Houston’s Union Carbide Corporation has been hit with at least two proposed class action lawsuits that aim to take the chemical company to task for its allegedly “dangerous and reckless” emission of ethylene oxide (EtO), an industrial gas and proven carcinogen. The plaintiffs look to recover costs related to medical monitoring they argue is necessary for all proposed class members to mitigate the increased risk of cancer linked to Union Carbide’s alleged ethylene oxide emissions.
A subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide produces at its South Charleston plant chemicals and polymers that, after undergoing further chemical conversions, eventually end up in the hands of consumers as, among other wares, paints, coatings, packaging, household products, pharmaceuticals, automotive goods and textiles. The plaintiffs behind each lawsuit allege that they and proposed class members have involuntarily been exposed to volumes of toxic, odorless and colorless gas large enough to increase their cancer risk seven-fold in comparison to the average American.
Union Carbide’s South Charleston plant both manufacturers ethylene oxide and uses the gas for other “heavy industrial processes,” the lawsuits explains. These operations are the reason that the defendant emits what the lawsuits describe as “huge volumes” of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the plaintiffs say, the air in communities surrounding Union Carbide’s South Charleston plant have been contaminated.
“Plaintiff and Class Members have been inhaling and consuming large amounts of Ethylene Oxide when they brush their teeth, pet their dogs, talk with their children about their day at school, and throughout their daily lives,” the cases read.
Compounding the danger for those residing nearby to Union Carbide’s South Charleston facility is that ethylene oxide is odorless and colorless, the cases explain. As such, the suits say, proposed class members have been unknowingly exposed to the carcinogenic gas “for decades.” Union Carbide has allegedly operated “without sufficient pollution controls” that could limit ethylene oxide emissions, thereby exposing proposed class members, including children, to elevated levels of a chemical gas that the lawsuits charge has “materially diminished their health and increased their likelihood of developing cancer.”
For its part, Union Carbide, according to the lawsuits, “knew, or should have known,” that the ethylene oxide sent into the environment from its plant was “dangerous, toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, and harmful to local residents.” Per the complaint, U.S. companies have been aware of the carcinogenic effects of ethylene oxide since at least 1977, when the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) warned against exposure and urged the use of sterilization procedures.
“Union Carbide, of all companies, should have been aware of the 1977 NIOSH recommendations,” the lawsuits scathe, “because they were based on studies performed on workers at Union Carbide’s South Charleston Facility.”
According to the lawsuits, ethylene oxide is one of 187 pollutants the Environmental Protection Agency has classified as “hazardous air pollutants,” or “air toxics.” Acute inhalation of ethylene oxide can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, respiratory irritations and gastrointestinal distress, the complaints state. Long-term ethylene oxide exposure increases the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, myeloma, and lymphocytic leukemia, according to the suits. Emitted ethylene oxide remains in the air for months and can spread widely through prevailing winds, per the suits.
The lawsuits look to cover all individuals who have lived within the following census tracts (represented in the pictures below) at any point between January 1, 1981 and December 6, 2019: