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Dow Sued Over Mortar Additive

March 24, 1989

DETROIT (AP) _ A Colorado court is trying to determine whether a mortar additive made by Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co. caused walls to crumble.

A bank, hospitals, and now a hotel in Denver are among dozens of plaintiffs that have sought damages in lawsuits spanning the last decade stemming from use of the additive, Sarabond. They claim the substance corrodes metal supports, letting bricks fall or entire walls sag.

But Dow says brickwork can deteriorate for many reasons and argues that its corporate wealth - $16.68 billion in 1988 revenue - makes the Midland-based chemical giant an easy ″deep pockets″ target for lawsuits.

Trial opened Monday in a suit brought by the Executive Tower Inn in Denver. The hotel is seeking $190 million in actual and punitive damages from Dow.

The suit is one of 28 pending cases involving Sarabond, which was sold by Dow from 1965 to 1976 and used in structures ranging from hospitals to the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel in the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. Additional suits have been settled out of court.

″We do remain convinced that Sarabond is not deficient. We are back in the courtroom this week defending our position,″ Dow spokeswoman Terri McNeill said.

Two previous suits have gone to trial and juries found Dow liable in both, although one is under appeal.

A 1979 complaint by Central National Bank in Cleveland resulted in a $28 million damage award and later was settled for $13 million.

A Johnson Circuit Court jury in Franklin, Ind., on May 3, 1988, awarded St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indianapolis $1.7 million in actual damages and $5 million in punitive damages. That judgment is being appealed.

Meanwhile, new court actions continue to crop up.

Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo filed suit last month, claiming Sarabond-mortared brickwork on a service-elevator tower built in the early 1970s was deteriorating. Bronson is asking damages in excess of $10,000.

Attorney Bill Dorigan of Minneapolis, who represents the Executive Tower Inn, Bronson Hospital and other Sarabond plaintiffs, has said the mortar additive releases chloride similar to road de-icing salt.

Metal supports tying the mortared brickwork to the building walls or frame corrode, bricks or sections of wall crack and loosen, and in some cases bricks have fallen, Dorigan said.

He said he knew of no resulting injuries, and structural damage to buildings has not been involved.

Dow sold the Sarabond business in 1976 to Masonry Systems International, and in the early 1980s the product ceased to be marketed. McNeill said Dow sold the business because Sarabond was unprofitable.

Dow maintains the mortar additive did not cause the problems that led to the lawsuits, McNeill said.

The company used Sarabond in its own Midland headquarters buildings as recently as 1981 with no problems, she said.

Dorigan disputed that, in an interview prior to the Executive Tower Inn trial. He said he visited the Dow headquarters twice - after obtaining court orders in two previous lawsuits - and found rusted metal and cracked bricks both times.

Dorigan said more than 20 other suits have been filed that never came to trial. Dow wouldn’t comment on the number of suits settled or the total amount of the settlements, McNeill said.

″There have been settlements over the years,″ she said. ″They are not an admission of liability. Where we can resolve suits amicably we do our best to accomplish that.″

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