Testimony ends in IBM cleanroom cancer trial

FEB. 12–SANTA CLARA, CALIF.–It was deja vu all over again in the last day of testimony in the IBM cleanroom cancer trial with battles over inconclusive science regarding chemicals and cancer.

Former IBM workers Alida Hernandez and James Moore sued the computer giant, say that they developed cancer as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals in cleanrooms at IBM’s San Jose disk-drive manufacturing plant. They also allege that IBM knew they were ill and concealed that knowledge from them.

The plaintiffs presented evidence that that many of the chemicals and solvents used in the manufacturing process were carcinogenic, and that Hernandez and Moore had symptoms of acute chemical poisoning.

IBM, however, refutes that their cancers were more likely the result of such factors as obesity, family history and other issues not related to their work at IBM. IBM also presented witnesses who claimed the medical diagnosis of systemic chemical poisoning does not even exist.

According the Mercury News of San Jose, IBM’s final witness was John Whysner, a toxicologist with Washington Occupational Health Associates, a consulting firm that also specializes in expert testimony. Whysner said he did not believe that the plaintiffs’ cancers were caused by exposure to chemicals at IBM, echoing testimony of Andrew Saxon, an immunologist who said he believed that Moore’s symptom of nasal discharge was merely a sign of a local irritation and not a sign of a long-term chemical poisoning.

Under cross-examination by Amanda Hawes, a plaintiffs’ attorney, Whysner acknowledged that he does not always agree with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), for whom he sometimes consults, on its definitions of carcinogens.

He also said in his research on animal testing, he has concluded (and worked on a book on the topic) that animal testing cannot always be applicable to humans. He cited his research that different tests had different effects on mice than they did on rats, for example. The plaintiffs have alleged that some of the chemicals they were exposed to have been known to cause mammary tumors in laboratory animals.

Whysner also disputed some findings cited by Hawes that trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical used at IBM, caused tumors in a few animal tests — tumors of the lung, kidney, liver and lymphatic system. He said that these studies were not significant because the doses were too high and most of the animals died.

He noted that TCE is often used to put patients to sleep as they are prepared to go into surgery. “In that context, you are using it for a beneficial effect,” he said.

Hawes asked Whysner if putting a patient to sleep using TCE would have an effect on the entire system, a systemic effect. “Yes,” Whysner agreed.

Though live testimony ended Wednesday, IBM plans to submit some depositions as testimony before it rests its defense next week. The trial will resume Tuesday. Closing arguments could begin as soon as next Thursday or Feb. 20.


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