Originally presented at “Conference: Sante et Travail” sponsored by CGT, and the Mutuelle Familale des Travaeilluers, Chartres, France, November 16, 2000.
I am an American attorney. I represent workers and the children of workers injured by exposure to toxic chemicals. I am pleased to provide CGT, and the Mutuelle Familale des Travaeilluers with this report of our recent work in this area.
I have made several visits to France this year to meet with IBM workers and their families who have been injured by exposure to toxic solvents. I very much appreciate the special assistance of CGT in assisting workers and their families to participate in this medical investigation. This assistance epitomizes the long tradition of friendship between the people of France and the people of the United States and our mutual respect for human rights.
That tradition lies at the heart of your work and your calling of this conference.
Why am I here? My purpose is to locate French families who have suffered similar injuries and losses as have been suffered by American families who worked at “sister” IBM plants in the U.S. to obtain proof of “other similar incidences” to be used as evidence in my cases in the United States.
Before I provide the details of that work, a brief explanation of the American legal system is in order.
In the United States our courts are open to all people to seek redress for torts that cause personal injuries and deaths. American legal cases are heard by juries composed of 12 citizens.
The Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to trial by jury in all civil cases. Jurors of local citizens are selected by both sides and are presented with evidence by both sides to determine what are the true facts, if there is liability and the amount of the compensation for financial damages to be paid by the wrongdoer, including payments for medical bills, future medical care, lost wages and pain and suffering.
The decisions of the facts of the case by juries are final. When wrongdoers are held accountable, verdicts providing compensation are powerful statements by our citizens of their respect for life and human rights and represent the voice of and conscience of the community.
Jury verdicts serve to educate the public, to deter misconduct and to promote safety and health.
In the United States everyone can afford an attorney because attorneys agree to work and not be paid until, and unless, there is a recovery. It is called the contingency fee system. This system is proscribed in France, but in the United States the contingency fee system has provided the keys to the court house for millions of workers and families.
This system for the payment of attorneys is criticized by business and industry because it provides incentives for attorneys to maximize verdicts for their clients because they are paid a percentage of the recovery. But, these attorneys are only paid if they are successful in obtaining justice for their clients. This system allows the poor and the disenfranchised access to justice and to the courts. Clients and attorneys openly negotiate a fair percentage in each case. In most cases the attorneys agree to “advance” costs, that is pay for the cost of investigators, expert witness professional fees, and the costs of filing and taking depositions. If there is no recovery, the attorneys are paid nothing and lose the money they have invested on behalf of their clients in case costs.
Business interests say this is wrong and causes large recoveries for injured plaintiffs, but, and this is important, 12 citizens decide these cases. Jurors take an oath to fairly listen to all the evidence and follow the requirements of the law in coming to a verdict. They hear all the facts, and listen to all the evidence fairly presented by both sides, with a judge making sure that only fair and acceptable evidence is heard and seen by the jury. Jury trials take place every day across the U.S. and it is the common sense and personal values of our citizens that makes this system work. It is a system that works well in the United States and provides the direct input of citizens in the judicial process.
I specialize in representing workers who have been injured by toxic chemicals and all of my work is on a contingency basis. If I am not successful in proving to a jury that my clients are entitled to recover, I am not paid.
Today, with colleagues in three other law firms, we represent 250 families of former IBM “clean room” workers employed at IBM factories in San Jose, California, Burlington, Vermont, Rochester, Minnesota and Fishkill, New York.
Our clients are IBM employees who:
- have cancer
- have died of cancer, or
- have children with severe birth defects.
These employees were required by their work to be exposed to toxic solvents every day. IBM promised its employees clean rooms, but the factories are only clean for electronic components, and semiconductors, not for people.
IBM knew that “clean rooms” were not safe for people. IBM and the chemical manufacturers that sold it toxic solvents never warned workers, unions , or health authorities the truth about the health hazards of:
- ethylene glycol
- n-butyl acetate
- methyl ethyl ketone
- sulfuric acid
- hydrochloric acid
- hydrofluoric acid
- adhesives and
- epoxy resins
IBM never shared the scientific and medical information that IBM toxicologists secretly provided to IBM executives.
