RANDALL CHASE AP Business Writer - June 24, 2009
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Three men who worked at a DuPont Co. nylon plant in Argentina sued the chemical manufacturer Wednesday, claiming that it failed to protect them from asbestos that has left them seriously ill.
The plaintiffs claim that DuPont has known of the dangers of asbestos exposure for decades but that workers at the plant in Mercedes, Argentina were exposed to the deadly substance as recently as 2004, before the plant was sold.
Thomas Crumplar, an attorney representing the men, accused DuPont of a double standard, protecting workers in this country from asbestos exposure while exporting the industrial danger to overseas workers.
"We need to end that double standard," he said.
Crumplar said asbestos was used to insulate pipes in the plant, where significant heat was involved in the production of nylon. He noted, however, that DuPont eliminated asbestos at a nylon plant in Delaware in the early 1970s, describing the situation as "a tale of two cities and two different standards."
According to the lawsuits, all three men suffer from asbestosis, a serious lung disease, and two also have asbestos-related cancers.
DuPont spokesman Dan Turner issued a statement saying the company has not reviewed the filings and could not comment on details, but that the safety and health of its employees, neighbors and community is DuPont's highest priority.
"We do find it puzzling that the plaintiffs' attorneys have filed the complaint in Delaware rather than the country of origin," the statement read.
Crumplar said Delaware courts have previous experience dealing with cases of international asbestos exposure.
The workers are identified in the complaints as Juan Carlos Laborda, 68; Ceferino Ramirez, 76; and Cristian Dematei, 35.
"When you're talking about somebody in his mid-30s with severe asbestosis, that's very significant," said Crumplar, noting that personal injury lawsuits involving asbestos exposure typically involve plaintiffs who are 60 or older.
According to the complaint, DeMatei began working in maintenance at the plant in 1991, when he was about 17, and was exposed to asbestos over an 11-year period.
Ramirez, who claims to suffer from asbestos-related laryngeal cancer, worked at the plant from 1961 through 1993, while Laborda, who also claims to have asbestos-related cancer, was employed there from 1968 to 1980.
Crumplar said he expects to file several more lawsuits on behalf of other Argentine workers, and their widows.