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Chemical Exposure On The Worksite: Too Much Of A Bad Thing

Across numerous industries, the use of chemical substances, even those that have been found harmful, is necessary.

work accident

Formaldehyde is an organic compound used in the textile industry to finish crease-resistant fabrics. In automotive plants, formaldehyde is a necessary component of transmission and electrical systems. Solutions containing formaldehyde are used in the medical profession as a topical treatment for warts. Many of the glues and resins used by carpenters are derived from formaldehyde. And of course, it's the key ingredient in embalming a body.

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Toxic & Harmful Chemical Exposure In The Construction Industry

Formaldehyde is an industry in itself. The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group, reports that more than 4 million North American workers are employed in formaldehyde processing plants. In the past, sales of formaldehyde-containing products have accounted for approximately 1.2% of the US gross domestic product (GDP). If that sounds small, it's not. 1.2% of America's current GDP would equal $201.6 billion. Formaldehyde is a huge money-maker for American businesses.

So who would crash the party? According to the US National Toxicology Program, formaldehyde is also "known to be a human carcinogen." Whether floating through the air in a manufacturing plant or introduced through skin contact, there is a causal relationship between exposure to formaldehyde and cancer in humans.

Many other, common industrial chemicals have been proven to harm humans, both workers and consumers, including:

The list is extremely long. You can find a complete roster of dangerous industrial chemicals on OSHA's website here.

Limiting Exposure: How Much Is Too Much?

Business owners and industry groups are presented with two conflicting messages. On the one hand, you have substances that have been proven harmful, and workers may be in danger. On the other, many of these substances are essential to the manufacturing process. Banning them outright could bring the wheels of a plant. worksite, or an entire industry, to a grinding halt.

Thankfully, we have science. We also have safety equipment and governmental organizations allowed to regulate industries. It turns out that some, but not all, harmful chemicals can be used safely in limited doses.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, sets "permissible exposure limits," or PELs, for many substances. At extremely high concentrations, or longer exposure periods, many chemical substances become harmful to the human body. But at lower concentrations, some chemicals generally considered "toxic" can be tolerated.

Employers are required to monitor their employees' actual exposure to a substance, along with the chemical's concentration in the air, and make sure that it stays under a given level. If recent tragedies are any indication, these necessary steps aren't always taken.

American chemical manufacturing giant DuPont recently entered the news after four workers at a Houston plant died and another was severely injured. On Saturday, November 15th, 2014, the five DuPont employees were exposed to lethal amounts of methyl mercaptan, a colorless gas use to make insecticides and fungicides.

Two days ago, a coroner conclusively determined the cause of death: asphyxiation. Spokesmen from DuPont have declined to comment on whether the workers were wearing personal protective equipment, including respirators, at the time of their exposure. Each of the victim's families have filed lawsuits against DuPont.

Asbestos: Am I Safe Removing It?

Humans have used asbestos, a naturally-occurring mineral, for thousands of years. Around the turn of the 20th century, builders began using it as insulation. Asbestos was remarkably good at withstanding electrical, chemical, heat and fire damage. And it was cheap. In America, it became the industry-leading insulator for most of the 1900s. But just like formaldehyde, asbestos is carcinogenic; it causes cancer.

Mesothelioma, lung cancer, and the eponymously-named asbestosis - people became aware of asbestos' harmful effects long before its use became regulated in the US. Since at least 1899, British doctors were writing of the mineral's adverse health risks. In 1906, the first death ascribed to asbestos exposure was formally documented.

Asbestos is still all around us. It can be found in trace amounts in clothing, vinyl flooring, cement pipes, brake pads, gaskets, and insulation. In fact, the US remains one of the world's last developed countries not to have banned asbestos completely. A leak of internal US court documents from the 1970s has shown that industrialists were aware of asbestos' deadly potential since at least the 1930s, but failed to warn the public. Why? World War I was fast approaching and asbestos was crucial in manufacturing ships, the key to America's strong Navy.

Generally, asbestos insulation is only dangerous when fibers are released and inhaled. So disturbing existing asbestos by removing it from the home might not be the best option. Most public health organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, recommend leaving asbestos intact. But some application methods pose greater risks than others. Flocking, a process commonly used to create the asbestos in "popcorn" ceilings, allows fibers to detach and enter the air. This stuff should be removed. And a general panic over asbestos' harmful effects has created a robust removal industry of its own.

When conducted properly, sealing off the work area, using HEPA filters, Class H vacuum cleaners, and personal protective equipment, asbestos removal should be safe.

If you work with asbestos, or any other potentially-harmful substance, your employer should also provide a Material safety data sheet (MSDS). It will describe the substance's basic qualities, like melting point and toxicity, along with safe ways to handle or work with the chemical.

If you were not directly provided with a safety sheet, your employer may have violated OSHA's "Hazard Communication" regulation. OSHA requires that you have "ready access" to this information; it can't be locked away somewhere, and you shouldn't have to ask your supervisor.

Visit this site to report a potential OSHA violation.

Cadmium: Is It Still In Use?

Cadmium is a chemical element, used widely as a pigment, giving color to paint. Within the construction industry, cadmium can be found in industrial paints and as an anti-corrosive covering for steel products.

Cadmium has an extremely low PEL; in other words, its very toxic. Welders often encounter cadmium-containing alloys on the job. When heated, cadmium releases a brown fume. Unfortunately, the fume doesn't cause immediate irritation, so many welders continue work on the piece. Cadmium poisoning generally causes one of two potentially-fatal conditions:

As of 2009, 86% of all industrially-used cadmium goes into making batteries. Cadmium can also be found on many construction sites, where it still coats many building products.

Can I Sue For My Injuries After Chemical Exposure On The Job?

Were you exposed to harmful chemicals on the job? Did you contract an illness, or suffer other harm, because of toxic substances? Contact the New York City chemical exposure attorneys at Banville Law today. Our experienced lawyers will review your situation, and explain the legal options in clear, everyday terms.

Lawsuits are still being won for asbestos poisoning, and workers are still getting the justice they deserve. Call (917) 551-6690 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation at Banville Law today.


Laurence P. Banville
Date Published: November 10, 2014
Laurence P. Banville is the managing partner of Banville Law. As an experienced personal injury attorney, Mr. Banville helps clients recover compensation from those responsible for his clients' injuries. Our firm is located in New York City, serving clients from the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.
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