A printer who was exposed to a dangerous chemical in the workplace has received a substantial sum in compensation after being diagnosed with kidney disease.

David Owenson, from Scarborough, was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2000 following years of exposure to hazardous substance toluene.

Mr Owenson was exposed to the solvent while working for Polestar Greaves in Scarborough where he was first employed as a maintenance engineer and then as a printer.

Toluene used in ink

The company printed magazine supplements for News International and toluene was used in the ink.

He was exposed to the chemical on a daily basis in the air he breathed.

Mr Owenson’s work included repairing the printer and the solvent filter bank. He would often feel dizzy and his eyes would smart from the smell of the solvent.

In 2000 Mr Owenson started to feel unwell so he went to see his GP. He was told by a consultant nephrologist that it was safe for him to continue to work with the substance.

In 2001 Mr Owenson’s trade union Unite instructed its lawyers Thompsons Solicitors to make enquiries into his case.

They arranged for Mr Owenson to see another specialist with expertise in kidney damage caused by toluene exposure. He said in his opinion the toluene had had a major effect on Mr Owenson’s kidney function and advised him to minimise his exposure to it.

Mr Owenson stopped work and retired due to ill-health.

Thompsons Solicitors made claim for compensation

Thompsons pursued a claim for compensation and although Polestar Greaves admitted that they had, from time to time, exposed Mr Owenson to excessive levels of toluene, they denied that the toluene had caused or contributed to the development of the kidney disease. After a lengthy legal battle however they settled the case for an undisclosed sum.

Mr Owenson said: “I am extremely anxious about my ill health. I had no idea that my work was making me ill. I was exposed toluene for up to 15 years yet I was never warned about the dangers.”

Davey Hall, Regional Secretary of Unite said: “Many of our members who have previously been exposed to hazardous substances may not link their disease with exposure to chemicals at work. Medical practitioners may not ask questions about occupational exposure to chemicals when confronted with bladder cancer, kidney disease or other illnesses. It is however extremely important that, when such a disease develops, thought is given to historical working practices and exposure to chemicals and other substances in the workplace.”

Dangerous fumes in the workplace

Judith Gledhill from Thompsons Solicitors added: “Many workers are unwittingly being exposed to hazardous substances through breathing in fumes at their workplaces.

“Fumes from noxious chemicals can cause a variety of diseases including bladder cancer, lung disease and damage to internal organs.

“Such claims are amongst the most complex and challenging cases that a personal injury lawyer encounters. Not only is it necessary to prove that the employer is liable for the exposure, but also that the exposure caused or made a material contribution to the development of the disease.”