Two years after his death, the adult children of Dr. Barry Dunphy have renewed respect for their father, whose warnings as Boeing’s top doctor to company leadership about the life-altering impact of dangerous chemical exposure to employees went unheeded.
The Everett (Washington) Herald published a story that investigated Boeing and Dunphy’s early secret reports that thousands of employees at Puget Sound-area plants were at risk of “serious illness — including sterility, fetal abnormalities, stillbirth, lifelong chronic illness, cancer and death” because of “uncontrolled” chemical exposure.
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Posthumous Vindication for Toxic Exposure Warnings
“There’s some posthumous vindication,” Dr. Dunphy’s son Scott Dunphy, told the Herald. “That the things that he cared about were real. That some way, somehow, an important story, and picture that he was trying to paint, got out. And the things that he worked so hard and passionately for—he was seeing what could happen in the future. That the values he stood for were the right ones.”
Dunphy suggested steps that could strengthen the company’s industrial hygiene program in 1980 to help prevent risks of exposure, the records showed. Dunphy later called his attempt “disastrous” in typewritten notes, saying that the company president “did not appear at all sympathetic or indeed faintly happy” about having “this organizational problem brought to his attention,” the newspaper said.
Several Toxic Exposure Lawsuits
The Herald obtained and reported Dunphy’s notes in connection with lawsuits against the world’s largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, space and security systems. Families of factory workers claim that their children, born between 1980 and 2014, have birth defects because of chemicals handled on the job. Three of such lawsuits have been settled with Boeing.
The attorney representing the plaintiffs in the suits, Michael Connett, a partner with Dallas-based Waters, Kraus & Paul, warned that thousands of Boeing employees who work with chemicals, solvents and heavy metals, including mechanics and painters, still are regularly exposed at facilities across the country.
“Hazardous conditions still exist and workers continue to be exposed to heavy metals and solvents,” Connett said.
Dr. Dunphy’s decision to speak out decades ago negatively impacted his career, his daughter Liz Dunphy told the Herald. Because his views were unpopular with company leadership, he chose to step down from the role of medical director, she said.
“For his time, he was very committed and dedicated to his oath as a physician, and to do no harm,” Liz Dunphy said. “Every employee at Boeing was technically his patient as an occupational health practitioner, and so his duty (was) to defend and protect. As you read in his writings, he did do that. And he took it to the top, and he was frustrated. But he didn’t change his opinion. He didn’t acquiesce.”
He ultimately retired early, in 1993, his family said.
Dr. Dunphy often described his rise and fall at Boeing in just a few words, his wife Mary Dunphy recalls: “I’ve been to the top, and I didn’t like the view.”
“He was very frustrated and disappointed that the things he had passed onto them fell on deaf ears,” she said.
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