Appeal from the Order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board, in the case of Robert S. Spotts v. Superior Tube Company, No. A-91638.
Lawrence Sager, Sager & Sager Associates, for petitioner.
Robert A. Weinert, for respondent, Superior Tube Company.
Judges Craig and Palladino, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Senior Judge Barbieri.
[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 305]
Robert S. Spotts (Claimant) petitions this Court to review the order of the Workmen's Compensation Appeal Board (Board) dismissing his claim petition. We reverse the Board and remand.
Claimant asserts he is totally disabled from chronic Trichloroethylene (TCE) poisoning as a result of twenty two years of continuous exposure to this chemical during the time he was employed by Superior Tube Company (Employer). Claimant worked in a position known as lead man. It was his responsibility to control the precision, accuracy and quality of the metal tubing produced. Claimant would set metal dies to cut tubing according to size. In order to reduce the cutting friction the tubing was pre-coated with a plastic substance known as super-coat. Once the tubing was cut, the plastic super-coat had to be removed with solvent in a process called degreasing. The tubing was lowered by overhead crane into a degreaser tank filled with solvent that was twenty-five to thirty feet in length, approximately five feet in width, extending above floor level about four and one half feet, and below floor level sixteen to eighteen feet. The cleaning solvent used to degrease the tubing, and to fill the entire tank, was TCE. When Claimant worked second shift the lead man did the degreasing (N.T. 8/16/82, pp. 27-28). On the other shifts the lead man assisted in the degreasing. In addition, every time the cutting dies had to be changed for another job, they had to be cleaned of the plastic super-coat. Claimant cleaned the dies by immersing them in a two quart can of TCE with his bare hands. On a busy day Claimant would clean the dies twenty-five to thirty times. Claimant worked as a lead man
[ 116 Pa. Commw. Page 306]
performing these functions for eighteen years until he left the company in 1979. He never used any masks or gloves and the area where the degreaser tank was located had no forced ventilation or exhaust.
Beginning in 1967, Claimant began experiencing numbness in his hands and arms and legs, headaches, generalized weakness, nausea and blurred vision. His weight gradually dropped from 150 pounds to 85 pounds by October of 1979. Claimant saw numerous doctors and was admitted to no fewer than six different hospitals between 1967 and 1979, but no physician could conclusively diagnose what was wrong with him. During this time period he frequently complained of these physical problems to his Employer. He also lost time from work. However, neurological studies along with a computerized tomography (CAT) scan of Claimant's brain conducted at Reading Hospital on July 19, 1979, revealed no abnormalities. On October 25, 1979, Claimant informed Employer that he was unable to continue working because of his physical problems. In 1980, Claimant began treating with a chiropractor who first raised the possibility of TCE poisoning. This claim petition was filed on July 13, 1981.
Claimant was subsequently evaluated for possible TCE poisoning at Mt. Sinai Hospital on July 30, 1982. Once again neurological studies were normal. However, a second CAT scan performed on this date showed some widening of the left ventricular cistern and some mild cortical atrophy seen in the frontal region. The diagnosis of Doctor J. Kratzer was that Claimant was suffering from some cerebral atrophy abnormal for a man of his age which, based on the clinical history related to him, was caused by TCE poisoning.
Doctor Irwin Breslow testified as Claimant's medical expert. Doctor Breslow, Board certified in internal medicine and ...