Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Traffic moves along Highway 526 in front of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility on Nov. 28, 2022 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Boeing settles with Everett security guard claiming chemical exposure

Holly Hawthorne was assigned to Building 45-335 at the south end of Paine Field, while employees used aerosolized chemical sprays nearby.

EVERETT — Boeing and a security company reached a settlement this month with a former security guard after she alleged she suffered lasting health issues due to chemical sprays used by workers inside a hangar.

Filed Jan. 4 in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the settlement was for an undisclosed amount. The lawsuit claimed “the amount in controversy” exceeded $75,000.

A spokesperson for Boeing, and the plaintiff’s attorney, Darrell Cochran, both declined to comment.

The plaintiff’s former employer, Allied Universal, did not respond to a request for comment.

In November 2019, Boeing assigned Holly Hawthorne to work security in Building 45-335 on the company’s Everett campus at the south end of Paine Field where, the complaint claimed, employees used aerosolized chemical sprays for plane assembly and maintenance.

During the time she worked there, she said she was never alerted that industrial-grade “corrosion inhibiting compounds” were in use, wasn’t provided protective gear and the building lacked adequate ventilation, according to the lawsuit Hawthorne filed last April.

As a result, she was repeatedly exposed to toxic chemicals, like Cor-Ban 35 or Chromium (VI) Oxide used in plating, the lawsuit alleged. The companies manufacturing those chemicals note they can cause major health issues.

One of the chemicals is a form of hexavalent chromium, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers all hexavalent chromium compounds to be “occupational carcinogens.”

In 2020, an industrial hygienist for Boeing’s Everett plant warned that “literally hundreds of Boeing employees are at risk” of developing lung cancer or other forms of cancer “regardless of respiratory protection” due to high levels of hexavalent chromium, a Daily Herald investigation found.

Allied Universal had reportedly let other employees request to be moved out of building 45-335 due to the chemicals. In a response to the allegations filed in court last year, the security company denied any knowledge of the chemicals.

But Hawthorne experienced migraines, breathing problems and skin issues because she was repeatedly exposed to the toxins, her attorney told The Herald last year. She eventually moved to Las Vegas, hoping the dry weather would help.

“The conduct of Boeing and Universal respecting plaintiffs was so outrageous in character,” the lawsuit reads, “and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society.”

In its own response to the lawsuit, Boeing acknowledged Hawthorne worked there, but denied she was exposed to the compounds in question.

In January 2020, the state Department of Labor and Industries levied $4,800 in fines against the company after several security guards at the Everett site complained of “headaches, irritated eyes, sporadic chest pains and other breathing issues” as a result of chemical exposure.

The citation stemmed from an incident the previous month, when two Boeing employees sprayed Cor-Ban 35 in building 45-335 without warning security officers at a nearby guard station, department records show.

The guards, Allied Universal employees, were not wearing protective gear at the time, and the required ventilation system wasn’t used, an inspection found.

This month’s settlement comes as Boeing faces heavy scrutiny for exposing employees to toxic chemicals at the aviation giant’s Everett facility. Company documents reveal warnings about the danger date back decades, and that concerns persist.

Families of former factory workers have filed a series of lawsuits claiming chemicals used on Boeing’s factory floor caused birth defects in their children. Last fall, the company reached a settlement with one of the children, Marie Riley, now a 42-year-old North Bend resident, still living with a defective heart.

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; jake.goldstein-street@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

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