Worker Profiles
Trade Secrets

Dan Ross
“He came home from work one day, and he was taking off his boots and socks, and I looked at his feet. The whole top of them were burned where the chemicals had gone through his boots. I said, ‘My God, what was it that goes through leather, steel-toed boots and your socks to do that?’” -- Elaine Ross

Fresh out of the Air Force, Dan Ross went to work for a Conoco vinyl chloride-producing plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1967. He was a "big ole boy," one of his co-workers described him, six-foot-six, with thick blond hair and a teasing smile. Dan’s widow, Elaine, fell in love at first sight, and after being married to him for 25 years, she says he could walk into a room and still take her breath away. But his job was taking its toll.

“As the years went by you could see it on his face. He started to get this hollow look under his eyes, and I could always smell the chemicals on him. I could even smell it on his breath after a while. But even up until he was diagnosed the first time, he said, ‘They'll take care of me. They're my friends.’ ”

In 1989, Dan Ross was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer. In the months before he died, Elaine found an exposure report from the plant listing the kind and amount of chemicals that Dan was exposed to on one day. A handwritten note reads: “Exceeds short-term exposure,” meaning he had been exposed to more of the dangerous fumes than government standards allowed. Another handwritten note orders, "Do not include on wire to Houston.” The chemical company’s headquarters were located in Houston; Elaine says she understood the note to mean, “Somebody’s trying to cover something up.”

“They keep all this stuff from them and tell them all the good things that they're doing for them, but not that they're killing him. He had a right to know. He had a right to know, and so does everybody else.”

After a first operation to attempt to remove the malignant tumor, Dan Ross approached the company and asked that they grant him early retirement, and so the benefit payments that retirement would bring.

"He said, 'Just give me my retirement as if I've been here X amount of years, and let me live what I've got left to live of my life.' And they said, 'We can't do that.' And he asked them why. They said because it would set a precedent. It broke his heart. Had tears in his eyes. And that's when I kind of got hard against them. You know, they put tears in his eyes, and that was something that I had never seen."

Dan and Elaine Ross sued. By the time his employers settled, attorney William Baggett, Jr. had charged all vinyl chloride-producing companies with conspiracy. Most of them have also settled. But 10 years of legal discovery eventually unearthed more than a million pages of industry documents.

“I promised him that they would never, ever forget who he was. I promised him that I would never quit trying to let people know. The truth needs to be told.”

Dan Ross
Dan Ross in the Air Force

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Dan Ross
Dan Ross on his daughter's graduation day

Elaine Ross
"They hurt somebody that meant more to me than my whole life." - Elaine Ross

Exposure record
Handwritten notes read: "Exceeds short-term exposure" and "Do not include on wire to Houston."

Dan Ross
"You start watching him die one piece at a time." – Elaine Ross

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Photo Credits: Elaine Ross