Defense experts testifies no link between benzene, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma

Amelia Flood Aug. 26, 2010, 9:42am


An epidemiologist testifying for 3M in a Madison County benzene trial told jurors Thursday that studies indicate that benzene does not cause the type of cancer at issue in plaintiff Veto Kleinaitis's case.

Dr. David Garabrant, an epidemiologist from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, testified Thursday morning that there is no link between benzene exposures and developing mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) or other Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (NHL).

Kleinaitis claims that traces of benzene found in the raw ingredients used in 3M's Top and Trim and other adhesive and solvent products led him to develop mantle cell lymphoma in 2005.

He claims he was exposed to the products due to his decades of working as an aircraft mechanic in Bethalto.

The disease is a form of Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a family of cancers.

His suit is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

3M contends that its products had nothing to do with Kleinaitis's disease.

The company claims its products comply with the legal limits for benzene traces and that Kleinaitis' smoking history is the more likely source of the cancer.

Kleinaitis's case is one of 17 benzene lawsuits filed by the SimmonsCooper firm in Madison County between 2004 and 2006. Most of the suits have ended.

The Kleinaitis case originally named more than 20 defendants.

All but 3M dropped out of the case or settled.

Under direct examination by 3M attorney Amanda Cialkowski, Garabrant explained meta-analyses of the studies about benzene and NHL.

None had found that benzene caused a significant risk of developing the cancers, he said, and none showed a direct link at all.

Garabrant pointed to the regulation of benzene and climbing NHL rates as other factors to consider.

"There's no significant association between benzene exposures and Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma," he said.

He pointed to what the defense has stressed as the most comprehensive benzene exposure study in the United States, the so-called "Pliofilm Study."

Pliofilm is a rubber membrane that was made during the 1940s by dissolving rubber in pure benzene.

That study, conducted by the U.S. Government at Goodyear plants in Ohio, studied plant workers from 1940 to 1965.

The nearly 1,300 workers were observed for benzene exposures and the diseases that resulted.

While the study found that workers' developed a type of leukemia at a higher rate due to the benzene exposures, they did not show any increased rate of developing NHL, Garbrant said.

He went on to testify that the Pliofilm worker exposures were greater than most working people's exposures due to the nature of the work.

When asked about whether the traces of benzene in 3M's products caused Kleinaitis' NHL, Garabrant said it did not.

"Given what is in them and the ingredients in them are not known to cause NHL or MCL, there is no reason to think that the products would cause them," Garabrant said.

Plaintiff's attorney William Kohlburn spent much of the early part of his cross examination of Garabrant attacking his work for other chemical producers and defendants.

"So, lately a great deal of the money you make testifying that things don't hurt people comes from the companies that make those things?" Kohlburn asked.

Garabrant said that mischaracterized his work for chemical makers.

Garabrant admitted that he generally only worked on cases where there was not a chemical causing the problems claimed and that he worked for defendants.

Kohlburn questioned Garabrant at length about his studies of Dioxin that were funded by Dow Chemical Company.

Kohlburn also questioned Garabrant about his work for Goodyear, the company at the center of the Pliofilm study and the ethics of the original study.

"How do you feel about offering testimony on behalf of a company that was studying people while exposing them to bad things?" the plaintiff's attorney asked.

"We sit here today doing things that we don't know are bad for you," Garabrant responded. "So you can stand here in 2010 and say Goodyear did a terrible thing and retrospectively, yes, they did. But back then, who knew?"

Garabrant's testimony was set to continue after the trial's lunch break.

The suit's trial opened more than a week ago with a day long jury selection and the plaintiff's case.

The plaintiff's witnesses have included Kleinaitis's oncologist, James Hunsley, a benzene expert who linked the plaintiff's cancer to 3M's products, and Veto Kleinaitis.

Veto Kleinaitis's testimony and that of his wife, Brenda Kleinaitis, rounded out the plaintiff's case this week.

Kohlburn, Ted Gianaris, and others represent Kleinaitis.

Kohlburn and Gianaris are with the Simmons firm of East Alton.
Cialkowski, Bill Book and others represent 3M.

Cialkowski is with the Minneapolis-based firm of Nilan Johnson Lewis.

The suit's trial began Aug. 17 and has continued through this week.

The case is Madison case number 05-L-1050.

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Organizations in this Story

Dow Chemical
2030 Dow Center
Midland, MI 48674

3M Center
Maplewood, MN 55119

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