Workers at Risk of Chemical Exposure
There are certain industries put workers more at risk than others. OSHA has marked certain careers that have a higher likelihood of chemical exposure. Workers who face an increased risk of toxic exposure include:
The Three Different Ways Toxic Chemicals Can Affect You
Various types of toxins are measured by the effect they have on an individual. A person can become exposed to harmful toxins by ingesting them, absorbing them through the skin, and inhalation. How they affect you is determined by the toxin itself and how you’ve interacted with it. For example, having talc fibers on your skin would be different from inhaling talc fibers.
There are three major categories of toxic substances:
- Chemical toxicity includes the inhalation of substances such as lead, gasoline, and asbestos.
- Biological toxicity refers to certain types of bacteria and viruses.
- Physical toxins include those that are typically visible such as dust and fibers.
Exposure to various chemicals can cause illnesses such as organ failure and cancer which require serious and immediate medical treatment. Many such chemicals don’t have a taste or odor—only symptoms caused by exposure.
Common Types of Toxic Chemical Exposure
- Benzene exposure
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Welding fumes exposure
- Hydrogen sulfide exposure
- Toluene exposure
- Asbestos exposure
- Ammonia exposure
- Cadmium exposure
Claims of Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure
Hydrogen sulfide is a foul-smelling, colorless gas that can be dangerous when in high concentrations. The gas is also known as sewer and swamp gas. It has a pungent rotten egg odor and is extremely flammable. The gas naturally occurs in sewers, well water, gas wells, volcanoes, and manure pits, but it can also be present in workplaces all throughout the United States. Hydrogen sulfide can be present on oil and gas rigs, but it can also be present in locations where oil and gas are refined, such as industrial plants. The gas is present in mining and pulp and paper processing. It can also occur at high concentrations in places where rayon is manufactured. At high concentrations, the gas can cause instantaneous collapse and sudden death.
Exposure Levels & Their Effects
Even at lower levels, exposure results in irritating and dangerous symptoms. It can cause eye infections, respiratory irritation, and nausea. If you are an industrial worker, it is important to know where hydrogen sulfide is and how you can work to avoid exposure. At a concentration of 2-5, prolonged exposure can result in the following:
- Tearing of the eyes
- Loss of sleep
- Airway problems
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms Continue to Worsen Exponentially at Higher Concentrations
At a concentration of 20, symptoms rise to fatigue, loss of appetite, irritability, poor memory, and dizziness. When the concentration rises to the 50-100 range, individuals may develop conjunctivitis and a respiratory tract infection. At 100, individuals can start coughing, suffer severe eye irritation, and may suffer a loss of smell. Between 100 and 150, individuals will not be able to smell anymore. Between 200 and 300, eye irritation and respiratory tract irritation will occur. Individuals may suffer from pulmonary edema. Between 500 and 700, individuals will collapse within minutes and will suffer serious, possibly permanent damage to the eyes in 30 minutes. Between 700 and 1000, individuals will collapse. Their breathing will stop promptly and individuals may be dead within minutes. Any concentration over 1,000 will result in instant death.
Types of Jobs at Risk to Hydrogen Sulfide Exposure
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that all workers need to be cautious of the dangers of hydrogen sulfide. This gas is present in many workplace atmospheres. Those in poorly ventilated areas can be seriously harmed because of hydrogen sulfide. Workers employed in marshy landscapes can be at risk for exposure because a bacterium in these areas breaks down organic matter to produce dangerous gases, particularly hydrogen sulfide. Workers who are in confined spaces where hydrogen sulfide could build up to dangerous levels should be careful. This includes those that work in pits, manholes, tunnels, or wells, as well as any job taking place in a poorly-ventilated space. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, so it sinks, putting workers in low-lying areas at risk. Hot weather increases the vapor pressure of the gas.
Toluene Exposure Claims
Toluene is a clear, colorless liquid that vaporizes when exposed to room temperature air. The chemical has a sharp, sweet odor. Toluene can be extremely dangerous to those exposed. If you smell the sickly sweet odor associated with the chemical, chances are that you have already been exposed and need medical attention. Toluene is normally mixed in with solvents in common products that are found at work sites or homes.
Products containing toluene include the following:
- Metal cleaners
- Nail polishes
- Rust preventatives
- Printing inks
Workplaces at Risk to Toluene Exposure
Some workplaces are at a greater risk of toluene exposure than others. Naturally, any construction or remodeling company where toluene-based paints are used puts workers at risk of exposure. Furniture makers—who often use varnishes, shellacs, and finishes on their woodwork—may be at risk. Workers can suffer exposure to toluene by inhalation, ingestion, or splashing on the eyes. Toluene can also be absorbed through the skin.
