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Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Toxic chemicals are substances that create a number of different harmful complications to individuals when they are exposed to their chemical properties. Toxic exposure claims are a form of personal injury claim that involve injuries caused by exposure to chemical poisons, such as irritants, gases, smoke, pesticides, and motor fuels. When toxic materials enter the body, whether by inhalation, skin, or ingestion, the exposure can cause serious health effects. In more common cases, exposure to toxic substances can cause rashes (or related skin damage), lung damage, neurological damage, eye damage, or damage to the reproductive system. In addition, exposure may lead to severe illnesses, such as Cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Asbestosis, RADS (Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome), Lung disease, Silicosis, Hodgkin’s disease, Aplastic anemia, and/or Mesothelioma.

Most toxic chemicals are governed by the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA). TCSA was enacted by Congress for the purpose of reducing the environmental and public health risks arising from exposure to and release of toxic substances. TCSA confers upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to enforce the Act and monitor compliance for the manufacturing, processing, distribution, use, and disposal of certain substances and mixtures. Clear guidelines for handling and disposing of harmful chemicals are established by TCSA. When these guidelines are not followed, liability could be imposed on the responsible party or parties.

Exposure to toxic chemicals can occur at home, outdoors, or in the workplace. Certain industries have an inherently greater risk of exposing workers to toxic chemicals than others. Miners, welders, plumbers, and farm and grain workers are frequently in contact with chemicals that create an increased risk of harm. Likewise, workers in offices, restaurants, and stores that are regarded as free of toxic exposure can be danger zones because of the high use of cleaning materials. When workers are injured as a result of being exposed to toxins, North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act may limit recovery. If the employer and the employee are both covered by the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act, then the worker has an “exclusive remedy” for the employee’s workplace injuries and illnesses. The injured employee is generally prohibited from suing his employer in civil court. However, any employer who fails to provide workers’ compensation coverage may be subject to more expansive remedies. The experienced attorneys at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC will work with you to pursue a workers’ compensation claim.

At home, common household items can put individuals in danger of being exposed to toxic chemicals. The Consumer Protection Agency (CPA) has reported over 150 chemicals used in cleaning products, personal care products, and lead paints might be linked to cancer, mental illness, and birth defects. Household products such as detergent, floor and furniture polish, paints, and cleaning products contain hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, sulfuric and phosphoric acids, lye, chlorine, formaldehyde and phenol. The threat of exposure is even greater for children. Children are often more vulnerable than adults to the harmful effects of chemical pollutants because of their increased hand to mouth activity, and tendency to crawl and play in spaces that could be contaminated. Although the resulting health effects depend upon many factors, including the level of toxicity of the chemical and the degree of exposure, when injuries are caused by the use of common household products, private citizens may be able to file a personal injury claim against the person or company that exposed them through negligent handling and use of the toxic chemical.

In some instances, negligent individuals and entities can be strictly liable for contaminating communities and neighborhoods with toxic substances. According to North Carolina’s Oil Pollution and Hazardous Substances Control Act (OPHSCA), it is unlawful for any person to discharge, or cause to be discharged, oil or other hazardous substances into or upon any waters within this State, regardless of the fault of the person having control over the oil or other hazardous substances. OPHSCA was enacted to promote the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the State by protecting the land and the waters over which this State has jurisdiction from pollution by oil, oil products, oil by-products, and other hazardous substances. The Act also provides that any person having control over oil or other hazardous substances which enters the waters of the State in violation of this Part shall be strictly liable, without regard to fault, for damages to persons or property caused by such entry.

For example, in Jordan v. Foust Oil Co., Inc., gas was transported from the defendant Foust Oil Company’s plant in Mebane to plaintiff’s convenience store-gas station-restaurant and pumped from the truck into the UST’s (underground storage tanks). The gas from the store’s UST then entered the groundwater drawn into plaintiff’s wells. The plaintiffs then noticed their well-water had a foul smell and taste so the state toxicologist tested the water and determined the water was contaminated. The evaluation revealed that there were high levels of Benzene, a human carcinogen, in the water samples.  In fact, the Benzene levels were 62 times the EPA’s maximum contaminant level (MCL). Because Foust Oil Company had statutory “control over” the oil, pursuant to N.C.G.S. §143-215.77(5), the Court determined there were genuine issues of material fact as to strict liability for damages caused by the entry of the gasoline into the plaintiff’s soil and water.

More generally, in cases dealing with dumping toxic substances, a party may be guilty if it is found beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant deposited, placed, dumped, discharged, burned, or disposed of a substance in the atmosphere, water, or land; (2) the substance was a toxic substance or radiative material; (3) the deposit, placement, dumping, discharge, burning, or disposal was not conducted pursuant to federal or state law, regulation, or permit; and (4) the defendant acted knowingly.

Although exposure can cause some immediate effects, other times it can develop more gradually. More concerning, exposure can occur without an individual being aware that they even came in contact with a dangerous chemical. For instance, respiratory issues have a plethora of potential causes which makes it challenging to determine a causal link to a particular chemical exposure. It suffices to say, injuries related to exposure to toxic chemicals are not easily evident or traceable so determining fault can be difficult. It may be worth consulting an experienced attorney to help you recover for the injuries you suffered. At Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC we understand the consequences individuals suffer as a result of chemical exposure and we are dedicated to getting you the compensation you deserve.

Please call as at (704) 714-1450 to speak with one of our personal injury attorneys.  We will go over the best options for your case. There is no fee for the initial consultation. 

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