Steve Basile, a 53-year-old prop maker from Castaic who spent two months working on "The Island," said he has suffered from shortness of breath, peeling skin and other ailments ever since.
"Sometimes I wake up choking in the middle of the night," he said.
Dr. Richard Hyman, a board-certified internist and cardiologist, served as an independent physician in Basile's workers' compensation case. After examining Basile and reviewing his medical records, Hyman concluded in 2008 that working at Downey had aggravated his preexisting ear, nose and throat problems.
Despite the finding, the insurer AIG denied Basile's workers' compensation claim. He is appealing.
In response to workers' complaints, DreamWorks SKG, producer of "The Island," brought in an environmental consulting firm, Mintie Corp., to assess the air quality in Building 1. In a memo to workers, DreamWorks said the tests found mold but at levels that would not affect healthy individuals. (DreamWorks executives declined to comment.)
That was small comfort to Daniel Mustoe, a welder who built sets for "The Island." He complained of flu symptoms that wouldn't go away and of difficulty breathing.
Dr. Bruce Gillis, a medical toxicologist serving as an independent physician in his workers' compensation case, found that Mustoe had been permanently disabled by a fungal infection from mold at Downey.
Gillis said blood tests showed that Mustoe was exposed to the same mold identified by Mintie Corp. in its air-quality tests.
"There is substantial medical evidence that 100% of this permanent disability was caused by" working at Downey, Gillis wrote.
AIG refused to authorize treatment, citing the opinion of another doctor who questioned the validity of the blood tests. Mustoe is appealing.
IRG has responded vigorously to adverse publicity over the workers' claims. In 2005, it filed a libel suit against the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, contending that the union scared away business by falsely claiming in its newsletter that Downey Studios was unsafe.
The union and its insurer paid $775,000 to settle the case. As a condition of the settlement, the union acknowledged that air-quality tests for mold and asbestos found that Building 1 was a "clean and safe" environment.
Last August, Lichter filed another libel suit, this one against some of the injured workers and activist Vickie Travis, who has publicized their complaints on a website. Travis said the lawsuit, which is awaiting trial, was "an attempt to intimidate me and to suppress our freedom of speech."
Film production continues at Downey Studios, but at a slower pace than before.
IRG executives have said they intend to scale back their film business and have proposed an $800-million development of shops, offices, restaurants and residential units on the site.
Some of the film workers, meanwhile, remain in limbo, uncertain whether they will ever get disability benefits.
Derek Norrbom, a welder who worked on "The Island," still suffers shortness of breath, headaches, a cough and persistent fatigue.
An independent physician found that Norrbom, 24, "experienced an occupational upper respiratory injury" as a "direct result" of working at Downey.
Two insurers recently paid $35,000 to settle the case, Norrbom's family said.
Norrbom's father, Bruce, 58, a film production foreman, takes five medications a day for nerve damage, joint pain, itching and rashes. Doctors disagreed on whether his symptoms were linked to Downey, and AIG rejected his workers' compensation claim. He has appealed.
Bruce's wife, Tammy, said her once-hard-driving husband, who supervised crews of 30 people on such productions as "Independence Day" and "Alien Resurrection," can barely muster the energy to leave their home in Castaic.
"I just want my family back the way it was before," she said.
Former Times researcher Janet Lundblad contributed to this report.