Chemical Exposure Injuries in the Workplace

Industrial workplace environments often present unique dangers to workers. Governmental regulatory bodies, like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, impose rules on workplace environments that aim to keep workers safe. However, Safety Coordinators and Quality Control Supervisors hired by companies to keep watch over job sites will sometimes fail to recognize latent dangers in the workplace. Alternatively, some workplace environments do not seem dangerous, and will not have designated safety-employees to root out dangers to workers.

Highly dangerous and highly common causes of injuries for industrial and other workers come in the form of chemical or hazardous material exposure. The most common types of chemical or hazardous material exposure in industrial environments include:

  • Workplace chemical exposure
  • Mold exposure
  • Environmental exposure to gases or airborne toxins
  • Contamination of groundwater or soil due to chemicals or waste dumping
  • Toxic landfill waste
  • Pesticides including dioxin and DDT, which can cause birth defects

The most common types of chemical or hazardous material exposure in non-industrial work environments include:

  • Asbestos exposure that causes lung cancer, mesothelioma, or other lung disease
  • Lead paint exposure that causes brain damage in children
  • Dry cleaning chemicals and solvents, which cause brain and major organ damage
  • Chemicals in defective medications

Other major sources of chemical/hazardous material exposure that have been the subject of many lawsuits include:

Pesticides: these include pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides, which are chemicals used to kill insects, weeds, and protect crops and vegetation. Some pesticides cause cancers and trigger neurodevelopmental disorders and issues in children.

Diacetyl and other flavorings: diacetyl is used to produce butter flavoring for snack foods (e.g., popcorn). Workers who manufacture diacetyl are often exposed at plant facilities. Diacetyl is highly toxic. It is also used in facilities that process coffee beans, tortillas, candy, baked goods, chewing gum, and other products.

Metal Poisoning: Lead, which can be found in older pipes or paint chips, can cause serious illness depending on the length and nature of the exposure. The same is true for mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and manganese.

Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide exposure can come from charcoal barbecue grills, gas water heaters, kerosene space heaters, propane stoves or heaters, spray paint, and paint removers or solvents. This can occur due to a malfunctioning appliance, or when an appliance is used properly but is in a poorly ventilated space. Carbon monoxide exposure can also occur through excessive dry ice exposure, and can affect mine workers.

What should I do if I am exposed to a chemical or hazardous material at work?

The first and most important action is to recognize symptoms early. Because chemical exposure can occur without the individual’s knowledge, it may take years to develop fully mature symptoms. This can pose a major problem with the Statute of Limitations in Texas.

  • The statute of limitations to file a claim for a toxic tort is two years from the date of the injury. Texas applies the discovery rule, which means that an individual has two years from the date of the discovery of his or her illnesses to file a lawsuit.
  • CAUTION: Texas cases have muddied the waters on this issue and have at times barred plaintiffs from bringing toxic tort claims even when the plaintiffs did not have actual knowledge that they were injured.

Proving your toxic tort claim

Just like with other negligence cases in Texas, a plaintiff must show:

  1. The defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff
  2. The defendant’s legal duty
  3. The breach caused the plaintiff’s injuries
  4. The injuries resulted in damages, or a cost, to the plaintiff

A few factors that Texas courts have considered in establishing liability against property owners, employers, manufacturers, and other defendants are:

  1. Medical testimony or documentation. It is important to have experts evaluate the facts of the case, the toxins involved, and the injuries sustained to link the toxin to the plaintiff’s illness.
  2. Evidence that you were exposed. An expert will need to assist in proving that the contamination actually reached your airways, and your subsequent respiratory illness was caused by the contamination.
  3. Evidence of illness of people in similar environments. If the contamination affected your coworkers, neighbors, or other individuals that are similarly situated to you, evidence of their exposure can bolster your claim.
  4. Public warnings about the toxicity or danger of the chemical. If a governmental agency like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued warnings or recalls related to the chemical or hazardous material you ingested, that evidence can improve your claim for liability.

If you believe that you have been exposed to a dangerous chemical or other hazardous material at a chemical plant, call an experienced industrial accident attorney at Morrow & Sheppard LLP. Our lawyers have helped maximize claims for lung diseases for workers exposed to dangerous chemicals and hazardous materials, and understand the intricacies of these types of cases.

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