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IBM Chemical Use Lawsuit Goes To Court

Oct 23, 2003 | Chemical & Engineering News Past practices concerning the use of chemicals in electronics manufacturing went on trial in a California courtroom last week in a case involving IBM, Royal Dutch/ Shell, and the Union Carbide subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

In what is expected to be a landmark case, two workers are seeking compensation for the cancer from which they now suffer and which they blame on exposure to solvents and etchants used at an IBM disk drive manufacturing plant in San Jose.

Chemical makers deny responsibility. Carbide claims that it had "strong product stewardship programs and guidelines in place" when it supplied IBM, which it calls "a sophisticated user" of chemicals. Shell's spokesman says, "We believe the claims asserted against us are without merit."

The two workers' claims are the first to go to trial among more than 200 similar lawsuits that target IBM and its chemical suppliers. Some cases have been settled out of court, and others have been dismissed.

Many other lawsuits involving chemicals in the workplace have gone to court in the past. For instance, in 1998, seven researchers filed a class-action suit against Amoco charging that they developed brain tumors after exposure to toxic chemicals in company laboratories. BP Amoco subsequently reached settlements with most of the plaintiffs.

In the IBM case, plaintiffs' attorneys assert that, between 1969 and 2000, workers exposed to chemicals such as acetaldehyde, benzene, epichlorohydrin, formaldehyde, methylene chloride, nitromethane, trichloroethylene, and vinyl chloride "were dying disproportionately of cancer at a much younger age than people in the general population."

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