In fact virtually none of the employees of IBM ever knew that IBM had two teams of toxicologists conducting secret studies and investigations of IBM workers.
IBM’s chief toxicologist now claim that in the early 1980s IBM regularly monitored animal toxicology studies and microbial genotoxicity test, to determine adverse health effects and that IBM attempted to “predict’ based on extrapolation from those studies, the possible human health effects. IBM also claims it correlated this information with medical surveillance, examinations and clinical biochemistry [blood and urine testing] observations of its own employees.
But that is highly improbably because IBM toxicologists never told IBM workers that the world medical and scientific literature showed that ethylene glycol and other toxic solvents used in the manufacture of semiconductors cause:
reduction in sperm counts,
disruption in menstrual cycles
suppression of ovulation
increase SPONTANEOUS ABORTIONS
reduction in pregnancies and
birth defects and severe malformations
The medical and scientific literature available to everyone in the world makes it absolutely clear that ethylene glycol and its metabolic breakdown products damage the male and female reproductive systems and have profound developmental toxicity. It is a red flag of warning that has been waving since the 1970s with increasing fervor. Workers were entitled to be protected from these chemicals and to be given this information. That did not happen and for that IBM must be held accountable in the U.S. and in France.
Chemicals that are mutagens are also carcinogens. These chemical solvents also cause cancer. The latency period between exposure and cancer can be ten to twenty years.
One IBM employee worked in Materials Analysis department from 1966 to 1979. Of the 14 employees in his department, 6 have died of brain tumors, intestinal cancer and leukemia. 2 have bone tumors. 8 workers out of 14 is outrageous proof that at IBM extremely dangerous chemicals were used with completely inadequate precautions.
Other IBM employees have cancers of the
Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and
Children of IBM “clean room” employees have been born with severe birth defects.
ocular malformations and blindness
Our lawsuits against IBM allege that there is no family history of birth defects in these IBM children and either one parent at the time of conception, or their mother during pregnancy, worked with IBM “clean room” chemicals. That has also been true of French IBM workers.
In our investigation of IBM we have discovered the details of a confidential file of death records maintained by IBM. IBM toxicologists in the United States have collected 10,000 death certificates. We have begun a detailed study of the IBM death certificates which are revealing that the rate of cancer for IBM employees is twice as great as the rate for the general population. More striking is that the number of brain cancers for IBM workers is six times higher than the rate of brain cancer in the general population.
You are very fortunate in France to have some of the leading epidemiologists in the world who have conducted studies of birth defects caused by toxic solvents, and especially ethylene glycol. I am very impressed with the work of Dr. Sylvaine Cordier at INSERM and encourage INSERM to vigilantly involve itself in further studies of this distressing situation that has unfairly burdened industrial workers. I am also very impressed by the work of Andre Cicolella of the Institut national de l’environnement et des risques industriels who has led the crusade for toxic solvent safety.
Institut national de l’environnement et des risques industriels, CGT, and the Mutuelle Familale des Travaeilluers have been on the front lines to raise the public’s consciousness concerning toxic solvents, especially ethylene glycol. It is only because of special public education efforts that the public today appreciates this hazard.
Today, France is taking the lead in protecting the public from the hazards of ethylene glycol and requiring that this product be labeled to warn everyone of its dangers.
Organizations of workers, medical doctors, advocates and everyone in the public health community all have much work to do, but so far this is clear: It does not matter if you are French or American. The injuries and deaths caused by toxic solvents know no boundaries. These deaths and lifelong injuries are preventable and avoidable.
Everyone who works with toxic solvents must be informed of the hazards of small, daily exposures to themselves and to their children and of the utmost need for full and complete protection. It is for that reason that I strongly support your efforts and am pleased to join with you today, and tomorrow, in this important work.
If you or a family member have been wrongfully injured call us at 1.888.777.1776 or use this form, delays can hurt your case, so please don’t hesitate to contact us.