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Brazilian court charges Lilly $450m for hazardous chemicals at manufacturing facility

By Zachary Brennan , 13-May-2014
Last updated on 13-May-2014 at 15:37 GMT

A Brazilian Court in Sao Paulo has ordered Eli Lilly pay about $450m for exposing former employees of its subsidiary to hazardous substances in a manufacturing facility operated between 1977 and 2003.

Lilly is appealing the labor case, claiming the alleged contaminants – benzene and heavy metals – were not used in manufacturing operations at the facility. Lilly also claims that the published ruling from the 2nd Circuit of the Labor Court of Paulinia is based on inaccurate scientific claims and mathematical errors.

"Safety of our employees around the world is paramount," said Michael J. Harrington, SVP and general counsel for Lilly, in a statement.  "In this case, there is absolutely no basis for the court's decision that employees were harmed based on extensive scientific and medical assessments conducted by third party health experts, as well as by Lilly.”

The company was also ordered to pay for medical treatment of all employees, former employees and contractors who worked for more than six months at Lilly's plant in Cosmopolis, Sao Paulo state, according to the Wall Street Journal .

Labor prosecutors said that 77 of 80 former Eli Lilly workers who submitted blood tests showed signs of contamination, such as lead, arsenic, aluminium, titanium and mercury.

The judge also ordered the chemical plant to be temporarily closed for a year. Lily spokeswoman Amy Sousa told us that Lilly sold the plant in 2003 to ABL. "Lilly produced agricultural chemicals and human and animal antibiotics until 2003," she said.

The ruling followed a 2008 lawsuit against Lilly and ACS Dobfar subsidiary Antibioticos do Brasil Ltda for exposing workers to toxic substances.

The company has presented its own cleanup plan for chemical byproducts around the plant and said it found no trace of heavy metals, according to Reuters .

The appeal comes as Lilly recently agreed to invest about $6m into its Sau Paulo packaging plant to replace two blister-pack machines with new state-of-the-art technology.

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