DuPont Co., a giant multinational operating in 70 countries providing products for agriculture, apparel, communications, electronics, home and construction, nutrition, safety and transportation, is being sued in Delaware for asbestos-related illnesses incurred by three workers from its former Argentina nylon fabricating plant.
DuPont, which has corporate headquarters in Wilmington, operated a plant in Mercedes, Argentina until it sold its textile unit in 2004 to Wichita, Kansas-based Koch Industries, an energy and chemicals giant, for $4.4 billion in cash.
Workers from the Mercedes plant – Juan Carlos Laborda, 68; Ceferino Ramirez, 76; and Cristian Dematei, 35 – charge that DuPont knew the dangers of asbestos as early as 1964, yet continued to use asbestos insulation on heat pipes and machinery in its Argentina facility until the late 1990s.
Asbestos is a mineral found in rock formations and widely used in insulative products, floor and ceiling tiles, tile grouts and weatherstripping compounds until 1989, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which had recognized its dangers for more than a decade, limited its use in domestic products to one percent by volume. The limitation does not apply to imported products.
When ingested or inhaled, asbestos can lead to such diseases as asbestosis, lung and digestive system cancers, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the mesothelial lining of the chest and abdomen. The most common and lethal form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma. Patients who are diagnosed with it are seldom given more than a year to live.
All three Argentinean workers have asbestos-related illnesses. Dematei, an 11-year veteran of the Mercedes plant, has asbestosis, a chronic and debilitating respiratory ailment. Laborda, a 12-year veteran, has both asbestosis and a form of lung cancer. Ramirez, who worked at the Mercedes plant for 32 years, has asbestosis and cancer of the throat. According to the lawsuit, none was ever warned of the dangers of asbestos or given respiratory equipment.
Because nylon production involves polymerization, or the combining of base polymers, it requires a chemical reaction inside a specially-designed machine that achieves very high temperatures. The pipes leading into, and out of, this machine, have to be insulated.
From 1935 onward, when nylon was first invented by DuPont, this insulation contained asbestos. About 1970, when the dangers of asbestos first became apparent, DuPont replaced the asbestos insulation in its Delaware nylon manufacturing plant. Nothing, according to the lawsuit, was done in Mercedes.
DuPont officials, who have said that the health and safety of employees is the company’s highest priority, question why the suit was filed in Delaware rather than in Argentina.
Sources: Forbes, Delawareonline.com, DuPont, LegalSource.com