Plaintiff's lawyer says petrochemical industry knowingly sacrificed lives

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 10, 2007, 12:30pm

According to plaintiff's lawyer Dale Hanks, the local petrochemical facilities that have provided a comfortable way of life for generations of Southeast Texans are in reality secretive, callous, arrogant, reckless and have no regard for human life.

Hanks, an attorney at Bush Lewis PLLC in Beaumont, filed three lawsuits on Sept. 6 in Jefferson County District Court against Huntsman and 37 other defendants on behalf of plaintiffs that claim their illnesses are the result of butadiene exposure at area synthetic rubber facilities.

In each of the cases, the list of defendants includes Huntsman, Goodrich, American Synthetic Rubber, Atlantic Richfield, BASF, BP Amoco, Chevron, Dow Chemical, DuPont, ExxonMobil, Goodyear, Shell Oil, Texaco, Union Carbide, Union Oil of California, Uniroyal, Westlake Chemical and Williams Olefins. The plaintiffs in the suits were all employees at various times at Goodrich and Ameripol-Synpol in Port Neches.

In Case No. 179-961, the plaintiffs are Irvin Naville and his wife Linda. Naville worked at the facilities from 1977-2003. Naville has been diagnosed with leukemia.

The wife and daughters of Anthony Tipton are the plaintiffs in Case No. D170-972. Tipton, who died of lymphoma, worked at Goodrich and Ameripol-Synpol in Port Neches from 1978-2000.

Case B179-971 has the survivors of Robert Morse as plaintiffs. Morse also died of lymphoma.

Hanks wrote that the exposure to butadiene at the Goodrich and Ameripol-Synpol facilities was a producing and proximate cause of the illnesses and deaths.

The suits allege that each defendant knew its emissions included chemicals with the potential to cause cancer and other chronic diseases, yet continued to allow the emissions even though a substantial amount of them were unnecessary.

"Defendants knew that they were chemically contaminating the air breathed by every man, woman and child in the area of their industrial plants," Hanks wrote. "Such defendants have not only demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice human beings such as the herein victim(s), but they have inexcusably neglected to utilize available technology and methods � and made no effort to ascertain the dangers of their chemical fallout into the neighborhood and workplace. At all times such defendants could have substantially reduced their pollution, but they callously neglected to do so."

Hanks explained in the petitions that in 1959, the world's major producers of synthetic rubber formed an international trade association, the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers (IISRP). The association was founded to promote the welfare of the synthetic rubber industry and handle common problems collectively, including the potential health effects of chemicals used in manufacturing. Some of the defendants have been active members of IISRP and others have participated in studies sponsored by IISRP involving the health effects of butadiene.

The study of a connection between butadiene and cancer began in the 1970s. The suit says the studies were "overdue," "slow-moving" and "belated."

The suits allege that the IISRP members conspired and agreed to delay the testing of butadiene and misrepresented and understated the cancer-causing potential of the chemical. The organization also agreed to misrepresent that certain butadiene exposure levels were safe.

"Such joint conduct by such IISRP defendants was agreed to and engaged in knowingly, and constituted fraud, negligence and gross negligence and constituted breaches of duties creating strict liability in tort," the suits allege.

"In effect, such defendants have handled their chemical waste in a slipshod manner, and have irresponsibly and arrogantly appropriated nearby industries, private homes and public places as dumping grounds for their disease-causing waste, thereby bringing about widespread human suffering, needlessly sacrificed lives and great economic loss in the form of the lost wages and expensive health care," Hanks wrote.

In addition, the IISRP failed to initiate animal studies in a timely manner, and failed to include a mouse study at the time a rat study was conducted.

Mice and rats are used in toxicology studies because mice, rats and humans share 90 percent of the same genes. Humans and mice share many of the same enzymes needed to metabolize food, drugs, and chemicals.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages for physical and mental pain and suffering, medical expenses, impairment and disfigurement. Because of gross negligence and intentional torts, the plaintiffs also seek punitive damages from each defendant.

Survivors seek damages for loss of spousal or parental consortium, household services and punitive damages.

"The reckless and morally reprehensible conduct by these defendants calls for punitive damages in a sum sufficient to make such defendants appreciate the gravity of their shortcomings and bad faith in dealing with their nearby human neighbors and in a sum sufficient to motivate these defendants � to be mindful that the community is unwilling to accept such a human sacrifice of their loved ones and neighbors," Hanks continued.

Hanks also filed a butadiene-exposure suit in Orange County on Aug. 30.

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