Worker fails to show anemia caused by chemical exposure

A man who developed iron deficiency anemia failed to show his condition was caused by repetitive exposure to hazardous chemicals in the workplace.

In Balensiefen v. Illinois Workers Compensation Commission, the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District in Ottawa on Monday affirmed an arbitrator’s ruling that the worker failed to show a causal connection to his condition and the workplace.

John Balensiefen began working for chemical manufacturer Emerald Performance Materials LLC at its Henry, Illinois, factory in 1988. In 2012, at the age of 59, he was diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, and filed a workers compensation claim alleging that his exposure to hazardous chemicals caused or contributed to his condition.

He claimed that he was exposed to vapors from his work and that his protective gear did not cover his entire body. He also alleged that the building had insufficient ventilation and that chemical mixing tanks repeatedly leaked, sometimes requiring kiddie pools to be brought in to collect the leaking chemicals.

In June 2012, Mr. Balensiefen was diagnosed with severe iron deficiency of unknown origin and underwent a blood transfusion and later was admitted to intensive care for related issues. A treating physician noted that his work exposed him to various chemicals that likely caused or contributed to his condition. However, an independent medical examiner found no evidence based on toxicology data that the chemicals Mr. Balensiefen said he was exposed to routinely caused iron deficiency anemia and opined that his comorbidities, including atrial fibrillation, blood clots and pulmonary emboli were much more likely to be related to his anemia.

An arbitrator denied Mr. Balensiefen’s request for benefits and the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission unanimously affirmed that decision.

He appealed, but the appellate court affirmed the arbitrator’s ruling, holding that Mr. Balensiefen failed to prove that he suffered from an occupational disease or that a causal connection existed between the disease and his employment.

Although one physician stated that workplace chemicals likely contributed to Mr. Balensiefen’s anemia, the appellate court held that the commission correctly attributed less weight to his testimony because the doctor did not know the extent of Mr. Balensiefen’s chemical exposure at work, acknowledged that anemia is a common condition and presented no evidence causally relating the anemia to the alleged chemical exposures.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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