Studies show that employees at nail salons, printing establishments, auto repair locations, and construction sites often work with products containing high amounts of toluene and should be trained to avoid exposure. Workplaces with any risk of toluene exposure need to take precautions. According to OSHA, a workplace with no proper ventilation or safety protocol in place is violating safety regulations.
Preventing the Harmful Effects of Toluene
Workplaces can reduce the risk of toluene-based injuries by substituting toluene-based materials with water-based ones when possible in cleaning and degreasing jobs. Employers should also use water-based paint and adhesives instead of toluene and solvent-based ones. When using a toluene-based product it is best to use rollers, brushes, or flow applications, rather than spray applicators. The most important protective measure against toluene exposure is ventilation. Keep windows open if you are working inside and make sure the vapors can escape containment. When using liquid toluene, workers should wear gloves to reduce the risk of getting the chemical on their skin.
Short-Term Effects of Exposure to Toluene
The effects of toluene are often identical regardless of how you are exposed. Inhalation leads to nervous system damage, headache, dizziness, nausea and other symptoms. Skin exposure leads to the same symptoms with the added risk of dermatitis. While not an officially recognized effect, studies have shown that toluene exposure can contribute to hearing loss if a worker is already exposed to loud noises, like many industrial workers. Toluene is also flammable, so it can cause explosions or fires if it is exposed to a spark or flame.
The effects of short-term toluene exposure include:
- Irritated eyes
- Cracked skin
- Irritated nose
- Throat irritation
- Dry skin
- Feelings of intoxication
Long-Term Effects of Exposure to Toluene
Workers often deal with the long-term effects of toluene, many of which they won’t notice until years after exposure took place. The central nervous system is the primary victim of toluene exposure, subject to brain damage, tremors, involuntary eye movement, drowsiness, and more. Those that suffer long-term or high-concentration toluene exposure may require hospitalization or may suffer permanent injury.
The effects of long-term exposure include:
- Numbness in extremities
- Uterus damage
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Damage to the nervous system
Asbestos Exposure Claims
Asbestos refers to a group of minerals used in the construction industry as insulation materials, in the textile industry, and in the cement industry. The minerals can disintegrate into microscopic particles that quickly find their way into the body via the respiratory system. Over the years, thousands of workers who had been exposed to asbestos have been diagnosed with, and have died from, lung cancer and other serious lung-related conditions.
Asbestos is not used as widely as it once was, but its presence in the industry still poses a significant risk to workers who are exposed.
Benzene is a toxic, but sweet smelling, colorless liquid that is used heavily in industrial and manufacturing processes. It is derived from coal and petroleum products, and as such, may be present in large quantities in petrochemical plants and refineries. It is used mainly in the manufacture of plastics, pesticides, dyes, and rubber. Benzene is also produced naturally through cigarette smoke, although this exposure occurs in very minute quantities and is therefore not considered to be harmful. It is only when the exposure is increased and continues over a prolonged period of time that the serious effects of this toxic chemical on human health can be seen.
Benzene can be inhaled, ingested, penetrate through the skin, or may be absorbed through contact with the eyes. Employers are required to minimize exposure to benzene to prevent its detrimental effects, even in high-risk industries. People who have been exposed to benzene in the workplace even for a period of fewer than five years have suffered various form of leukemia, a kind of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow, and types of anemia and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Although anybody who works in manufacturing industries that involve the use of or release of benzene may suffer from the effects of toxic exposure, the consequences are seen in their greatest intensity in people who work in petrochemical plants, benzene purification plants, and oil refineries.
Anhydrous ammonia (Ammonia NH3) is an irritant gas that has a disturbing odor and is colorless. This gas is noticed usually through the repugnant scents between 5 and 50 parts per million (ppm), and it will actually irritate your body between 25-50 ppm. In most cases, a victim of exposure will not experience the dangerous health side effects until they have been exposed to at least 100 ppm or more. This specific chemical is used as a gas in order to create agricultural fertilizers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that there are various symptoms and health concerns that can be a result of anhydrous ammonia exposure.
- Severe dehydration (which can also lead to physical burn wounds)
- May cause difficulty in breathing
- Irritations in the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat
- Ingestion may lead to corrosion of stomach, throat, and mouth lining
- Extensive exposure may lead to possible death
In the event a person has been exposed, it is imperative that they consume large amounts of water for at least 15 consecutive minutes in order to flush out whatever they can. People may be exposed to this toxin in a number of ways by either a gas or vapor inhalation. Many cases it is found in industrial areas, on ammonia infused farmlands, home cleaning products, and others.
