BENZENE LITIGATION:AN EMERGING MASS TORT Presentation to the Casualty Actuarial Society William A. Brauer CPCU
Top-Ten Reasons Benzene Litigation Is An Emerging Mass Tort • Industrial Exposures-Large pool of potential Litigants • Common compound • Some Scientific Support on Causation • Signature Disease- Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) • History of Work Comp case awards • Latency Period • Recruitment by Plaintiff Bar • Some 7 figure verdicts • Multiple defendants • Mealeys has a Litigation Reporter on it
Web Recruitment a Mass Lit Hallmark Law Firms Dominate Benzene Web Searches
Benzene Cases-Plaintiff Wins • Ryan v. BP Amoco NoCV223271 Mo Cir Jackson : $13.3 million in compensatory damages. Sept 2005 Environmental case. Resident next to Spring Creek Refinery died from leukemia • Camizzi v Akso Products Inc. et. al. BC 289503,Calif Super, Los Angeles County: Missionary and part time aircraft painter awarded $2.2 million for leukemia alleged from benzene in paint • Mason v. Texaco, 948 F.2d 1546 (10th Cir. 1991). Otis Mason died of leukemia caused by exposure to benzene, an industrial solvent and gasoline component, for which the jury awarded $34 million. • Watts et.al.. v. Radiator Specialty No.2002—364 Miss Cir Ct2004 $2million NHL Liquid Wrench. Judge granted defense motion for jnov. Dr Barry Levy involved. Appeal filed. • Mobil Oil v. Ellender 968 S.W. 2d 917 (Tex 1998) $6.00 mil punitive, $622,88 compensatory AML failure to warn/ conscious indifference toward the safety of contract workersBeaumont Refinery It Takes Some Substantial Early Verdicts to Fuel litigation
What is Benzene ? • Benzene, also known as benzol, is a hydrocarbon liquid and an effective solvent. Highly flammable, colorless, with a sweet odor. Benzene evaporates quickly and dissolves slightly in water. Most people can smell benzene in air at 1.5-4.7 ppm and smell benzene in water at 2 ppm. Most people can begin to taste benzene in water at 0.5-4.5 ppm. One part per million is approximately equal to one drop in 40 gallons. Benzene is found in air, water, and soil. Benzene comes from both industrial and natural sources. • Various industries use benzene to make other chemicals, such as styrene (for plastics), cumene (for various resins), and cyclohexane (for nylon and synthetic fibers). Also used in manufacturing of some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, and pesticides. • Because of its wide use, benzene ranks in the top 20 in production volume for chemicals produced in the United States. • Originally derived from coal tar, now produced from petroleum. • Used as a substitute for lead, benzene now makes up 1 to 2 percent of every gallon of gasoline and it is released as a by-product of fuel combustion.
Some Current or Historical Benzene Products hydraulic fluids inks lacquer thinner mineral spirits paints and coatings (some) pesticides rubber cement solvents crude oil refined petroleum products asphalts charcoal lighter fluid cigarette lighter fluid cleaners contact cements gasoline glues The USEPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classify benzene as a Group A or Group 1 human carcinogen. The EPA has set the maximum permissible level of benzene in drinking water at 0.005 milligrams per liter (0.005 mg/L) OSHA has set a permissible exposure limit of 1 part of benzene per million parts of air (1 ppm) in the workplace during an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek. (1978), down from 10 ppm in 1971. The short term exposure limit for airborne benzene is 5 ppm for 15 minutes.
