Articles Posted in Environmental Toxins

The Dot-111 car, recognized by most for its soda can shape is one of the most commonly used rail tankers used for transporting hazardous gases such as ethanol and crude oil. Railroad transportation is one of the safest ways to transport these hazardous chemicals. However, these tankers and have been riding our rails for over twenty years with known design flaws that can cause the car to tear open if it is involved in an accident. The steel used to make the tanker is too thin to resist punctures if the car is involved in an accident. Also, the ends are vulnerable to tears from couplers that can fly up after ripping off between cars, and exposed fittings such as unloading valves on the top of the tanker can easily break if the tank is rolled over during a collision.

Two people have been killed and dozens have been injured since the discovery of the design flaw.

The rail and chemical industries took a step in the right direction when they began manufacturing all cars after October 2011 that will be used to transport ethanol and crude oil with thicker shells and shields to prevent punctures.

The National Transportation Safety Board wants to take it a step further. In March 2012, the Board asked that higher standards be applied to all tankers: Not just new ones. That means updating the standards of the 40,000 tankers that are already in use. They would either need to be retrofitted with the updated standards or get phased out. The rail and chemical industries have yet to act on these unfit tankers. Retrofitting all of the existing tankers could end up costing ethanol makers $1 billion.

The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will have final word on the fate of the flawed oil tankers, but it could be years before a regulation is passed.
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PA doctors are in a bind right now. Suppose a patient thinks he or she is ill because of fracking health hazards. In fracking, chemicals enter the water table and the air, causing severe pollution. In order to attempt to treat the condition, a doctor must have access to what chemicals are involved. It makes sense, right?

While it makes sense to the doctors, the community at large, and to the patients suffering, it doesn’t make sense to the natural gas companies because their argument against doctors’ knowing the chemicals means knowing proprietary, competitive secrets.

The so called gag rule is written vaguely and doctors fear being sued for not knowing whom to tell and whom not to tell. And, what if the doctor published an article or did a study on a chemical’s symptoms and treatment? Would that be telling corporate secrets?

September 26 marked the official day of Mesothelioma Awareness in the United States. Mesothelioma affects 2,000 to 3,000 people each year and is caused primarily by exposure to asbestos. Many construction workers, as well as those rescue crews who were exposed to toxic dust during the 9/11 attacks, are at risk of developing mesothelioma. Some of them already have.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart and in some cases, the testicles. Because symptoms can arise years after exposure and can mimic symptoms of other, more common medical conditions, this type of cancer can be difficult to diagnose.

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, there are numerous treatments which may extend the life of a patient afflicted with the disease. The rate of survival depends on a number of factors, including which stage of cancer the patient has, the patient’s overall health, age, and other factors. Typically, the survival rate of mesothelioma patients is roughly four to eighteen months, but again, various factors contribute to how treatments will affect a patient.

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released new information on the effects of crude oil on human health. Exposure to crude oil can cause numerous health issues. Since crude oil and products made from crude oil are so commonly used in the U.S., anyone may suffer from exposure, even if they live nowhere near the Gulf of Mexico.

According to NIH, you may be exposed to crude oil if you live near a refinery or oil leak or eat contaminated seafood. Products made from crude oil, such as jet fuel, gasoline, tar, and other products can also be highly toxic to humans. If spilled, they may contaminate the environment for many years, posing further health risks to people, plants, and animals. If you work in an oil refinery or on an oil drilling rig, you may be exposed to crude oil toxins by skin contact, ingestion, or breathing fumes.

Symptoms of crude oil toxicity include dizziness, rapid heart rate, headaches, confusion, anemia, and irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs. Prolonged exposure may cause reddening or burning of the skin. Inhaling fumes or smoke from burning crude oil can cause damage to the respiratory system, which may show up as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, coughing, and other respiratory symptoms.

Chemical plant employers and managers have the responsibility of ensuring that employees who dedicate their lives working for them are protected from exposure to dangerous levels of chemicals, gases, and other toxic materials. Most of these components are harmless if handled in certain quantities, with specific protection, after receiving adequate training, and when following proper procedures.

