Dow settles Spring House cancer cases

Dow Chemical Co. has quietly settled lawsuits brought by the estates of two chemists who died of brain cancer after working at the former Rohm & Haas Co. research labs in Montgomery County.

The company, which purchased Rohm & Haas in 2009, agreed to pay a total of $950,000 - $475,000 in each case, according to records filed in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia.

The settlements bring to a close nearly a decade of litigation, during which plaintiffs' attorneys alleged that Rohm & Haas did not provide lab employees with sufficient protection against toxic chemicals and did not adequately warn them about the rising number of brain cancers. Attorneys for the company disputed the allegations and did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

As many as 14 employees who worked at the center in Spring House have died of brain cancer, out of more than 5,200 who worked there at some point since it opened in 1963, according to a 2010 University of Minnesota study commissioned by the company. The facility's operations have largely been moved to a larger site on the Pfizer Inc. campus in Collegeville.

The study authors found that the rate of death from brain cancer among those who worked at Spring House was about twice what would be expected in a population of that age and gender, but found no link between the deaths and exposure to specific chemicals.

This year, after analyzing four additional years of death records, Dow health officials said the apparent elevation in cancer deaths was not statistically significant.

The cases that Dow settled were filed by lawyer Aaron Freiwald on behalf of the families of chemists Barry C. Lange and Jemin Charles Hsu. The Lange case was settled in July, the Hsu case in May. Neither settlement was announced.

Earlier this month, Dow settled 33 unrelated cases in Northern Illinois. In those cases, also filed by Freiwald, residents of the McCullom Lake area alleged that brain and pituitary tumors were caused by air and groundwater contamination from a plant that Rohm & Haas acquired in 1999. Dow settled those cases for undisclosed amounts.

In the Spring House cases, the plaintiffs' lawyers took depositions from eight expert witnesses, and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of company documents.

After subtracting the costs of the expert testimony and other items, the plaintiffs' families received two-thirds of the amounts left over in each case: $221,665 for Lange's family and $228,377 for Hsu's.

As is standard in civil litigation, the other third in each case went to the law firm, Layser & Freiwald, which filed the cases in 2005.

Dow officials declined to comment on the settlements.

Asked about the case, Freiwald responded by e-mail: "We are very gratified that we were able to bring these long-running cases to a conclusion."

Lange's widow, Linda, did not respond to a request for comment. Hsu's widow could not be reached.

Several lawsuits filed on behalf of other Spring House employees with brain cancer or benign brain tumors have been unsuccessful.

It is considered difficult to prove that cancers are caused by exposure to toxic substances in the workplace, and the Spring House case might have been more challenging than most, as Lange, Hsu, and their colleagues worked with thousands of chemicals.

Attorneys for Rohm & Haas argued that if the scientists were claiming they got sick in the workplace, the cases belonged before the Bureau of Workers' Compensation. Freiwald filed cases there, too, only to have the company contend that the cancers were not caused by workplace exposure.

The bureau sided with the company, and both families decided to withdraw their appeals a year ago.

Discussions regarding the Common Pleas Court cases then apparently picked up steam, with papers outlining the details of a proposed settlement filed in April.

 


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