Occupations With Current Or Historical Benzene Exposure Potential Adhesive productionBarge WorkersChemical WorkersDock WorkersGasoline distribution workersIndustrial plant workers who use solvents Installers using glues, solvents Newspaper Press WorkersOffshore Oilrig Workers PaintersPaper and PulpPesticide ManufacturingPlumbers Pipefitters Printers Refinery WorkersRubber WorkersShoe / Leather workersSynthetic Rubber Production TankermenTruck Drivers
What’s the Exposure in People Terms? • As many as 238,000 people may be occupationally exposed to benzene in the United States currently. Source: NIOSH • Although benzene far less common than it once was, just as with asbestos there is a latency period between exposure and disease manifestation and a case presenting today may come from a worker who was exposed to historically higher workplace levels. • Efforts to reduce VOC’s both in the ambient air and in the workplace and improvements in industrial hygiene have reduced the numbers of workers occupationally exposed. Adding to current exposure estimates a modification for employee turnover, a provision for any number of older workers and retirees who worked with and/or around benzene products or benzene containing workplaces at some points in their careers increases the total number of occupationally exposed workers. • The total number of current and former workers with appreciable occupation exposures is no doubt far over the current estimates. • Very likely that we’re in the same ballpark with the numbers of those who welded or were significantly exposed to silicates. Estimates for each of those exposures were in the realm of one million workers. Significant Number of Potential Recruits
The Medical-Epidemiological Background • A considerable number of human studies provide evidence linking benzene and cancer. Initially, increased risks of leukemia, chiefly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), were reported among workers with high levels of benzene exposure in the chemical, shoemaking, and oil refining industries. • Long term studies of workers at three Ohio plants (Pliofilm which made rubber sheeting with a benzene solvent evaporative) going back to the 1940’s provided the first epidemiological evidence that benzene was carcinogenic. • The National Cancer Institute and Chinese Academy of preventative medicine conducted a long term study of over 74,000 workers at 672 factories in 12 cities and found elevated risks of hematologic neoplasms even at exposure levels less than 10ppm • There is a lengthy history of control of benzene by both OSHA and European governmental agencies
How Does Benzene Cause Disease/Injury? It is postulated that it is metabolites of benzene, called quinones which are the instrument of harm and these generally react with the hematopoietic tissues. These cells, found within the bone marrow, produce blood cells. The Leukemias fit into the general class called neoplasms of the Lymphhopoietic and Hematopoietic tissues. Cancers such as lymphomas (solid tumors) multiple myelomas (cancers of the plasma cells and lymphoid leukemias originate in the lymphoid line of cells in areas such as the lymph nodes.Clinical and epidemiological evidence consistently indicate that acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and its variants, alternatively called acute nonlymphocytic leukemias (ANLL) can be caused by benzene exposure.Many plaintiffs suffering from multiple myelomas (MM) have filed benzene suits Though some statistics suggest a link, the science is not generally supportive of benzene causation of MM. Likewise,plaintiffs have also filed suits linking their Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL) to benzene exposures. Controversy still exists as to the role of benzene and NHL development.
A Caveat On Exposure Levels • Benzene levels in various workplace studies, dating back to the 1940’s and ’50’s were high (ex. The Pliofilm Ohio plant). Current OSHA standards (1ppm reduced from higher historical limits) make current day comparisons and domestic studies difficult. Clean Air Act and OSHA standards have also led to the reformulation and reduction of or elimination of benzene in many products. • The Italian shoe worker study: No worker who started after Italian law reduced the benzene content in glue to a maximum 2% in 1963 developed aplastic anemia, a precursor of AML • Benzene litigation continues to grow due to the gaining popularity of "trace benzene" cases (a term coined by Gordon & Rees) in California and other jurisdictions. In "trace benzene" cases, plaintiff's counsel frequently chooses to sue the manufacturers and distributors of all products the plaintiff used at work, including products with benzene content as small as 0.001%. • Many studies are foreign as US workplaces generally OSHA compliant
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) • AML is a blood cancer in which stem cells (myeloid cells) produce abnormal blood cells known as "myeloblasts“ or leukemia cells. These do not mature into healthy white blood cells, instead these abnormal "blast" cells multiply out of control displacing or crowding out healthy blood cells, thus causing low numbers of red and white blood cells, and platelets. • The leukemia cells can spread outside the blood to other parts of the body, including the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), skin, and gums. Sometimes leukemia cells form a solid tumor called a granulocytic sarcoma or chloroma. • Bone marrow failure occurs as cancerous cells replace normal bone marrow. The bone marrow is part of the body's immune system. Problems with the immune system can make it harder for the body to fight infection. Patients with AML have an increased risk of bleeding as healthy blood cells drop. They become more prone to infection as the immune system is compromised. • The goal of treatment is to kill the cancer cells with chemo. Further treatment called consolidation is necessary, which may consist of addl chemo, bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant. Radiotherapy, and monoclonal antibodies may also be utilized • Approximately 13,400 new cases of AML diagnosed annually accounting for less than 1% of all cancers and 34% of all leukemias. AML has a slight male predominance (1.2:1.0).] AML median patient age at diagnosis is 65 years. Incidence of AML is rare below the age of 40 but increases progressively with age. Overall, the 5-year survival rate in adults under 65 is about 33%. AML is the Signature Disease in the Litigation
