Woman claims brain tumor due to chemical emissions near area schools

Kelly Holleran Aug. 18, 2009, 7:17am


A Jefferson County woman is claiming that chemical emissions near the schools she attended have caused her develop brain cancer.

Teri N. Segura and her husband, Christopher B. Segura, filed a lawsuit Aug. 14 in Jefferson County District Court against petrochemical companies in the Port Neches-Groves area.

According to the complaint, Teri N. Segura's problems began after she was exposed to butadiene while attending elementary and middle schools in Groves. She attended Port Neches-Groves High School from 1990 until 1994, where she claims she also breathed in the carcinogen.

"Such butadiene exposure was a producing and a proximate cause of her brain tumor condition," the suit states. "Teri N. Segura would show that her brain tumor has had a devastating effect on her life and has inflicted upon her great pain and suffering, both mental and physical, as well as substantial physical and mental impairment and disfigurement. She required surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor, which resulted in left-sided paralysis for approximately a year thereafter. She has suffered from epilepsy since then."

The Seguras say the butadiene Teri N. Segura ingested was emitted from a Styrene-Butadiene-Rubber (SBR) complex consisting of three petrochemical facilities in Port Neches which have been used to manufacture butadiene and synthetic rubber.

The plaintiffs claim that since 1943, "tens of thousands" of people living or working near the Port Neches SBR complex have been exposed to butadiene – a chemical that allegedly causes cancer and creates a risk of brain tumors, blood disorders and various lymphohematopoietic cancers.

"Unfortunately, a significant population that lives, works, attends school and moves about in the shadow of these industrial facilities has been involuntarily exposed to butadiene in dangerous doses, thereby becoming at risk of contracting such cancers and blood disorders," the suit states. "The risk from this 'community exposure' is not as great as that of the workers inside the facilities, but it is still great enough to claim the health and lives of innocent victims."

The area adjacent to the SBR complex includes residences, a junior high school, a high school, an elementary school and a playground, according to the complaint.

"Over the years thousands of tons of butadiene have been discharged as waste from the SBR Complex onto the town of Port Neches with the highest doses being administered at the schools and playgrounds," the suit states. "While the large majority of this exposed population will resist the carcinogenic effects of butadiene, the bodies of some will yield, becoming victims of brain tumors and cancer, blood disorders, and lymphohematopoietic cancers."

The complaint says that when the SBR complex was built during World War II, it may have been acceptable not to test for serious health effects related to butadiene, but after 1950 such testing should have begun because the companies became aware of butadiene emission.

"If such proper testing had been done timely these defendants, and in turn the public, would have learned by no later than the early 1950s that butadiene is a potent animal carcinogen, and presumably a human carcinogen," the suit states. "With this knowledge exposures would have drastically reduced and exposed populations would have been the subject of appropriate epidemiologic studies to identify the human risk."

However, testing for the harmful effects of butadiene was not performed until the 1970s, well after the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber Producers was formed in 1959 to handle common problems found in the synthetic rubber industry, according to the complaint.

The Seguras allege the IISRP conspired with the defending companies to delay testing, to misrepresent the cancer-causing potential of butadiene and to take joint positions claiming certain butadiene levels were safe.

According to the complaint, when testing finally began, only rats were examined at a time when both rats and mice were recommended for the study. The rat study revealed butadiene to be a carcinogen, and only then was a mouse study initiated. But the mouse examination was cut short because too many mice were dying of leukemia and lymphoma, the suit states.

An industry-sponsored study in 1988 confirmed the probable link between butadiene and leukemia in humans, according to the complaint.

Instead of educating the public on the findings of their study, the defending companies set out to attack their own study, the Seguras claim.

"Because of the ineptness of IISRP in performing the undertaken common-law duties of its members and participating non-members, huge and unnecessary emissions of butadiene were continuously showered on the town of Port Neches during the 1950s, 1960s and continuing through the 1970s and 1980s," the complaint says. "Because of the unconscionable delay by these defendants in conducting the two-year animal studies, countless victims have been needlessly afflicted with cancer."

Companies included as defendants in the suit are Huntsman Petrochemical Corp., Goodrich Corp., American Synthetic Rubber Corp., Atlantic Richfield Co., Total Petrochemicals USA, BASF Corp., Bayer Corporation, Borg-Warner Automotive Transmission and Engine Components Corp., BP Amoco Chemical Co., BP Products North America, CanadianOxy Offshore Production Co., Chevron USA, ConocoPhillips Co., The Dow Chemical Co., Eastman Chemical Co., Formosa Plastics Corp., Industrial Solvents Corp., Michelin North America, Mitsubishi International Corp., Mitsui and Co., Pharmacia Corp., Sabic Pharmaceuticals Holding US, Sasol North America, Shell Oil Co., Synpol, Texaco, Texas Petrochemicals, Union Carbide Corp., Uniroyal, Vinmar and Williams Olefins.

Because of her exposure to the butadiene, Teri N. Segura says she has incurred medical costs, suffered a loss of earnings and earning capacity and experienced pain, suffering, mental anguish, physical and mental impairment and disfigurement.

Her husband has lost consortium and household services, according to the complaint.

The Seguras are seeking actual and punitive damages, plus costs, pre-judgment interest and other relief the court deems just.

Dale K. Hanks of Bush Lewis in Beaumont will be representing them. Hanks filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of former PNG student in 2008.

The case has been assigned to Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court.

Jefferson County District Court case number: A184-663.

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