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Ex-BNL staffer with cancer sues over use of toxic cleaner

Joseph Marino said he got sick from working

Joseph Marino said he got sick from working with the chemical TCE at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Credit: Barry Sloan

Joseph Marino, of Islip Terrace, has lost one kidney to cancer, and he says he can't work for fear of losing the other after being exposed to a toxic cleaning solvent when he worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Marino, 61, says he didn't have any choice but to use cleaning fluids containing trichloroethylene, a suspected carcinogen known as TCE, when he worked as a computer technician for a subcontractor at the Upton lab in 1999 and 2000. He said the lab's operators never warned him of the risks of using the fluids.

TCE is not banned but some manufacturers and customers have stopped using it in recent years because of its suspected impact on human health.

Marino filed a $25 million federal lawsuit on Friday against lab manager Brookhaven Science Associates, former manager Associated Universities and TCE manufacturers Dow Chemical and Zep Inc.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn, court records show.

In court papers, Marino said he has been diagnosed with clear cell renal carcinoma in the right kidney and other illnesses that he said were caused by his work at the lab.  

"You would never think that you were going to use a carcinogenic solution that is going to kill you or do you harm," Marino said in an interview, adding he can't work because exposure to routine workplace maladies could exacerbate his illness. "I want to work, but I'm literally risking my life."

Brookhaven Science Associates, which manages the 72-year-old lab under a contract with its owner, the U.S. Department of Energy, declined to comment. The energy department also declined to comment.

Washington, D.C.-based Associated Universities, Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical and Atlanta-based Zep Inc. did not respond to requests for comment.

The lab, on the grounds of the former Camp Upton military training facility, has been beset for decades by environmental hazards. Among the problems are a toxic plume emanating from the 5,300-acre campus and firefighting foam that officials fear has contaminated private residential wells.

More lawsuits like Marino's either have been filed or are being prepared, Marino and his Manhattan lawyers, Joseph Lanni and Jaehyun Oh, said. Marino and other former lab employees say they know about a dozen former workers who believe they were sickened from working there.

Ron Yuhas, 77, of Coram, worked at the lab for 42 years and now has kidney cystic disease and gastrointestinal problems. Yuhas, a former telecommunications manager who also has filed a federal lawsuit against lab operators, said he had trusted the facility to protect workers. 

"There was everything at the laboratory that you could want," including on-site fire and police protection, a gymnasium and a swimming pool, he said. "You always felt the lab was taking care of you."

Dan Carroll, 68, of Shirley, said he has bladder cancer that he blames on his work as a union electrician at the lab's relativistic heavy ion collider, which simulates the universe's origins. He said he never suspected he might be at risk when he worked at the lab. Carroll plans to sue lab operators, his lawyers said.

"In 1979, who knew?" he said. "When you're 28 years old, you think you're invincible."

Marino said he previously received $50,000 as part of an earlier settlement with former lab workers. The terms of the settlement make it difficult to use the money for his health care, he said.

Marino said he spends much of his time fighting government bureaucrats and doctors, trying to convince them that his medical issues are related to his work at the lab.

"It's an uphill battle," he said. "It's a struggle all the way. They don't make it easy for people."

Facts about trichloroethylene:

Used as a solvent for greases, waxes and tars, as refrigerant, and in products such as paint remover and typewriter correction fluid. Formerly used as an anesthetic.

Described in federal documents as "a nonflammable colorless liquid with a sweet odor similar to ether or chloroform."

Linked to cancers of the kidney, liver, cervix and lymphatic system.

When inhaled, can cause harm to the central nervous system or problems such as dizziness, headaches, sleepiness, nausea, confusion, blurred vision, facial numbness and weakness.

SOURCE: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

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