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Lawsuit wants employees monitored for cancer

/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of employees at a chemical company should be tested for brain tumors because of a high number of deadly cases among workers at a research campus, a retired worker argued in a lawsuit.

Rohm and Haas Co. conducted its own study in 2004 and found no significant links among 15 workers who developed brain tumors at its suburban Spring House campus since 1973. All but one died. It said Wednesday it is reviewing the deaths.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Aaron J. Freiwald, wrote in court papers that “there is evidence enough to establish a workplace link to these cancers.” The lawsuit was filed in state court in Philadelphia on Monday on behalf of a retired worker and seeks periodic MRIs and neurologic testing for thousands of others. Freiwald said his client, William H. Brendley Jr. of Hatboro, does not have cancer.

Nearly 6,000 chemists, technicians, office workers and others have worked at the campus since it opened in 1963, including about 1,000 who work there now. In a 2002 letter to employees, Rohm and Haas said the site’s brain cancer rate was about twice that found in the general population, according to Freiwald’s suit, which seeks class-action status.

Freiwald also is pursuing individual negligence lawsuits against Rohm and Haas on behalf of two longtime scientists diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive type of brain cancer.

Employees worked with agricultural products

Both men worked on the development of agricultural products such as pesticides, earning patents for their work. According to Freiwald, three other workers who also contracted glioblastoma worked near them in Spring House.

The individual suits allege that Rohm and Haas failed to warn employees about potential toxins and carcinogens or train them in their proper handling.

Rohm and Haas is currently reviewing the death certificates of former Spring House employees, a study expected to be finished in November 2006, spokesman Syd Havely said Wednesday. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which conducts studies about cancer clusters at the workplace, is not studying the site, the agency said Thursday.

A cancer cluster is a greater-than-expected number of cases of a particular kind of cancer in a group of people in one area over a period of time. Three of the 15 reported cases at Rohm and Haas were benign tumors. Twelve others were malignant — seven of them glioblastoma, a common form of malignant brain cancer.

In Connecticut, jet maker Pratt & Whitney is funding a study of more than three dozen glioblastoma deaths among workers since the 1960s. The study will examine records of more than 250,000 current and former employees.

In the 1990s, concerns about a brain cancer link were raised at a BP Amoco laboratory in suburban Chicago. Seven employees developed glioblastomas in a 14-year period, while 10 others had benign brain tumors. The petroleum company failed to find a causal link, but settled suits involving all of the malignant cases.