Multiple Myeloma (MM) • In multiple myeloma abnormal plasmacells, which produce the fluid portion of the blood, build up in the bone marrow ultimately forming tumors and preventing the bone marrow from making enough healthy stem cells that develop into red and white blood cells and platelets. The tumors within the bone may cause extreme pain and complications • There is far less consensus as to a causative link between benzene and MM. • Strong influence of race on the incidence of myeloma and the occurrence of familial clusters of MM cases suggest that genetic factors are involved in causation. Other risk factors for multiple myeloma are autoimmune disorders, chronic immune stimulation, and ionizing radiation) • Has a longer latency period than AML making it perhaps harder to find in studies • As a point of reference there are an estimated 15 to 16,000 cases of MM diagnosed annually
Multiple Myeloma in a Multinational Cohort of More Than 250,000 Petroleum Workers by Country and Industrial Division Country and Industrial Division Observed Deaths v. Expected Deaths US Refinery 116 120.01 US, UK, and Canada Refinery 145 157.91 US, UK, and Canada Distribution 48 51.46 US and Canada Production and pipeline 6 9.27 US, UK, Canada, and Australia All divisions 205 220.93 Data from Wong and Raabe • Case-control studies from other countries also support the finding of no causal relationship between multiple myeloma and benzene exposure from American studies. • Source: Benzene and Multiple Myeloma: Appraisal of the Scientific Evidence Bergsagelet.al. Journal of the American Society of Hematology Vol 94 No 4 August 1999 The Numbers Linking Benzene And MM Just Aren’t There In This Extremely Large Cohort
Source: Environmental Health Perspectives Vol 104 Supp 6 Dec 1996 “Does Benzene Cause Multiple Myeloma? An analysis of the Published Case control literature Shewet Bwezabah et. Al.
The Tenuous MM Link • The odds ratios for those studies that have examined benzene exposure are approximately 1.0. Exposures to chemicals in categories containing benzene, exposures to petroleum products, and employment in petroleum-related occupations do not appear to be risk factors for multiple myeloma. Products of combustion described as "engine exhaust" have a suggested association, while products of combustion described as "cigarette smoking" do not, cigarette smoking often being considered a surrogate for benzene exposure. Much of the literature on risk factors for multiple myeloma is ambivalent. The current published case-control literature on benzene exposure is not ambivalent and does not indicate that benzene exposure is a risk factor for multiple myeloma. Source: Environmental Health Perspectives Vol 104 Supp 6 Dec 1996 “Does Benzene Cause Multiple Myeloma? • Plaintiffs cite studies that support MM causation by benzene. • Swedish Paint Industry Study: Tracked painters first employed 1956 or earlier, excess was particularly marked for multiple myeloma (SIR 3.8)
Some Studies Still Indicate A Benzene MM Link (Or Is It Another Chemical And Not Benzene?) • “While we agree that the causal relation between benzene and MM remains unproven, there are sufficient data to make this association highly probable. “ Source Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute (EOHSI) LETTER Drs Goldstein and Shalalt Feb 2000 in Blood Magazine • Australian Petroleum Industry Study Standardized Mortality Ratio (SMR) of 2.6 • Monsanto Study: 4172 workers SMR 2.6 (95% CI 0.7 to 6.7) in the >6 ppm-years group • A case-control study of multiple myeloma in Japan: Occupational exposure to chemical products including organic solvents or petroleum showed a significant association with increased risk (OR = 8.05 • Cancer risks in New Zealand painters: Multiple Myeloma (OR 1.95, Risks for MM were greater among car or spray painters and sign writers (OR 2.81)
NHL risk factors include infectious agents (HIV, Epstein Barr virus (mononucleosis), Heliobacter pylori bacteria (stomach ulcers), immunosuppression during organ transplants, genetic susceptibility and environmental risk factors. Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and phenoxy herbicides are also seen factors. Epstein Barr associated with about one-half the cases however virus not conclusively established as a cause. DNA from Simian Virus 40 (SV40), turned up in high percentages in various studies. Studies have also shown that patients exposed to chemoradiotherapy and chemotherapeutic agents may develop lymphoma. One research team conducted a systematic review of all case-control and cohort studies (mega study) that identified probable occupational exposures to benzene and NHL morbidity or mortality: “We identified 43 case-control studies of NHL outcomes that recognized persons with probable occupational exposure to benzene. Forty of these 43 (93%) studies show some elevation of NHL risk, with 23 of 43 (53%) studies finding statistically significant associations between NHL risk and probable benzene exposure.”
