In 1980, a top doctor at Boeing warned company leadership that tens of thousands of workers in the Puget Sound region were being exposed to toxic chemical mixtures that were “probably hazardous” and “certainly uncontrolled.” His warning, however, went unheeded by the company’s president at the time. The ripple effect of this failure to respond has been significant, with families alleging that exposure to industrial poisons at Boeing factories has resulted in their children being born with birth defects. The families have been involved in a series of lawsuits against Boeing Co.
Why Was the Boeing Doctor Concerned?
In a presentation to Boeing’s president in 1980, Dr. Barry Dunphy, who served at the time as Boeing’s occupational health manager, warned that chemicals used in the company’s factories presented a risk to employees and their unborn children. According to Dunphy, the toxins that employees were exposed to could result in “future ‘outbreaks’ of serious illness – including sterility, fetal abnormalities, stillbirth, life-long chronic illness, cancer, and death.”
Dunphy recommended protecting employees with chemical labeling, medical monitoring, special training, and other measures. However, none of these were implemented.
Dunphy’s notes and presentation from the time are now the subject of depositions in a series of lawsuits, along with several other internal documents.
What Is the Link Between Chemical Exposure and Birth Defects?
For decades, Boeing has maintained a list of “chemicals of concern” for “reproductive toxicity” according to the depositions. This inventory lists industrial chemicals linked to birth defects via human studies, animal studies, or both. This illustrates that Boeing has been tracking such risks for years.
According to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, the children’s birth defects can be attributed to a “perfect storm” of toxins from two chemical classes. Some toxins are heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and chromium, while others are organic solvents. Hexavalent chromium is a long-established poison that Boeing’s own scientists have identified as a number one chemical of concern.
In 1986, a Boeing doctor compiled a list of chemicals “associated with adverse reproductive effects in occupationally exposed men or women.” Among them were cadmium, lead, benzene, toluene, and other solvents.
Some chemicals identified in the lawsuits are still being used at Boeing’s Everett plant.
About the Lawsuits
Three families allege that Boeing’s failure to protect workers from toxic chemicals at its factories led to birth defects in their children. The cases involve two men who worked at Boeing’s Everett plant and one woman who worked at a now-defunct Seattle-area factory.
The plaintiffs are:
- Marie Riley, now 42, who was born with four heart defects that’s led to lifelong cardiac problems that have required multiple operations, including two open-heart surgeries.
- Tianna Hatleberg, now 28, who was born with a rare condition whereby she is missing part of her brain, leading to physical and intellectual disabilities.
- Natalie Ford, now 8, who was born with a rare genetic mutation that causes a condition known as Pitt-Hopkins Syndrome. Ford has the mental and mobility functioning of an infant and will require around-the-clock care for the rest of her life.
Riley recently reached an out-of-court settlement with Boeing Co. for an undisclosed amount. Settlement discussions are ongoing in the other two cases.
How We Help Boeing Birth Defect Victims
Seek justice with the help of our experienced birth defects attorneys. Our alliance of birth defect victims’ attorneys has represented people like you, who have been affected by birth defects caused by toxic exposure at Boeing. We aggressively fight the corporate giants who failed to protect vulnerable workers. If you or a loved one was exposed to chemicals while pregnant and now have a child who suffers from a life-altering birth defect like spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, or cerebral palsy, we can help.