TEXAS CITY, Texas — It began with a headache; then came shaking of the hands. Leuvell Malone’s wife noticed unusual behavior. He struggled to button his shirt straight and crashed the car into the hot-water heater in the garage. Finally, a seizure landed the 55-year-old chemical worker in the hospital with a brain tumor.
His doctor at first thought Malone might have suffered a stroke. But it turned out to be worse than that. The father of four had a rare and deadly brain tumor.
During his 32 years of greasing machines at the sprawling Union Carbide plant south of Houston, Malone feared the chemicals he breathed might one day make him sick, his sons recall. So he reported his illness to the local office of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Investigative reporter David Heath and the non-profit Center for Public Integrity have published a very important expose on one of the most deadly chemicals ever, vinyl chloride. Mr. Heath’s thorough and ground-breaking reporting is based in part on the work Attorney Glenn Ellis and I did during our 9-year battle with Rohm and Haas Chemical Company (now part of Dow Chemical) in representing 33 families from Northern Illinois who lived downstream and downwind from a giant chemical waste pit that leached vinyl chloride for many years.
In our brain cancer litigation, we developed significant evidence that the chemical companies, including Dow, had rigged scientific studies over several decades by excluding records of vinyl chloride workers who had died from brain cancer. What would chemical companies who make millions of dollars from the sale of vinyl chloride stand to gain from funding studies that skewed the incidence of brain cancer among their workers? The answer is clear: Bogus science can then be used to defend the companies in litigation brought by the families of workers who died of brain cancer and others who were exposed to vinyl chloride.
Mr. Heath’s investigative report, which includes interviews with former governmental officials, chemical company executives and some of our own former clients in the Rohm and Haas brain cancer cluster litigation, demonstrates that exposure to vinyl chloride clearly is in fact a substantial risk for developing brain cancer. As I state toward the end of the article, “the literature on vinyl chloride and brain cancer as it is has to be rewritten.”