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It’s hard, at first, to think of Brenda Smith, 52, as the terror of an entire industry. But the tactics that the pleasant, upbeat ex-telephone worker from Virginia Beach, Va., deploys against manufacturers of carbonless copy paper speak for themselves. Smith and a small group of people claim that the product, familiar to anyone who has filled out an office form or signed a credit card slip, has ruined their health. And she has battled relentlessly to prove it. How relentlessly? She and her group have contacted practically every public official and public-interest organization you can think of. She has even tried to have opponents jailed. Twice. Her efforts are also partly responsible for prompting the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to conduct a safety review of the paper. Almost anyone who makes, studies, regulates or litigates over carbonless copy paper knows her name. “I think the Bible teaches you to help yourself,” she says. “Don’t wait for other people to come around and help you.” In recent months, Appleton Papers Inc., the industry’s biggest player, has found itself in federal court in four states, trying to keep Smith and another woman from publishing secret industry documents produced in a 10-year-old, dismissed lawsuit. Smith argues that the disputed documents, copies of which The National Law Journal has obtained, contain important public health information about the dangers of carbonless copy paper and should be made public. Appleton says that the papers contain trade secrets produced under a protective order in an unsuccessful products liability suit. The company says it is forced to protect the documents or risk losing valuable information to competitors. The documents, marked “highly confidential information subject to protective order,” include: � Depositions of company officials charged with assuring the safety of Appleton products. They show that the company did nothing to investigate most of the 777 health-related complaints and queries about its carbonless paper between 1976 and 1986. A document filed with NIOSH in 1998 reflects an additional 1,100 to 1,200 complaints and queries received by Appleton and the four other major U.S. carbonless producers from 1987 through 1996. � Animal and human tests of carbonless paper and individual chemical ingredients, dating as far back as the 1950s. Conducted by outside laboratories on Appleton’s behalf, most of the tests, supplied to NIOSH with redactions to hide chemical names and other trade secrets, were negative. A few were positive, however, including a 1983 test in which 16 of 24 panelists reported irritation after handling different paper samples. � Internal memorandums, including a set reflecting company concern over an independent 1981 study measuring formaldehyde, a chemical identified in some of the personal injury claims against Appleton. Appleton claims that its paper releases only trace amounts of formaldehyde in ordinary use. The documents were produced in a lawsuit by Nancy Rutigliano, a New Jersey woman who sued Appleton and 17 other companies in 1990, claiming that she became extremely sensitive to small amounts of formaldehyde emitted from carbonless copy forms she used in her job at a New Jersey fuel company. U.S. District Judge John C. Lifland dismissed the case in 1996, ruling that her claim did not meet standards for scientific evidence. Rutigliano v. Valley Business Forms, 929 F. Supp. 779 (D.N.J.). The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his ruling the next year. Once the case was over, Rutigliano’s lawyer gave her the case files, including a box of documents produced by Appleton under a 1991 protective order signed by Judge Lifland. Smith, Rutigliano and Sharon McLaughlin, a New York woman who also claims she was disabled by workplace exposure to carbonless paper, say that they were unaware of the protective order and that they tried to find out if one existed. After concluding, mistakenly, that there was no order, McLaughlin began posting excerpts from the documents at http://www.carbonless.org/, the Web site of the Carbonless Copy Paper Injury and Information Network, which they maintain. But as a result of motions filed in federal court in Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, the women have removed the information from their Web site and turned over their copies of the documents to Judge Lifland. Appleton’s lawyers say that the company is willing to modify the protective order to release nontrade-secret data. HOW IT WORKS Carbonless paper is made of colorless dye contained in millions of microscopic capsules. Writing on one sheet breaks the capsules, releasing the dye to react with chemicals on the front of the next sheet to make a copy. The coatings are made up of dozens of different chemicals. The precise recipes are kept secret, and the product has often been changed over the years. In defense of its product, Appleton points to its testing and to studies, some industry-funded, that conclude the product does not produce irritation when used normally. Nor does it cause any of the disabling systemic effects claimed by Smith, McLaughlin and Rutigliano, say company scientists. Appleton workers have rarely complained of irritation or other effects, the industry says. By industry calculations, health queries about the paper constitute less than one per billion sheets sold. Appleton also claims that the fact that carbonless paper gives off an odor may cause it to be singled out unfairly from among a variety of office irritants. According to Anita Hotchkiss of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman in Morristown, N.J., 18 people have filed lawsuits Appleton since 1987, claiming injuries from carbonless copy paper. Five have been dismissed; six are pending. The other seven were settled. “There have always been these scattered cases,” says Hotchkiss, who serves as national litigation counsel for the company. “There’s always two or three pending.” Smith also filed a civil suit against Appleton and other manufacturers, but it was dismissed on statute-of-limitations grounds in 1997. Last year, Smith’s group filed a lawsuit under California’s Proposition 65, which requires companies to provide warnings regarding chemicals believed to cause cancer or reproductive harm. In addition to formaldehyde, the suit claims that carbonless paper contains benzene, toluene and toluene diisocyanate. Carbonless Copy Paper Injury and Information Network v. Appleton Papers, No. 308779 (Super. Ct. San Francisco Co.). After 25 years at Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone, Smith was fired in 1992 when health problems, including the temporary loss of her voice, made it impossible to do her job. She would eventually be diagnosed with multiple chemical sensitivity, a condition that victims say can result in severe reactions when exposed to very small amounts of chemicals. Smith says that she had just such a reaction at her workers’ compensation hearing in Norfolk, Va., in 1993. During his cross-examination of Smith, Richard B. Donaldson Jr., a lawyer for C & P, produced 10 carbonless forms for her to identify. She says that she became dizzy, passed out and had to be carried outside. Smith pressed Norfolk prosecutors to charge Donaldson. They eventually obliged, charging misdemeanor assault. When a judge later dismissed the charge, after failing to make accommodations for Smith to attend the trial, she complained to the Virginia State Bar about the judge, the C & P lawyer and a second company lawyer, the workers’ compensation commissioner and two prosecutors. Smith then complained to the U.S. Department of Justice about the judge and the lawyers, the state bar, her union, employees and officers of Bell Atlantic and numerous state and local officials, claiming discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act. “I want to tell you I am really a very nice and pleasant person,” she wrote in one letter to the state bar. “I do, however, believe that I have been wronged over and over, and I will to my last breath fight this and bring as much attention to all of this as I can to see that justice is given to me.” This year she tried, unsuccessfully, to get the district attorney in Appleton, Wis., the company’s hometown, to file felony charges against Appleton officials for failing to warn carbonless copy paper users about their products. Smith and her group have been successful in keeping carbonless copy paper in the press and on the agenda of NIOSH. They provided much of the impetus for NIOSH to act, according to several people involved with the current review. In the late ’80s, NIOSH did a safety review of carbonless copy paper, which it tabled after finding the science inconclusive, although the scientist in charge of that review recommended unsuccessfully in 1988 that NIOSH issue an alert to users of the paper. “I hope it’s going to end sometime soon,” says Smith. “Don’t you think I’d rather be baking cookies and playing with my grandchildren?” In March, her former lawyer told an Appleton lawyer that for $30 million, Smith and McLaughlin would return the company’s documents and take down her Web site. As part of the deal, an unrelated Ohio case would also be settled. Appleton declined, suggesting that the proposal could constitute extortion. But if Appleton continues to fight, Smith says, she will, too. “I know it’s my faith that has kept me going,” says Smith. “They’re not just up against us; they’re up against God.”

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