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Panel Orders Nation’s First L-Tryptophan Damage Award

July 10, 1991

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A Japanese chemical manufacturer was ordered to pay more than $2 million to four people who used L-tryptophan, a food supplement linked to a rare blood disorder that killed at least 27 people.

The state arbitration panel’s order late Monday was the nation’s first damage award against manufacturer Showa Denko Co., said Turner Branch of Albuquerque, N.M., vice chairman of a steering committee for a nationwide group of attorneys representing L-tryptophan victims.

L-tryptophan, an amino acid, was sold for ailments including weight problems, sleeplessness and depression.

The Food and Drug Administration ordered all products containing L- tryptophan off the market in the spring of 1990 after users came down with the blood disorder, eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome, or EMS. Nationwide, at least 27 people died and more than 1,500 cases were reported, virtually all before the product was withdrawn.

Attorney Gayle Troutwine, who represents four Oregon plaintiffs, said Tuesday that about 1,000 lawsuits have been filed against Showa Denko.

The Oregon plaintiffs and Showa Denko agreed to argue the claims before a panel of three independent arbitrators, which announced the awards after 12 days of testimony, Troutwine said.

The panel awarded $225,000 to the estate of Dolly Berg, 71, of Portland, who died after taking the supplement. Jim Johnson, 45, also of Portland, was awarded $364,000. Don Jones, 61, of Salem, was given $225,000, and his wife, Helen, 54, got $1.36 million.

The amounts were based on past and future hospital bills, lost wages and pain and suffering, Troutwine said.

Steve English, a Portland attorney for Showa Denko, didn’t return telephone calls Tuesday.

Plaintiffs allege that Showa Denko was negligent in manufacturing L- tryptophan and refused to cooperate with U.S. health authorities.

Troutwine said she was pleased with the award but belives the health food industry still needs more regulation.

″I think that this is just the first of many disasters to come unless we start seeing some control,″ she said.

EMS is marked by an elevated count of one type of white blood cell, the eosinophil. Symptoms include severe muscle pain, joint pain and contracture, rashes, hair loss, skin changes, and coughing.

The Centers for Disease Control said last month that most people stricken with the disease still suffer a year later and many report new problems with anxiety and concentration.

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