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) 56,390 NHL cases diagnosed in the USA in 2005. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the sixth most common cancer in males and the fifth most common cancer in females in the United States. The age-adjusted incidence of non-Hodgkin lymphoma rose by 74 percent from 1975 to 2002 - an annual average percentage increase of 2.7 percent. Lymphoma is a general term for a group of cancers that originates in the lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma represents a diverse group of cancers, with the distinctions between types based on the characteristics of the cancerous cells. The groups are often classified as indolent or aggressive, low, intermediate and high grade. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a group of diseases and not just one type. Each histologic grouping is diagnosed and treated differently, and therefore expectations are that causations will be ultimately prove to be individualistic and not blanket.
Aplastic Anemia • Aplastic anemia is caused by bone marrow failure, resulting in hypoplasia with an inadequate number of all cell lines. Severe aplastic anemia typically has a poor prognosis and can progress to leukemia. Fatal aplastic anemia following benzene exposure was first reported in workers in the nineteenth century. • Relatively rare, only several thousand cases per year diagnosed in US.
Typical Pleadings in a Benzene Lawsuit Plaintiff worked with and was exposed to various benzene containing, or alternatively aromatic hydrocarbon-containing chemicals, solvents and/or paints, manufactured, processed, supplied and/or sold by defendants. Plaintiff was exposed to said products by means of inhalation and dermal absorption from direct dermal contact by said products. Plaintiff’s exposure to the defendants aromatic hydrocarbon-containing chemicals, solvents, paints and/or fuels was the proximate cause of his development of AML (or variants ANLL), or less commonly multiple myeloma (MM), or NHL
BURDEN OF PROOF • Plaintiffs in toxic exposure cases often attempt to substitute less burdensome, alternative expert opinions in lieu of precise dose-response and exposure levels (such as mathematical models and comparisons to subjects in epidemiological studies). • Chemical–exposure plaintiffs must prove both general and specific causation. National Academy of Sciences/World Health Organization causation methodology: Level of exposure to toxin must be established. Must prove that toxin is capable of causing disease Proof that the level of exposure was sufficient to cause
Merrell Dow v. Havner, 953 S.W. 2d 706 (Tex1997) Tex Sup Ct. held that epidemiological studies must demonstrate a doubling of the risk, i.e. 2.0 risk ratio at 95% confidence; show a doubled risk in multiple studies, as a single study is not persuasive and reflect the actual exposure and disease of the plaintiff in the case. • Frias v. Atlantic Richfield Company, 104 S.W. 3d 925 (2003) alleged benzene caused aplastic anemia (AA). Court found the plaintiff's description of exposure ("consistently," "regular," "occasional") so indefinite that the frequency and duration of the plaintiff's exposure was too speculative to prove causation. • Parker v. Mobil Oil Corp., 2005 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 3326 (N.Y. Mar. 28, 2005) court set forth 3 step process: (1) determining the plaintiff's exposure to the toxin, (2) ascertaining whether scientific literature supports proof that the plaintiff's level of exposure to the toxin is capable of producing the illness, and (3) establishing specific causation by demonstrating the probability that the particular plaintiffs illness was caused by the toxin • In Nonnon v.City of New York, NYS 2ns 2006 WL 1529293 N.Y.A.D.1Dept) the court allowed testimony of an expert that lacked exposure analysis, abserved the testimony was not “novel” and distinguished the case from Parker v. Mobil because no scientist could make an accurate measurement of the doses of the combined carcinogens the residents near a city landfill were exposed to
Grant v Bristol Meyer Squibb 97F. Supp. 2d(D. Ariz.,2000) “If the available body of epidemiology demonstrates that risk is not doubled, then causation evidence is inadmissible.” • Austin v. Kerr-McGee 25 S.W.3d TexasApp 2000 Pltf died of CML,alleged due to exposure to benzene in mineral spirits. Court affirmed trial courts exclusion of expert testimony. No study cited posited that benzene causes CML specifically but only found specific relationships between benzene and other forms of leukemia (AML) • Mitchell v Gencorp 165 F.3d 778 7thCir 1999 Evidence that benzene exposure caused AML not probative to show causation of CML in the absence of adequate data directly related to CML • Exxon Corp v Makofski 116 S. W. 3d 176 Tex App 2003 Pltf alleged benzene in underground water caused ALL-acute lymphocytic leukemia. Parties experts agreed benzene caused AML, studies had not reached same conclusion with ALL, most common in children. One study associated ALL and other lymphatic leukemias with exposure to benzene AND OTHER SOLVENTS but appellate court in overturning trial court found the study told us nothing definitive about benzene and ALL. • Edwards v. Safety-Kleen Corporation, 61 F.Supp.2d 1354 (S.D. Florida 1999). Plaintiff alleged that decedent's death (from myelodysplastic syndrome - a bone marrow and blood disease ("MDS") was caused by his exposure to benzene. In excluding the expert testimony regarding decedent's benzene exposure levels, the court found that while the formula used by the expert was well-established, his methodology was neither tested nor reliable.