A recent startribune.com article discusses the death of a West Virginia chemical plant employee. After being exposed on January 23, 2010 to phosgene, a major industrial chemical that is poisonous at room temperature, the worker died the next day. As a result, the chemical plant has shut down while the federal Occupation Health and Safety Administration investigates a series of leaks, three of which were reported over the weekend and one of which went unnoticed for a full week. A plant spokesman said that the plant is reviewing operating procedures and that there is no immediate plan to start-up production.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, phosgene poisoning varies based on the amount of phosgene that a person is exposed to, the route of exposure, and the length of time in which an individual is exposed. Serious damage can be done to the eyes, nose, skin, throat, and lungs from phosgene gas and liquid exposure.
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Located just south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Three Mile Island, the scene of the worst nuclear disaster in United States history, is again making headlines, this time for a radiation leak that forced the evacuation of 150 workers. According to an english.cctv.com article, workers were generally exposed to low levels, although one worker was found to have been exposed to 16 millirems of radiation, which is the equivalent of about three X-rays worth. Reportedly, the leak did not pose a threat to public health or safety.

While there was no further mention of worker illness, any illnesses that do arise could result in the power plant being held accountable. Employers have an obligation to provide their employees with safe working environments, even in a place such as a nuclear power plant. In the event that an employee falls ill because of hazardous conditions in the workplace, the employee may have the right to seek compensatory damages from their employer. Such compensation can assist with costs associated with an accident or illness, such as medical bills, loss of wages, and physical therapy fees.
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A recent article from gazette.net reported that a Giant Food Store was evacuated after multiple customers and employees (approximately 14 all together) complained about feeling sick and having trouble breathing after smelling gas within the building. Six of the sick individuals, two Giant customers and four employees, were taken to local hospitals in Maryland for evaluation. According to the article, no gas leak was discovered on the premises and officials are still not sure what made the individuals sick.

After evacuating the building shortly after the several reports of people feeling ill, a hazardous materials team responded and investigated the possibility of a gas or Freon leak. However, these possibilities were cancelled out, with no other explanation discovered or provided. As a safety precaution for people within close distance to the area in question, police temporarily closed off certain access points to the shopping center where the Giant Food Store is located. Many other surrounding businesses were also evacuated and others were left to make their own determinations whether or not to evacuate.
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An industrial explosion at the ConAgra Foods Plant in Garner, North Carolina that killed two workers and injured many others in June is still an incident that has many industrial workers concerned over the safety of their future. A wral.com report stated that approximately 300 workers were in the plant at the time of the explosion, many of whom were exposed to toxic fumes released from ammonia leaks. Thirty-eight individuals had to be transported to local hospitals for serious injuries resulting from the explosion, and three firefighters suffered from ammonia inhalation.

According to the article, district chief for Wake County EMS stated, “It’s not just a matter of fire or any chemical exposure, but certainly with the structure collapse, there’s the issue of the safety of going in.” In any explosion, structure integrity is always a serious issue, but it is not the only concern that involved workers have to deal with. Exposure to toxic substances in the workplace can have long-lasting effects on a person’s well-being, putting an individual who has come in dangerous contact with an environmental toxin at risk of organ damage, cancer, severe burns, and many other calamities.

Fortunately in this incident, the ammonia toxic fumes were contained enough that the surrounding community was not threatened. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials kept a close watch over the air quality near the plant soon after the explosion to ensure that the toxic chemicals did not endanger people in the surrounding areas.
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Once again the specialty steel company Allegheny Ludlum has soiled the Allegheny river, this according to the website pittsburghlive.com. An oily looking substance, which is all we know at this point as to what it actually is, has been spotted near the company’s riverside plant by Brackenridge and Harrison. A spokesman for the company did come out to confirm the leak and acknowledge that the origin appears to be the company’s river plant. Although he was very careful as to the words he used to describe the leak on the water saying that, “We did see a sheen.”

This marks the 3rd time that a suspicious looking substance has appeared on the river since July 2008. Crews were already at work placing booms near the downriver inlets where Brackenridge and Tarentum get their drinking water. These booms help absorb the oil on the top of the water so that it does not contaminate the drinking water. Some residents were asking how safe the water was to swim in. They also stated that oil seemed to take a good amount of time to dissipate in the river.

The company spokesman also stated that all parties required by law have been notified.
We all know that due to the growth of industry and a corresponding increase in the use of chemicals, the number of dangerous or toxic substances in our environment has grown immeasurably.
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An article published on philly.com discussed the revelations contained in the deposition of Jim Sullivan III. Sullivan is a Gloucester County real estate broker who acquired a contaminated building and rented it out as a day-care center.

The deposition revealed that Sullivan did not feel an environmental cleanup was necessary despite the fact that the building was once home to a thermometer factory with a history of mercury spills. Testing later revealed that the property contained hazardous vapors 27 times the acceptable limit. Mercury was also detected in cracks and crevices of the floors and ceilings.

Mercury and most of its compounds are extremely toxic and can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin and mucous membranes. Exposure to mercury vapors has been known to cause profound central nervous system effects. In children, the vapors have been known to cause neurological and kidney dysfunction.

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