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Massachusetts birth defect attorneys focusing on workplace exposures

The Boston law offices of Thornton Law Firm LLP has a long, distinguished history of helping semiconductor workers and their families seek justice for birth defects caused by exposures in their workplace.

Our firm first represented semiconductor workers with reproductive health injuries in the late 1990s. Our initial semiconductor case, Edward Ayers et al v. Shipley Company, Inc. and J.T. Baker Inc., was one of the first lawsuits filed in the country involving a cleanroom worker in the semiconductor industry who suffered reproductive harm. This suit involved claims against the manufacturers of dangerous semiconductor chemicals. It was successfully resolved in Massachusetts state court after three years of litigation.

Leaders in semiconductor birth defect litigation

Over the past several years, Thornton Law Firm has litigated cases against the manufacturers of semiconductor wafers, chips, and other microelectronic components involving birth defects among the children of employees in the industry. One of these cases alleged that Digital Equipment Corporation in Hudson, Massachusetts failed to provide employees with a safe workplace. This failure resulted in exposures to numerous teratogenic (birth-defect-causing) chemicals such as ethylene glycol ethers (EGEs). Our law firm litigated this case against Digital’s successor, the Hewlett Packard Company, for several years. The case resolved in 2009.

The Pastides Study links semiconductor exposure to spontaneous abortions

The Digital Equipment case was of particular significance as the exposures took place in the same facility that became the subject of the first major epidemiological study of reproductive harm in the semiconductor industry. This study, commonly known as the Pastides Study [1], was performed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts in the early to mid-1980s and found a significant association between spontaneous abortions and employment in semiconductor manufacturing.

While litigating the Digital Equipment case and other semiconductor birth defect cases in Massachusetts, Thornton Law Firm expanded its representation to hundreds of families with children with birth defects related to work in semiconductor manufacturing facilities across the United States. The firm represents plaintiffs in cases involving semiconductor manufacturing plants in Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and other states. These cases involve birth defects arising from a mother’s and/or father’s exposure. The types of birth defects involved in these cases include:

  • Limb abnormalities
  • Heart problems
  • Situs inversus
  • Brain damage
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Facial and skeletal deformities
  • Organ injuries
  • VATER syndrome
  • Spina bifida
  • Gestational cancers
  • Retinoblastoma

Broad range of semiconductor workers suffer harm

The semiconductor workers involved in these cases held different positions in manufacturing or fabricating semiconductor wafers, from photolithography operators and etch operators to engineers, maintenance, and even clerical workers. Common to all workers was their presence in the fabs, or manufacturing facilities, where silicon wafers were constructed (fabricated). They worked in so-called cleanrooms that were designed to protect the chips or wafers from contamination. However, the recirculated air and inadequate exhaust on the tools in the cleanrooms resulted in harmful exposures to the workers.

Multiple studies document dangers

It was well known to the industry that certain chemicals integral to the semiconductor manufacturing process (such as ethylene glycol ethers) were reproductively harmful. In fact, the semiconductor’s own trade association, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), informed their members as early as 1982 that EGEs were causing birth defects in animal studies.

Many of the companies in the semiconductor manufacturing industry had health and safety personnel or industrial hygienists who were also aware that, as early as the late 1970s, animal studies existed in published literature reporting birth defects. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the State of California in the early 1980s released official notices of the reproductive hazards associated with EGEs.

These government reports indicated that dermal exposure (skin absorption) was particularly dangerous and should be completely avoided. At the same time, the manufacturers of solvents containing EGEs used in semiconductor manufacturing facilities also informed the semiconductor manufacturers about the availability of safer, less-toxic alternatives to EGEs, known as propylene glycol ethers (PGEs).

Manufacturers knew but failed to act quickly

Although the semiconductor industry had actual knowledge of the reproductive harm of EGEs, the industry’s response was slow. Most companies did not substitute EGEs with PGEs until the mid to late 1990s. This is even more astonishing as the Pastides Study, which reported a positive association between reproductive harm and work in semiconductor manufacturing had been released to the industry years earlier in 1986 [1].

Several more years lapsed until the industry completed and published its own epidemiological study in 1996 [2]. Not surprisingly, this study confirmed the findings of the earlier Pastides Study. In 1996, a third study by Johns Hopkins University of IBM semiconductor workers was published [3]. It found similar results of elevated miscarriages among workers in the IBM semiconductor manufacturing facilities.

While the industry was undertaking these studies from the mid-1980s to early 1990s, untold numbers of spontaneous abortions and birth defects occurred among the workers in this industry and their children.

Thornton Law Firm and our co-counsel brought the first cases to of this new wave of birth defect semiconductor manufacturing lawsuits to trial in 2011 in cases filed against Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the state court of Delaware. The trials of these cases will be followed shortly thereafter by Thornton Law Firm’ other cases filed in Illinois and California.

Trust our birth defect attorneys to help

Contact the Boston law firm of Thornton Law Firm online or at 1-888-491-9726 for a free consultation with a recognized leader in toxic tort and birth defect litigation. You have nothing to risk. We offer a fair and accurate assessment of your case.

 

Sources

[1] Pastides H, Calabrese EJ, Hosmer Jr DW, Harris DR. Spontaneous abortion and general illness symptoms among semiconductor manufacturers. Journal of Occupational Medicine. 1988;30(7):543-51.

[2] Schenker MB, Gold EB, Beaumont JJ, et al. Association of Spontaneous Abortion and Other Reproductive Effects with Work in the Semiconductor Industry. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1995;28:639-59.

[3] SchenkerMB. Reproductive health effects of glycol ether exposure in the semiconductor industry. Occupational Hygiene. 1996;2:367-72.

Beaumont JJ, Swan SH, HammondSK, et al. Historical Cohort Investigation of Spontaneous Abortion in the Semiconductor Health Study: Epidemiologic Methods and Analyses of Risk in Fabrication Overall and in Fabrication Work Groups. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 1995;28:735-50.