Benzene Wrongful Death Lawsuit Goes to Trial in Texas

A trial is underway in Texas for a benzene lawsuit filed against Univar USA by the widow of an industrial worker who developed cancer and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) after washing his hands regularly in the industrial chemical. 

The wrongful death lawsuit was brought by Carol Thompson, the widow of John Thompson, who, like many other laborers, was allegedly instructed to wash his hands in benzene throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The trial is underway in the Jefferson County District Court, according to a report in the Southeast Texas Record.

Benzene is an industrial chemical that is used as a solvent in the production of drugs, synthetics and dyes. It has also been used as a gasoline additive, although limits have been placed on its use in fuel due to benzene’s negative health effects.

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Before his death, Thompson suffered from cancer and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), which causes rapid and abnormal growth of white blood cells. The cells accumulate in the bone marrow. This begins to interfere with the production of other blood cells. Symptoms include a drop in normal blood cell levels, fatigue, shortness of breath, bruising and bleeding.

The original lawsuit was filed against a number of defendants, including companies that owned refineries where Thompson once worked, such as ExxonMobil, Chevron U.S.A., Texaco and DuPont. However, the other defendants either settled before trial or were otherwise removed from the lawsuit.

Peter Infante, an expert witness, testified late last month that the dangers of benzene, which is known to cause leukemia, were well known for a century before his own findings caused companies to stop selling the chemical. However, Univar says that it was the responsibility of individual employers to instruct their workers how to use benzene, and to control the amount of benzene to which they were exposed.


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