Curtis v. M&S Petroleum, Inc., 174 F.3d 661 (5th Cir. 1999). 5th Circuit, while recognizing that establishing exposure level is one of the "minimum facts" necessary concluded that "the law does not require Plaintiffs to show the precise level of benzene to which they were exposed." Thus, because the expert's testimony was supported by evidence that plaintiffs' symptoms were consistent with an exposure to high levels of benzene, the alleged level of exposure was probable, and the testimony admissible. • Sutera v. Perrier Group of America, Inc., 986 F.Supp.2d 655 (D. Mass. 1997). Plaintiff alleged that his consumption of mineral water caused him to contract Acute Promyleocytic Leukemia ( a variant of AML) the court noted that all of the epidemiological studies involved subjects whose exposure to benzene was through inhalation, and the dosage and duration of the exposure was "substantially greater in order of magnitude" than plaintiff's. It also found the studies unreliable because they do not "explore the exposure necessary to trigger the cancer-producing mechanism.“ • Espinosa v. Does, NO BC322590 Calif.Super., Los Angeles; “Not necessary for Espinoza’s disease to be linked directly to Univar’s solvents because Pltf. came into contact with a number of solvents and needs only to show that Univar’s products were a substantial factor in causing her disease. • Summary judgments not a cinch. Battling experts may generate • a triable issue of material fact, preventing entry of summary judgment.
Benzene exposures are not solely occupational but ubiquitous EPA: Benzene is the most significant air toxic for which cancer risk could be estimated, contributing 25 percent of the average individual cancer risk identified in this assessment. Based on EPA’s national emissions inventory, the key sources for benzene are onroad (49%) and nonroad mobile sources (19%), and open burning, prescribed fires and wildfires (14%). Air quality in "hot spots" will have to be dramatically improved. Benzene levels would have to be reduced by as much as 40 percent in Houston to comply with EPA limits. Houston Business Journal – 9/27/2006 Exposures are not solely occupational product related
Benzene in Cigarette Smoke • A “confounding factor” in the etiology of and epidemiological study of other cancers, cigarette smoking is associated with an increased risk of leukemia. Benzene, an established leukemogen, is present in cigarette smoke. Cigarettes have been found to release between 50 and 150 micrograms of benzene per cigarette, so smoking and second-hand smoke are important sources of exposure to benzene. Cigarette smoke accounts for about half of the US national exposure to benzene and for about 89% of total benzene exposure among smokers. Secondhand smoke may account for up to 10% of benzene exposure among nonsmokers. “The cancer culprit: New research shows that benzene in cigarettes is responsible for a significant proportion of deaths from leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia.”
Conclusions • Large numbers of potential litigants: some 85,000 AML and other hematopoietic/lymphomatic cancers develop annually. If just 2% +/- have suitable occupational exposures that could produce 1000 to 2000 potential cases annually (~11,000 welding fume cases filed to date, ~30,000 silica cases filed to date) • There is some scientific support to causation and a grave and often fatal disease(s) is involved. Unlikely to see unimpaireds, only certifiably diagnosed cancer victims as plaintiffs. • Major jurisdictional differences • Significant defense costs: Commonly multi-defendant actions. Consider what the total cost to the insurance industry may be. • Major asbestos firms moving in: Simmons Cooper/Madison County, Baron & Budd • We’re Going to See More of it