Sources of Contamination
While it would be impossible to list all the potential sources of chemical contamination, the following list will serve to illustrate typical contamination sources:
- Gas stations
- Machine shops
- Railroad yards and other railroad-related work sites
- Chemical manufacturing plants
- Dry cleaning stores
- Chemical waste storage facilities
- Any manufacturing plant that uses any type of cleaning solvents or gasoline based products
- Oil refineries
Types of Contamination
There are three main types of contamination which individual home-owners, businesses, and workers should worry about. They include ground water contamination, soil contamination and air contamination.
Ground Water Contamination
Ground water contamination usually arises when individuals have wells. In those circumstances, the ground aquifer is contaminated with the specific chemical or chemicals released by the responsible party. This material then develops into a plume and infiltrates the various well water sources. Individuals that
own the wells are then exposed to the chemicals by ingestion (drinking the water), skin contact (bathing with the water), and inhalation (breathing steam from the water).
In addition to being exposed to ground water contamination through wells, ground water contamination can also result in areas of low water tables with atmospheric or air contamination in people’s homes. If the chemicals are volatile, such as gasoline or other materials, they may escape into people’s basements and may be trapped, thereby exposing the home-owner who may inhale the fumes.
Another type of contamination is soil contamination. This can occur as discussed above with ground water contamination but also can occur when streams or other bodies of water are contaminated with heavy metals or chemicals. When areas flood, these heavy metals and chemicals are deposited on an individual’s property and thus contaminate the soil. People can be exposed to these contaminants in the following ways: skin contact (walking on the soil or gardening); inhalation (creating dust in the yard or tracking dust into the home); ingestion (eating vegetables grown in the soil).
The last major type of contamination is atmospheric, or air contamination. This occurs in various ways and can be caused by ground water contamination or soil contamination, as discussed above. Also, atmospheric contamination can occur when chemical companies or other businesses are releasing noxious fumes into the air, which then drift over to people’s homes and are thus inhaled by people in the area.
Types of products that can cause medical conditions Although the types of chemicals which can cause injury are too numerous to mention, exposures to these products generally occur either in the work place or at home.
Depending on your occupation, you could be exposed to numerous, dangerous chemicals in your daily work environment. While businesses are becoming more and more safety conscientious, we have found that many people are exposed to dangerous chemicals without protection.
In the work environment, chemicals that can cause potential problems are found in the following agents: cleaning solvents, dry cleaning solvents, spray paints, paint removers, dyes, fuel such as gasoline and kerosene, degreasers and lubricants.
Another harmful exposure, unique to those who performed or worked around others performing welding, results from the release of manganese contained in welding smoke. Manganese which is found in stainless and carbon steels is also in welding rods. Manganese is a toxin which can cause injury to the parts of the brain that transmit signals to other parts of the body.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified manganese emissions, from welding and other steel processing, as "toxic releases." These emissions cause what is called manganese poisoning or manganese. Recent studies have also indicated that welders get Parkinson’s Disease up to 16 years younger than the general population. Manganese poisoning can occur within as little as 49 days of regular exposure though it usually takes several years or deceased before symptoms appear.
Some of the symptoms associated with manganese poisoning include:
- Decreased movement
- Decreased arm swing when walking
- Shakiness/loss of balance
- Stiffness in an extremity – arms or legs
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Decrease in voice volume
- Involuntary muscle contractions
- Decreased facial expression
- Difficulty writing
- Sudden mood changes/depression
- Short term memory loss
In the home environment, while many household products are being designed with proper warnings, there are occasions where individuals are exposed to harmful concentrations of various chemicals.
These chemicals can be found in some of the following products:
- Oven cleaners
- Bathroom cleaning products
- Bug spray
- Drain cleaners
- Carpet cleaners
- Household spray paint products
- Home mechanical cleaning products
While it would be impossible to list all the potential injuries that can be caused by various chemical agents, the following list will serve to be illustrative of those conditions, that when coupled with appropriate exposure, could be caused by chemical contamination. They include:
- Various forms of cancer (lung, bladder, brain, kidney, leukemia, lymphoma, skin cancer)
- Various forms of learning disability (ADD, ADHD, LD)
- Teratogenic effects (effects on the fetus when the mother is exposed before or during pregnancy)
- Respiratory effects (breathing difficulties, allergies and other similar conditions)
- Gastrointestinal effects (stomach conditions)
- Cardiovascular effects (heart problems)
- Hepatic effects (various liver conditions)
- Renal effects (various kidney effects including blood in the urine and other kidney problems)
- Neurological effects (various nervous system disorders, including reflex malfunction and headaches)
What can you be compensated for? While each exposure and injury can involve different elements of damage, the following are generally present in an environmental contamination suit:
- Medical monitoring expenses (the cost of monitoring you and your children with various early detection exams to prevent the development of conditions linked with the exposure for the next twenty or thirty years)
- Fear of cancer
- Emotional distress
- Loss of quality of life (damages you incurred as a result of the contamination that cut into your usual lifestyle, such as time required to obtain water if your well was closed or other inconvenience incurred as a result of the lack of the use of your property in its normal way)
- Property damage (if your soil or ground water is contaminated it may have reduced the value of your property)
- Personal injury (any of the injuries we discussed above and many more)
- Punitive damages (damages that can be recovered if it can be demonstrated that the polluter showed a callous disregard or a reckless disregard for your health)
Your Legal Rights
If you have been exposed to harmful chemicals at work or in the home, you may be eligible to file a claim.