Beaverton man’s family sues View-Master

BEAVERTON, Ore. (AP) – The family of an Oregon man who died of cancer is suing the operators of Beaverton’s former View-Master plant for $1.46 million.

The family of Gary L. Evans claims bad well water at the site caused the liver cancer that killed him. Evans, whose estate filed the lawsuit last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court, died in February 2002 at age 61, two months after learning he had cancer.

He had worked at the plant for more than 20 years, rising to the position of vice president for Mattel.

The suit is the first of its kind involving chemical contamination at the site, where as many as 25,000 workers over five decades manufactured the toy slide viewers.

Sawyer’s Inc. opened the plant in 1951, and General Aniline & Film, also known as GAF, took over in 1967. View-Master started operations in 1981 and merged into Tyco in 1989. Tyco merged into Mattel in 1997.

All the companies are named in the lawsuit, along with their subsidiaries and Arnold Thaler, president of Thaler-View-Master Corp.

Attorney Kate LaRiche, who represents the family, said more lawsuits will probably be filed because of the number of View-Master employees and the level of contamination at the site. Although the plant is in Washington County, the suit was filed in Multnomah County in part because the companies had operations there, too.

In March 1998, the site was found to have 320 times the federal allowable amount of trichloroethylene, or TCE, in its well water. TCE was used as a degreaser at the plant from 1952 to 1980 and had been disposed of there until 1982 by being dumped on the ground. That practice is now illegal.

A well at the plant provided drinking water for employees as well as cooking water in the cafeteria. Mattel closed the plant in May 2001 after starting an employee health screening program and a cleanup process that continues today.

TCE has been linked to liver and kidney cancers in laboratory animals, and the Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a "probable carcinogen" for humans.

A study of death statistics completed in December by the Oregon Department of Human Services found higher incidences of some kidney, liver and bile-duct cancers among former View-Master employees than in the general population.

"My dad died thinking he had been poisoned," Amanda Evans, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of her father’s estate, told The Oregonian in 2002.

Amanda Evans formed an organization, Victims of TCE Exposure, shortly after her father’s death. On Tuesday, Evans said she had been told to refer all questions to her attorneys.

Dan Nottage, a Mattel Portland spokesman, declined to comment, saying the company does not comment on pending litigation.

However, Nottage said that more than 2,000 former Mattel employees have been tested since 1998, and doctors reported finding no health problems that could be linked to TCE.

"I was an employee at the site for over 25 years myself, and I drank the water as well," Nottage said. "Some employees still have concerns. Some employees have no concerns."