to modern society as steel and wood and mortar," the IISRP Web site said. "We use products made of rubber at work, at home, at play, even when we travel. Automobiles, trains and aircraft rely on it for safety and comfort. Industry uses it to produce hoses, belts, gaskets, tires, molding, and thousands of other products. Rubber in the modern world is omnipotent."

The Huntsman Corp. has a butadiene production capacity of 850 million pounds per year at its Port Neches, Texas manufacturing facility and was the largest U. S. producer of butadiene in 1997 and 1998, according to the company's Web site.

"About half of all butadiene consumption in the U.S. is for styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) and polybutadiene (BR) which are primarily used in the manufacture of tires," the Huntsman site said. "Approximately 14 percent of the butadiene consumed in the U.S. goes into the production of nylon 6,6 which is used in making carpet. About 13 percent of the butadiene consumed in the U.S. is used in the manufacture of styrene butadiene latex (SBL) which is further processed into products such as adhesives and carpet backing. Another important use for butadiene is the production of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic which is used for pipe, automotive components and housings for electronic equipment such as telephones and computers."

The plaintiffs are demanding a trial by jury and are represented by attorney Dale Hanks of the Beaumont law firm Bush Lewis.

The case has been assigned to the 163rd Judicial District.

Case No. B-070422-c

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