Cadmium is an element that occurs in the earth’s crust and has been used in paints for years. Cadmium is now used as an electrode component in alkaline batteries and is often used as a pigment for paints or coating. Sometimes, it is used in platings or as a stabilizer in some plastics. Exposure is associated with serious medical conditions like cancer or kidney dysfunction. In some cases, cadmium can cause lung cancer, prostate cancer, or local skin and eye irritation.
- Metal machining
- Plastics manufacturing
- Smelting metals
- Refining metals
- Battery manufacturing
- Coating manufacturing
Many different industries use cadmium, and workers are exposed most often by inhaling the element. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry estimates that more than 500,000 workers in the United States face exposure to cadmium every single year.
Preventing Cadmium Exposure
OSHA instructs all supervisors of sites containing cadmium to provide respirators to every employee who requests one. All workers should also be given property protective clothing and must remove all work clothing/equipment at the end of a shift in a changing area designated for this purpose. Changing rooms at factories where cadmium is present must have separate storage areas for other clothes that are not near the contaminated clothing. Employers must also clean and maintain all protective clothing and equipment by washing the clothes at least once a week and repairing or replacing outfits as necessary when there are tears or rips. Employees who are exposed to cadmium above the permissible exposure limit are also required to shower at the end of their shift and may not eat, drink, smoke, chew gum or tobacco, or put on makeup before they wash their hands and face to rid them of cadmium dust or residue.
Liability for Chemical Exposure
Any chemicals or toxic substances at a workplace that can cause harm are defined as hazardous chemicals. They can include fuels, paints, solvents, dust, and other hazardous substances. Federal laws governing worker health and safety currently regulate exposure to about 400 hazardous chemicals and toxic substances. The laws set out specific exposure levels that limit the amount of a hazardous substance that a worker may be exposed to in an eight-hour workday. The exposure levels vary depending on the toxic substance.
Employers must use protective equipment and other protective measures to keep employees’ exposures within prescribed limits. Safety equipment such as respirators and other measures must be approved by an industrial hygienist. Federal law requires employers to provide workers with workplaces that are free of recognized hazards that may cause serious physical harm or death. Employers and manufacturers are responsible for protecting the safety of employees and consumers by taking the necessary measures to remediate the presence of toxic chemicals in the workplace. If steps are not taken, drastic consequences may result.
Unfortunately, some employers put profits ahead of worker safety and don’t focus on safe work conditions as they should. If you have developed an illness or disease through exposure to unsafe levels of hazardous chemicals or toxic substances, you may be entitled to recover financial compensation.
Toxic Waste Facility Dangers
As hazardous waste facilities continue to grow and provide support for different industries, new precautions must be taken when regulating workplace activity. Many facility workers are exposed to deadly toxins, dangerous leaks, and other hazards that put their health in jeopardy. People in the local public and surrounding areas also face the threat of toxic leaks or improper disposal, which has led to detrimental results.
- Industrial plants
- Septic systems
- Auto shops or garages
Handling Hazardous Waste
Toxic waste puts humans, animals, and plants in danger. For this reason, the need for toxic waste facilities has become increasingly prominent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversees the handling of hazardous waste by these types of facilities. They require that toxic materials be handled with certain precautions and disposed of properly.
- Waste piles
- Sealed containers
- Concrete, steel, or fiberglass tanks
- Containment buildings
If any of these storage areas are incorrectly sealed or contained, it can result in dangerous exposure for workers and residents. In some cases, incompatible waste is stored together, which causes dangerous reactions that may initially go unnoticed, but later result in deadly exposure. The risk of waste mix-ups or placement mistakes puts many people at risk—with the proximity of the worker handling such materials at greater risk.
Choose a Leading Houston Chemical Exposure Attorney
Even if a worker believes he or she came out clean from a plant accident, there is a high risk that he or she was still exposed. Chemicals can seep into clothing and skin, and poison air quality for an extended period of time before being noticed. Prolonged exposure to leaking gas or chemicals can potentially be more detrimental than acute exposure in obvious accidents. If you are injured in a work accident involving toxic exposure, or if you handled a dangerously manufactured product, you need to hire a lawyer to assist you. At Arnold & Itkin, we can stand beside you and seek financial compensation that will cover your medical bills, as well as your pain and suffering. We have won billions in verdicts and settlements. You can trust us to fight for the best results. Regardless of how it occurred, you deserved better from those responsible. Let us fight for you.
Fill out a free case evaluation form and talk to Arnold & Itkin today: (888) 493-1629.